A Recipe for Activism: The Politics and Joy of Cooking

What do you get when you mix equal parts of social activism and a love of food within a group of older adults? We recently caught up with Myriam Durocher to discuss a collaborative project between ACT and RECAA (Respecting Elders, Communities Against Abuse) that uses food as a medium. Myriam Durocher, an ACT research assistant,  and Phd candidate at the Université de Montréal, has spent the last year working with RECAA to develop and help coordinate a food blog called Food Talks, À table with RECAA and friends. As an activist organization that works to raise awareness of issues that older adults face, from elder abuse to problems with accessibility, RECAA has been organizing events for a number of years, and food has been part their meetings. Myriam recounts the origins of the project: “RECAA has always had potluck style lunches every Thursday, and during this time they realized that they were speaking about themselves and the issues that concerned them. They thought about how to use food as a medium to speak about these issues, how to create a space so that they could gain visibility for themselves and their concerns. ACT was already helping them with developing digital skills, so the idea of a food blog seemed perfect.”

For nearly a year the group has been working on the food blog, sharing recipes and personal stories online. These stories offer both contextualization for their recipes and what they signify for RECAA members, as well as a means of raising awareness around the issues older adults encounter in daily life. The project received funding from a New Horizons for Seniors grant from the Canadian Government, and ACT, as a collaborator, also provided funds and support through workshops that focused on developing digital skills. RECAA members have developed and practiced photography, filming, and blog writing skills through the experience of cooking and sharing food. Myriam points out that gaining visibility in an increasingly digitalized society becomes easier for older adults when they have the skills needed to engage with the world digitally. Blog posts are not just about recipes, but include observations and thoughts on a variety of social issues. A recent entry recounts RECAA member, Marguerite’s experience working at a food bank in France. After having read an article on the CBC website, the group discussed concerns around food accessibility, in particular those of older adults. While the number of people who visit food banks is rising across age groups, ethnicities, and classes, older adults are the most vulnerable. Not only do they experience increased chances of poverty, but often lack the infrastructure to access healthy and affordable food. Whether poor public transportation systems or an absence of ramps, older adults face a host of challenges and obstacles to achieving food security.

It is here that Myriam found one of the most interesting developments: “As a group of primarily older women, they are changing their relationship with food from one that is based on caring for others, one of nourishing children and family to one that is empowering.” Their connection to food is being reconfigured from one that represents familial life to one that performs social and political activism using a digital platform.

The blog not only gives voice to the group and allows for self-representation, but it is also making a commentary on contemporary food culture. Discourses around diet and healthy eating habits position the individual as solely responsible for her or his health, thus shifting focus away from issues around food security, accessibility, and safety. They are also discourses that have permeated the notion of “successful aging” through the prescription of eating a certain way to maintain a “healthy lifestyle”. Eating becomes about caloric calculations and fat intake, rather than a more holistic understanding of the body and processes of aging. Contemporary discourses around food have, as Myriam notes, created normativities about how one should or should not eat and age: “This kind of discourse doesn’t take into account cultural backgrounds or individual bodies. It does not acknowledge singularities, but rather produces the effect ‘you should eat that’ even if it does not fit into your traditional diet or lifestyle.”

The shared lunches and food blog have also been a means for members of RECAA to engage in a cultural exchange of sorts. The group is ethnically diverse and everyone brings their own recipes, relationships, and access to different foods. Myriam relates the frustration some of the women feel when they cannot find the ingredients they want to make recipes from their home countries, as well as food often tastes different in North America from other parts of the world. She tells a story of one woman who grew up in the Caribbean and whose family raised chickens as well as grew vegetables and limes, and finds the chicken available in Montreal largely tasteless, that it doesn’t have the flavours of a chicken raised at home. The Food Talks bloggers have modified their recipes over the years to accommodate ingredient availability and different foods in their everyday cooking, and more recently how to adapt to the food blog culture. “One of the first challenges we had was that most of the women don’t use recipes when they cook. They don’t measure amounts or proceed by steps, but tend to improvise. We had to spend time to deconstruct their recipes so that we could create something accessible to blog readers.”

