Year of selection 2016
Institution Food Studies Centre Arts and Humanities School of Oriental and African Studies
Country United Kingdom
Bread is often used as a metaphor to talk about the Arab Spring. Indeed, the link between rising bread prices and the recent political upheavals in Arab countries has been acknowledged a few times in academic studies and in the news. But so far, no research has focused on the role of bread in urban stability. Using the Moroccan context as a representative example, Dr. Katharina Graf aims to fill this gap by exploring how the price, availability, quality and provenance of flatbread affect the way people perceive their government. The study will focus on the vantage point of those most affected by food insecurity: ordinary people. The ultimate objective is to strengthen our understanding of why and how bread represents a valid measure for political and socioeconomic risks.
"During my PhD research in Morocco, I was struck by how important bread was to Moroccans", relates Dr. Katharina Graf. "Bread represents more than just a staple food to them; it also harbours so many immeasurable values. It is imbued with social meaning pertaining to material, religious, moral, economic and also political dimensions. Indeed, in a context where the government histori-cally positions itself as food provider, the price of bread also relates to what people think of their political leaders", she explains. "I found that especially low-income Moroccans expected the gov-ernment to provide cheap flour and bread, if nothing else." In Morocco, like in other Arab countries, subsidised bread is not only a guarantor of food security, but historically it has also been the basis of the state’s implicit social contract with its citizens.
Investigating the everyday discourses and practices around bread preparation
Building on these observations, Dr. Katharina Graf aims to explore in detail the relationship be-tween the Moroccan state and its citizens as bread makers and consumers. Using an anthropological and ethnographic approach, the study will investigate the everyday discourses and practices around bread preparation, from agricultural production through to consumption. She will conduct interviews and examine how food travels through the food chain. "I will look at how the little things connect to bigger issues", she summarizes. "When people prepare bread, they choose between a large number of different flours and grains, some of which are local products while others are imported. These choices also reflect a political stance and can be used as indicators of ordinary people’s opinions about national policies around agriculture, import subsidies and export."
While the Moroccan context is certainly unique, there are many similarities with its Arab neigh-bours and other countries across the globe. In this sense, Dr. Katharina Graf's investigation will be relevant beyond Morocco. Furthermore, her investigation into Moroccan culture around bread consumption aims to strengthen our understanding of the role of food in urban stability in a broad sense. "The whole question around the sustainability of food is and will continue to be a hugely important issue, especially in the context of climate change", she points out. In order to make her findings accessible to the largest number of people, Dr. Katharina Graf plans to use innovative frames for dissemination such as a photo exhibition at the Brunei Gallery in London, poetry and comedy clubs, and even cookery classes.