Connecting the Theory to the Reality of ‘Good Food’

This year, the ECI launched a brand new Sustainability Internship Programme.  Here’s a post from Rachel Friedman, who is part way through her internship with Good Food Oxford:[rescue_box color=”black” text_align=”left” width=”100%” float=”none”]

Connecting the Theory to the Reality of ‘Good Food’

It’s sometimes a cognitively challenging experience. I found myself in Oxford just over two years ago, thrown into an intensive post-graduate academic programme, heavy on the history and theory behind biodiversity conservation and landscape management. Not long after, I started volunteering at the community market in East Oxford, at first helping to set up and then at the veg stall every Saturday morning. These were two separate worlds, almost as though Magdalen bridge created a physical separation between the transient academic population and longer-term residents of the city. Not to say that students and researchers never grace the market floors. Just that for many of us, the interaction with and understanding of the broader Oxford community is very limited.

Since completing the MPhil in Geography and the Environment, I started an internship at Good Food Oxford, supported by the Environmental Change Institute. Good Food Oxford links together a network of over 130 food-related organisations in Oxfordshire, and also collaborates with researchers to bridge the academic and applied realms (see STOP PRESS). Consequently, the past six weeks have been illuminating to see how an academic foundation and training relate to the practical and everyday experiences beyond the bridges.

My two main projects get at this disconnect in a pretty conspicuous way. For the first, I’ve been helping to develop a framework to assess the impacts of Good Food Oxford, on the activities of its network members and on the sustainability of the city’s food system – monitoring and evaluation (M&E), if you like. From a mechanistic standpoint, this involves identifying indicators corresponding to Good Food Oxford’s objectives (good for people, planet, and business), measuring related variables (e.g. amount of food wasted in Oxford), and tracking these going forward. But for an organisation devoted to guiding and influencing, in practice this means finding ways of accounting for the unmeasurable and long-term, and attributing impacts that are indirect at best.

The second project is examining food poverty and barriers to accessing and eating healthy, fair, and sustainable food in Oxford. From a researcher’s perspective, it is a constant battle over what is manageable in a limited timeframe and what are rigorous and vetted research practices. But working in a city I thought I was familiar with has been a reality check on what is actually relevant to people in the communities. Rather than focusing on a potential contribution to scholarly literature, it is a balancing act between gathering data that could inform lengthier health and welfare policy processes and identifying tangible and immediate activities that can improve people’s lives today.

At the end of the day, it seems we’re making progress here in Oxford, sharing research findings and fostering collaboration between the university and community. But we probably can do a lot more to connect past research results with practitioners, and current researchers (and students) with civil society groups.[/rescue_box][rescue_toggle class=”box-black” title=”About Rachel“]

Rachel is currently interning with Good Food Oxford. She recently completed an MPhil in Geography and the Environment at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, in which she studied climate change vulnerability among women cocoa farmers in Ghana. Originally from the west coast of the US, she has also enjoyed working on several small-scale organic farms, and can be found nearly every Saturday at the East Oxford Farmers Market veg stall.

Find her on twitter at @YumMusings or read her blog, Munchable Musings.[/rescue_toggle][rescue_animate type=”slideInLeft” duration=”2s” delay=”0s” iteration=”1″][rescue_box color=”black” text_align=”left” width=”100%” float=”none”]

The Good Food Oxford view – rave reviews!

“Hosting an ECI intern has been like having a very intelligent firecracker in our midst.

We have benefited hugely from her clarity of thought and determination to crack a challenging problem, which she has been doing with efficiency and good humour. She has brought a lot to our researchers, and will leave with some solid research experience under her belt.”

Hannah Fenton, Good Food Oxford Manager

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About the Sustainability Internship Programme

Our TBL: Training Better Leaders Programme is designed to help students gain relevant, engaging and interesting work experience in sustainability. We offer international placements for students and recent graduates to gain experience working in organizations on socioeconomic and environmental issues through a variety of projects. As part of the programme, we also offer a sustainability skills training that allows students to develop and practice crucial skills for the workplace, while networking with peers and professionals.

If you would like to learn more, visit our website: or contact to find out about hosting an Oxford Sustainability Intern.[/rescue_box][/rescue_animate]

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University-community collaboration around food research and practice

Interested in the collaboration between university and community around food?  Come along to one of the agile-ox/Good Food Oxford Research Kitchen seminars.

The first event in the series, ‘Made in Oxfordshire’ is on the 7th of December.  See you there!

Image: c. Mim Saxl PhotographyCultivate‘s gorgeous tomatoes

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