Sep 17-Dec 19. Nutricities is funded under the British Academy’s GCRF Cities & Infrastructure Programme. I am the grant PI, working with Dr Oonagh Markey and Dr Richard Pithouse (Co-Is), Dr Timo Bartholl and Dr Christos Filippidis (PDRAs) and with a magnificent team of local researchers on the ground in the Maré, Rio de Janeiro.

NutriCities: Learning with grassroots food infrastructures in the favelas of the Maré, Rio de Janeiro

Food security is one of the key markers of global inequality. But not enough attention is paid to food access at one of the key territories that mark this very inequality: the urban peripheries of the global south. What kind of access to what kind of food do people have here? How do market mechanisms, food habits and (lack of) policies facilitate or pose barriers to people’s food security? Entering in dialogue with grassroots food infrastructures in the favelas of the Maré in Rio de Janeiro, NutriCities will explore to what extent urban popular classes may reach food sovereignty.

Our hypothesis is that locally developed food growth and distribution networks in cities of the global south can significantly diminish food insecurity. In so doing they can contribute to the well-being of their populations, against the infliction and expansion of a nutritional culture based on poor quality food. Our empirical research will focus on the following questions: what kind of food products are available to residents in the urban periphery? What range of choices between different production patterns do they actually have (agroindustrial production based on GMO’s and agrochemicals VS small farmers’ agroecological produce)? How do more traditional nutritional habits, many times based on natural foods processed locally, relate to urbanised fast food culture, which is by now widely spread in the peripheries?

We will start with a broad outlook of food-related diseases and food distribution and consumption patterns. Through an action-research approach we will then actively engage with grassroots activities and residents’ initiatives to self-organise in order to produce, acquire and consume healthier food. Given the nutritional landscape formed by the expansion of big agroindustrial corporations and the shrinkage of the local agroecological production in Brazil, these local grassroots nutritional infrastructures can help us understand urban resilience as an actual question of resilience and resistance against the market’s efforts to impose a culture of nutritional homogeneity on populations of the urban periphery.

NutriCities has three main objectives: 1) to map out nutritional data and to record nutritional practices in the favelas of the Maré (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); 2) to evaluate the impact of grassroots rural/urban food networks in the Maré and the wider Rio de Janeiro region; 3) to examine models of food-related community organising in other cities of the global periphery, using the example of Durban, South Africa and learning through a South-to-South knowledge exchange.

Through our research in the urban periphery of Rio de Janeiro we want to develop an interdisciplinary model for researching social infrastructures that strengthen the capacities of communities to self-organise: capacities that can in turn help improve urban life in the global south.