Dumpster Diving, Oral History and Food Insecurity

During Sustainability Week, join Sustain Mizzou on Thursday, April 26 at 6 p.m. in Strickland 204 to hear a keynote talk by Rachel Vaughn, an expert on food insecurity and oral history.

Rachel Vaughn holds a PhD in American Studies, and graduate certificate in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies from the University of Kansas. She is currently the 2011-2012 Visiting Fellow in the Oklahoma State University Gender & Women’s Studies Program, where she teaches courses in Gender Studies, Foodways and Transnational Women’s Studies. She is the author of the essay, “‘Pretty Little Rags and Bones’: Popular Representations of Dumpster Diners and a Politics of Clean”—part of a forthcoming collection, American Dirt.

In light of current trends to address the question of real food and what to eat—for instance, the work of Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Carlo Petrini, Jaimie Oliver, and Alice Waters—comes a broader question of the politics of such constructions of food as it revolutionizes contemporary food discourses. Situating my oral history research with dumpster divers of varying food security levels, I explore how the space of the dumpster and the act of diving work as alternative forms of cultural knowledge about food, albeit marginalized, socially unacceptable forms; necessitating an expansion in thinking of what might be considered commons public spaces, and what/where gets currently constructed as real food or real food sources. Ultimately, I ask how the labels ‘real,’ or by default ‘un-real’, ‘edible’ or ‘inedible’ might effect people of varying food in/securities, given the current food systems we eat within in the US.

As the UN suggests, if we fundamentally see food as a human right not a privilege based on access to special resources, popular US food movements need to continue reaching out to broader, economically limited actors to effect necessary large-scale paradigm shifts. I do not intend to offer ‘counter’ prescriptions by way of the dumpster; however, I maintain it is crucial to pay attention to the complex ways in which people of varying food securities arrive at, resist, or otherwise address questions of food accessibility and security. This is particularly of import in a historical moment of intensified international concern over food systems, increasing emergency food dependence, and intensified systemic food waste ‘re-discovery,’ such as the work of Jonathan Bloom or Tristram Stuart.

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