27 April 2015 – Regeneration policies and street vendors

Sarah Turner and Laura Schoenberger (Urban Studies 2012, 49(5) 1027–1044) have written  about the effects of government policy, introduced in 2008, on street vendors in Hanoi, Vietnam as part of the drive to develop a ‘modernized’ capital city, and  Veronica Crossa (Urban Sudies 2014, DOI: 10.1177/0042098014563471) has written about similar developments in Mexico City –  banning street vendors  from key public places in urban cities across the Global South has become part of regeneration policies.

Both articles discuss the effects of change on these traders (who are frequently women) as cities transform ‘at break-neck pace’ amidst massive urban-rural migration, and they discuss the ‘everyday politics’ of the urban poor who try to operate within the ‘informal’ economy in an attempt to provide very basic support for their families (Turner and Schoenberger quote US2 dollars a day in 2009).


25 March 2015 – the indecisive chicken

The Dharavi Food Project is part of the Dharavi Biennale – a two-year process that blends art and science to share information on urban health and to showcase the contribution of the people of Dharavi to Mumbai’s economic and cultural life. Prajna Desai’s new book, ‘The Indecisive Chicken: Stories and Recipes from Eight Dharavi Women’ is a great outcome of some of the work, funded by the Wellcome Trust and organized by SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action), an NGO working to improve the health of women and children in Mumbai’s informal settlements. The co-director is UCL Professor Dave Osrin.

The book’s title comes from the author recalling how ‘one attendee claimed not to eat chicken because she thought it to be an indecisive bird. Eating it was bound to make her stupid, she said. When prodded, she confessed that it was taste of chicken she didn’t like.’ She says the book ‘certainly celebrates the women who headline the food project. But it also explores what cooking means beyond making a meal’.

It looks a very tempting book for lots of reasons – you can read more here

13 March 2015 – the squeezed middle class

The UK Guardian blog (7 March) shows some remarkable research conducted by Benjamin Hennig and Danny Dorling from the University of Oxford that uses living maps to demonstrate the extent to which London has become polarised between rich and poor over the past 30 years, with a 43% decrease in middle-income households between 1980 and 2010.

The article also reveals how ‘England is increasingly divided between the rich and the poor, with a 60% increase in poor households and a 33% increase in wealthy households. This has come at a time – 1980 to 2010 – when the number of middle-income households went down by 27%’.

You can read the full article here
Visit Benjamin Hennig’s website here and Danny Dorling’s website here

4 March 2015 – Market Day by James Sturm

I have just been given a copy of the graphic novel ‘Market Day’ by James Sturm. The book is promoted on Drawn and Quarterly as follows which, in my opinion, sums it up very well:

A timeless meditation on art and commerce seen through the life of an early-twentieth-century Jewish rug maker

An expectant father, Mendleman’s life goes through an upheaval when he discovers he can no longer earn a living doing the work that defines him: making well-crafted rugs by hand. A proud artisan, he takes his donkey-drawn cart to the market only to be turned away when the distinctive shop he once sold to now only stocks cheaply manufactured merchandise. As the realities of the market place sink in, Mendleman unravels. Sturm draws a quiet, reflective and beautiful portrait of eastern European in the early 1900s, bringing to life the hustle and bustle of an old-world market place on the brink of the Industrial Revolution. Market Day is a timeless tale of how economic and social forces can affect a single life.

You can find out more here

27 January 2015 – Local vendors, not supermarkets, are key to food security in sub-Saharan Africa

The International Livestock Research Centre (ILRI), Nairobi has published a new book: Food Safety and Informal Markets: Animal Products in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a compilation of 25 studies in Africa that finds informal markets provide essential sources of food and income for millions of poor, with milk and meat that is often safer than supermarkets.

The book also argues that efforts to control the alarming burden of food-related illnesses in low-income countries is misguided and risks intensifying malnutrition and poverty — while doing little to improve food safety. The researchers say that the push for greater food safety standards in markets must be informed by an understanding of their vital role as a provider of food and income to several hundred million people who rank among the world’s poorest.

As has already been noted on this blog with reference to research on food safety in wet markets in Vietnam (see 27 November), the ILRI book also shows how small producers have many attractions for poor consumers. They are typically within walking distance for people who lack cars and they offer the opportunity to purchase fresh food in small amounts — part of what is known in East Africa as the ‘kadogo’ economy. (Kadogo is street slang for ‘small.’) In addition, many sellers in traditional markets will extend credit.

As the excellent review of the book also says, the research shows that consumers prefer informal to formal markets, and not just for their lower prices, but also because traditional markets tend to sell fresher food. They also sell local products and breeds, which many consumers continue to prefer — and those preferences seem to intensify as incomes rise. For example, in Africa and Southeast Asia, consumers often prefer local chicken breeds over cheaper imported breeds.

‘Informal markets are growing, not shrinking, across the developing world and in many ways mirror the “locavore” trend occurring in wealthy countries’, said Grace. ‘If we are going to improve food safety in these markets, we need policies that are guided by an understanding of producer and consumer behaviour, local diets and customs, and interventions that can reduce illness without imperilling food security or increasing poverty.’

You can read the full review and find details of the book here

8 December 2014 – UK All Party Parliamentary Group report on hunger and food poverty in the UK

The UK All Party Group of MPs and peers published its church-funded report on hunger and food poverty in the UK today. It has a focus on food banks, examines connections between the government’s current welfare policy and financial hardship, and is particularly strong on supermarkets and food waste, pointing to the millions of tons of edible food sent to landfill each year that could be redistributed to those in need. You can read the full report here

18 November 2014 – new BBC TV series on world food markets

There is a new BBC TV series on the world’s greatest food markets – there are 3 episodes, in the first Billingsgate fish market trader Roger Barton visits New York’s Fulton fish market (you can view this here); the second visits Central de Abasto in Mexico; and the third visits Azadpur Mandi in India.