“What is at stake here?” asks Krishnendu Ray urgently, examining the past, present, and future of marketplaces and street vendors. What lessons can be learned from cities in the Global South—from Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, where the desperate actions and activism of a street vendor helped launch the Arab Spring, to Durban, South Africa, where women street vendors forced their way into urban planning by organizing? Ray, a member of the Gastronomica Editorial Collective, posed historical and contemporary questions about liveliness and livelihoods of global cities and what good taste and good food can mean for the very future of democracy when he delivered the 2019 Distinguished Lecture at the annual event co-sponsored by the SOAS University of London and Gastronomica. The recorded talk is available for free at www.soas.ac.uk/about/. This year, in addition to reprinting the lecture, we extend the London conversation to a global audience, inviting two leading scholars of street vending to respond to Ray's lecture. Sandra C. Mendiola García leads us to Puebla, Mexico, to a marketplace where chiles en nogada become the linchpin of an ebullient flowering of democratic potential. She agrees with Ray that marketplaces are sites not just of capital accumulation but also of critical social infrastructure. Jane Battersby, as well, notes the role of street vending and marketplaces as social infrastructure. Throughout African cities, street vendors, often women, are crucial to urban food security, yet urban planners continue to regard vendors as symptomatic, even causing urban problems. The future of marketplaces and street vending, and with it an element of life in an urban democracy, depends on vendors' abilities to demand collective voices in the planning and governance of cities. Finally, in their epilogue, Noah Allison and Jacklyn Rohel note that these conversations about what they, citing Ray, describe as the “last mile of the food chain” are ongoing. Proposing more expansive definitions of vending, they focus attention on the multiple meanings assigned, globally, to urban street vending and on the ways in which those meanings relate to how cities feed themselves.
SOAS Address: Rethinking Street Vending
Krishnendu Ray is Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at NYU. He was a faculty member and Associate Dean of Liberal Arts at the Culinary Institute of America. He was President of the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) from 2014–18. He is the author of The Migrant's Table (2004), The Ethnic Restaurateur (2016), and co-editor of Curried Cultures: Globalization, Food and South Asia (2012). His most recent work is on street vending in global cities with attention to questions of law, livelihood, and the liveliness of cities.
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Krishnendu Ray; SOAS Address: Rethinking Street Vending. Gastronomica 1 February 2020; 20 (1): 1–15. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2020.20.1.1
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