From Local Farms to Urban Tables

I’m Margot, a third-year studying Environmental Sciences and Economics in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. I’m incredibly grateful to have received the Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant, with which I will to travel to seven countries around the world this summer, studying local food systems and urban food security. Along with my sincere love of food and travel, my experiences growing up in Los Angeles and New York shaped my desire to study food systems within cities. This past year, I both worked and touristed in numerous countries in Europe and Southeast Asia, and my engagement with numerous magnificent and incredibly different food cultures in each countries also served as great inspiration to create and refine my proposed research topic. Despite my extensive prior travel experiences, I have never before traveled for thirteen weeks by myself in a circle (or a zig-zaggy circle…) around the world. I hope you enjoy reading my this travel/research blog (the first blog I’ve ever written that hasn’t been mandated by my mom!) as I hopefully make it on-time to the sixteen flights, overcome language barriers in Airbnbs and interviews, and of course, eat a lot of good, local food. I also hope this blog does justice to all of the incredible places I’m going and people I’ll encounter along the way.

Take Two!

So, that last blog post on the train ended short because I fell asleep. This morning I traced out the route of my upcoming circumnavigation on a map for my current hosts in Virginia, and they commented on how long many of the flights are I’ll be taking. I’m generally incapable of napping during the day, but my body makes some serious exceptions when I’m on buses and trains and planes. I suppose that’s mostly a good thing, given that I’ll be able to sleep to occupy my time on many of the longer travel legs this summer. However, I also think I should work on my ability to write a blogpost in a moving vehicle without falling asleep on my keyboard.


In the past few days, I’ve booked two Airbnbs and one hostel out of the ten or eleven total places I’ll stay. While it felt great to get a few checks going on that list, I’m currently caught up in some stress about getting a new passport. I only have nine blank pages left in my current passport, and only six labeled “Visa” at the top of the page. While that should be enough for my travel this summer, I really don’t want to have to make a pitstop at a U.S. Embassy while I’m abroad to try to get a new passport. I’m bummed I didn’t think about this sooner, but with the expedited passport process, I should be able to get my passport and then my Ugandan Visa (luckily, the only physical visa I will need in my passport for this summer) in on time.


Beyond trip logistics, a few recent experiences of mine have certainly affirmed my chosen research topic: food. I believe my very stimulating conversation with my Uber driver to O’Hare last week epitomizes how universal and pressing topics of local food and food security are. (My Uber driver and I discussed everything from the Uber driver’s experiences hunting and gathering with Indigenous Malaysians to why there aren’t apple trees planted in all Chicago parkways.)


More recently, here in rural Virginia, I’ve eaten home-caught/hunted fish and venison for the past two dinners. At home in New York City two days ago, I rummaged through a pile of imported, bruised, on-sale grapefruits trying to find one that was a decently grapefruit-y color and shape. Last week, back in Evanston, I attended a benefit dinner cooked out of grocery store food waste. The food would have been thrown away had it not been for the two high schoolers who collected the food for their class project (and then created a gorgeous, delicious meal out of it).


Clearly, these experiences touch upon a lot of different topics and provoke a lot of wide-ranging question, but there are also an infinite number of stories and dilemmas that quietly transpire along with every bite of food each one of us ever takes. The world of food is quite a complicated one, just like the world itself. Urban food networks consist of community organizations and government policy and capitalism, scarce natural resources and expensive man-made ones, and lots of hungry people with different dietary requirements, incomes, and cultural norms. From Kampala to Tokyo to Rosario, the incredible variety of forms of food culture I’m sure I will encounter will only allow me to engage with such a modest portion of all that there is out there to explore.


Sheesh, good thing this grant lets me go to so many countries!

Getting ready!

Hi, from… Wilmington, Delaware!


No, this isn’t one of the stops on my future circumnavigation, but I suppose it is apropos that I’m writing my first blog post while in transit (even if it’s for Spring Break travel)?


Anyhow, yes—it is Spring Break! A magical week of no classes, which I’ve been waiting so longingly for since I found out I received the Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant about eleven weeks ago, now. Indeed, while a lot of my friends have been on tropical beaches, I’ve been on my computer applying for visas and filling out health insurance forms and making very long Airbnb ‘Wishlists.’ But despite that my arm still feels like it’s going to fall off a bit because of the yellow fever vaccine I got yesterday, there is very little room for complaining given this incredible opportunity I’ve been granted (no pun intended) and no doubt, amazing summer ahead.


With the generous funding I’ve received from the Circumnavigators Club of Chicago and Northwestern University, I will be traveling from the end of May through the beginning of September, to seven countries around the world. In Uganda, Italy, Hungary, Japan, Australia, and Argentina I will be conducting research on sustainable local food systems—the working title of my research is “From Local Farms to Urban Tables.” By studying the evolving and thriving local food systems in each city I visit—and the general socioeconomic dynamics of the city and its food systems—I seek to determine how local food systems can best be developed to foster urban food security.