Sustainable food practices in Barcelona and Melbourne

New technology has shifted the way food sharing takes place – from meal sharing apps that are used to exchange home-cooked meals, to online maps that reveal surplus harvests, new technologies are reforming what it means to share food.

One of the changes we’ve seen is increased accessibility to citizens. When I studied the online platform RipeNearMe in Melbourne, I really liked how it enabled people growing produce in their own backyards to enter into sustainability and food-sharing activities that perhaps would have been more of a challenge without technology.

That said, I do think that technology is not the be-all and end-all for food sharing. While it is useful to enable access and entry, I think human engagement is also necessary. You also need to consider the politics behind that technology. Some form of face-to-face activity has remained an important element across the most successful food-sharing organisations that I’ve studied.

SHARECITY is a European Research Council-funded project led by Professor Anna Davies at Trinity College Dublin – but we’re doing research all over the world. The first thing we put together as a team was an online, searchable database of food -sharing initiatives in 100 cities.


In Barcelona, I’ve found that the approach to food sharing is mostly centred on the distribution of food as opposed to its production. I  believe this comes down to the urban densification of a city such as Barcelona where securing spaces for food production, such as community gardens, can be a challenge.

My initial findings also point to food sharing in Barcelona being grounded in communities wanting to self-manage and operate autonomously.

What I’ve noticed in Melbourne is that food sharing is more about reducing social alienation. It’s centred towards people who are isolated in the community and would like to meet other people. It’s not so much about the food security aspect of food sharing.

One of my favourite experiences is from when I was researching Open Table, a Melbourne-based organisation that organises meals in a community centre and open to the whole community.

I was helping to prepare lunch at a community centre in Moreland. A gorgeous elderly Italian woman wandered in by chance and we ended up having this hilarious antagonistic exchange about how to best cook the meal I was preparing, which happened to be spaghetti.

Can you imagine? But our debate on the amount of salt and the tasting required was soon forgotten. This beautiful woman started sharing her life story and ended up sitting down to enjoy the meal. She left with incredible bonds newly formed with her neighbours in a community where she had felt quite isolated.

Dr Ferne Edwards completed RMIT’s Master of Social Science (International Urban & Environmental Management) in 2004 and a Doctor of Philosophy (Anthropology) in 2015 at Australian National University. She is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin.

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