Making sense of food: food infrastructures in migrant communities

Fanqi Liu1

1School of Geography, the University Of Melbourne


Food(stuff) is often connected with identities; eating makes worlds. In multicultural societies, food has been used as a signifier in transnational connections that span contemporary life in a globalised urban context. Food permeates into aspects of life, juxtaposing the individual and the social, the local and the global, taking us into a powerful system of materialities, values, beliefs and regulations (Mol 2014; Probyn 2000; Appadurai 1981). Through ‘Following food’ (Cook et al. 2006), this paper conceptualises ‘food infrastructures’ by developing attunements to the materialities and multi-sensory ambience of the everyday dimensions of infrastructure. I consider food infrastructure as assemblages of bodies, spaces, and materialities that circulate food and enable eating practices to be thought, ascribed and made possible.

Methodologically, this paper uses an ethnographical approach of following recipes within migrant communities in Melbourne. Recipes link ingredients, technologies, skills, memories, events, movement, and bodies, articulating diverse connections and practices within ‘home-city geographies’ (Blunt and Sheringham 2018). This paper reveals diverse forms of migrant gastronomy and emerging sensibility of food and place. Through examining ways that migrant communities connect to and reshape food infrastructures in a more situated way, it pushes forward the conceptualisation of infrastructure as theory and method in geography.


PhD student in urban geography

How does convenient-eating become ‘convenient’? Exploring the spatio-temporalities of eating at an inner urban university

Ms Bhavna Middha1

1RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia


This paper studies convenience-eating, characterized by eating on-the-go, which is largely associated with resource and energy intensive practices. It aims to understand the complex socio-technical and spatiotemporal arrangements that enable and constitute convenience in food by studying ‘convenience-eating’ as a practice. In order to do so, this paper uses social practice theories to examine the ‘time-space infrastructures’ created, for example not only by the conventional ‘time squeeze’ that has come to define convenient-eating but a more spatially oriented ‘timing’. The paper draws from an ethnographic project that studied the eating spaces at the city campus of RMIT University, Melbourne through students’ eating practices using methods such as focus groups, digital ethnography that included posting ‘food selfies’ on a private Facebook page, and food maps drawn by research participants. The paper contends that the mobility of food and people is created by the spatiotemporal organizations of routines and spaces at the University, such as timetables, activities like lunchtime courses, and policies that allow eating anytime and anywhere including in classrooms and libraries. The paper argues that this mobility, while aimed at creating convenience, mostly creates eating spaces that lead to unsustainable outcomes such as the use of packaged and processed food.


Bhavna has recently submitted her PhD thesis, and she is based at the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT  University. Her research has examined interconnections between students’ eating practices with the food and eating spaces provided at urban universities. She analysed how these relationships produced and/or can produce spaces that are potential pathways to sustainable consumption. She is interested in research on environmental sustainability, urban spaces and their interconnections with food provisioning and consumption, as well as digital ethnography.

The kangaroo tail tax: Indigenous urban food altruism

Dr Margaret Raven1

1University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia


Remote Indigenous peoples in Australia consume the focus of policy interventions and research. However, more Indigenous people live in urban and regional areas than in remote areas. Despite this, we don’t know if urban and regionally located Indigenous peoples experience food insecurity in similar ways to remote Indigenous peoples.

This includes whether bush foods are used as part of a coping strategy by urban Indigenous peoples for period where they are unable to access food.

This paper presents findings from a case study with Indigenous people in a large urban town in Western Australia. This research pilot tested the US Household Food Security Module (HFSSM) with additional demographic and cultural protocols questions. The research found that while many of the respondents were food insecure, they had regular access to native bush foods to supplement their diet.

This paper explores the emergence of a theme in the research related to food altruism and the ways that it can be restricted at times. The story from a participant about the absence of a tail from a kangaroo, which they had ordered through family members, hints at the possible limits to food altruism that is mediated through family obligations.


Dr Margaret Raven is a Scientia Fellow, UNSW Australia. She previously worked as a Macquarie University Fellowship for Indigenous Researchers at Macquarie University, for the Australian Human Rights Commission, a Native Title Representative Body, and the WA Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Dr Raven is a geographer with research experience related to food insecurity for urban dwelling Indigenous people; Indigenous knowledge and protocols; and social policy evaluations.

Dr Margaret Raven

Scientia Fellow (Social Policy Research Centre; Environmental Humanities; and The George Institute for Global Health)

UNSW Australia

Staying in Sydney: Formal/informal foodways in a time of gentrification

Dr Kate Johnston1

1Sydney Environment Institute, University Of Sydney, Sydney, Australia


Staying in Sydney is no easy task as housing prices increase, neighbourhoods rapidly transform, and social housing is pushed to the geographical edges. It is also no mean feat for food enterprises to stay and sustain their practices while being at the whims of these same processes. Furthermore, at a time when food insecurity is on the rise in the City of Sydney (2016) and our food systems are putting enormous pressures on environments, it is important to think about how socially just and ecologically responsible food enterprises can be sustained in the City and what conditions may support them.

Within this climate food entrepreneurs engage in a range of informal to formal practices, which on a basic level, means practices that have differing levels and forms of engagement with regulation. Through an informal/formal lens this paper explores the relationship of food to entrepreneurship, creativity, governance and development and sketches out the challenges and opportunities of participating in the food ecosystem in Sydney in a time of rapid change. The paper does so from the Author’s position working on FoodLab Sydney, a recent initiative which aims to address rising food insecurity and catalyse wider food systems change.


Kate is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Australian Research Council (ARC) funded project FoodLab Sydney (2018-2020) with partners including City of Sydney and FoodLab Detroit.  She previously worked in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies (University of Sydney) on the Sustainable Fish Lab project. Her research interests include environmental/food justice, food systems, sustainability, blue humanities, experimental and interdisciplinary methodologies.

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