Fields, restaurants, grocers, abattoir : food spaces in Austin, Texas

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2019-02-06

Authors

Lowell, Jonathan Thomas

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Abstract

This dissertation examines five different sites in Austin, Texas, from the past and the present, related in some way to food production or consumption. They are: spinach fields from the first decades of the twentieth century when the Austin-area was one of the leading spinach-producing regions in the U.S.; a public abattoir (slaughterhouse) operated from 1931 to 1969; three different restaurants that marked different times of Austin’s history; the home-grown organic-luxury grocer, Whole Foods Market; and four urban farms whose controversial presence provoked a conflict over the neighborhood they are embedded in. This dissertation takes on board two notions of food geographies: food as connecting and impacting distant and disparate places and food as playing a major role in defining the contours of place. By looking at these five episodes of Austin’s history enacted through different food spaces, I ask two questions that thread through the dissertation: how do different foodways gain, maintain, and lose access to space and what does that say about the dynamics of place formation? And, what can we learn about the potential opportunities, pitfalls, and challenges wrought by the intersection of place and food? To do so, I take on board theorizations of assemblage and place with the variegated characteristics of food serving as a thread. The dissertation traverses a wide expanse of conceptual and empirical territory, but they are linked by two findings. I find that food spaces can become both emblematic and forgotten within the spaces of ideology and discourse on one hand, and everyday practice on another. I also find that the examination of foodspaces can help both clarify and trouble the processes by which places are made.

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