To record recipes RECAA members have cooking sessions facilitated by Myriam and ACT research assistants, Antonia Hernández and Magdalena Olszanowski, where they practice their photography and filming skills while recording measurements and steps of the recipe being featured that week. They also interview the person in charge of the recipe, so that when they meet next they have the material to produce a blog post. They have visuals as well as stories and thoughts about the recipe. These cooking events have begun to extend out into different communities as well. In February, in honour of Black History Month, RECAA shared a lunch with community members of Union United Church, Canada’s oldest black congregation. It was an opportunity to share experiences of living in the city, as well as learn about racism in Montreal. The lunch created a space for RECAA and the congregation to exchange and share, and become community partners.

Myriam’s Ph.D. research is engaged in thinking about the ways in which discourses on food and diet engender practices and conceptions of the body. With the emergence of a biomedicalized food culture, she examines the ways in which the contemporary body becomes a semiotic body and a medium for connecting a multiplicity of discursive, material, disciplinary, and institutional elements.

When asked what she has learned in the project, Myriam said that the group has offered her the means to develop a critical eye for the knowledge produced about food through various discourses. She says that the joy of cooking and eating the members of RECAA share is far more important than having recipes that calculate protein or fat. That the ways in which the the group relates to food is more embodied, it is about pleasure and the experience of eating together. It is about responding to a discourse that does not acknowledge the political, cultural, and social dimensions of food. It is about discovering the potential food has for activism and learning.

To learn more about Food Talks and RECAA visit their website at: http://foodtalks.recaa.ca/

If you would like to get in touch with Myriam: myriam.durocher (at)umontreal(dot)ca


MA student Kelly Leonard wins prize for research poster

On March 16, 2017, Kelly Leonard, ACT Research Assistant and MA Student at Concordia University, presented a research poster as part of Concordia’s Individualized Program Research Day. Leonard’s poster, entitled “Practitioners’ perspective on Computer and Tablet Use in Therapeutic Recreation Practice,” was was awarded second place for best poster in the MA Student category. Leonard’s poster, available here, features research from her ACT-funded project “Bringing the Community to You!“.

Call for student applications: GUSEGG

ACT is sponsoring a module on ageing, communication and technologies as part of the Graz International Summer School Seggau (GUSEGG), to be held in July 2017 and organized by the University of Graz.
This year the module focusses on (Re)configuring Age and Ageing: Critical Mediations in Critical Times, and is taught by ACT researchers Line Grenier and David Madden. ACT will partially fund up to five graduate students to attend the school, and specifically cover costs pertaining to tuition and boarding. You can learn more about the GUSEGG here, and the module on ageing here. More information about ACT’s involvement in the school from 2015 (including a great video “trailer” produced during the summer school) can be found here.

This opportunity is open to ACT-affiliated students who have not had the chance to participate in the school. Interested students need to apply to ACT. Applications should be sent to application@actproject.ca by April 12, 2017 and should include:

1) a 500-word letter on the student’s motivation to attend Graz International Summer School Seggau 2017 and why the topic of the lectures and seminar model is of value to them. The student should especially explain how their research fits within ACT and how they will benefit from courses in the module of (Re)configuring Age and Ageing: Critical Mediations in Critical Times.

2) A C.V.

3) The ACT student support form signed by a co-applicant or collaborator (form attached)

Successful candidates will be asked to provide more information to the GUSEGG, including academic transcripts and a copy of their passports.

End of fieldwork for Smartwatches, adoption(s) and appropriation(s)

The team for the ACT-funded research project Smartwatches, adoption(s) and appropriations(s) has recently completed one year of fieldwork.

The fieldwork extended from Winter 2015/16 to  Winter 2016/17. During this amazing period we conducted bi.monthly semi-structured interviews with participants, and performed a usability test. Interviews were recorded and transcribed and we are now analyzing them to bring the results into discussion in conferences, and to publish journal articles.

The project involved nine participants: five in Barcelona (three women, two men), four in Rome (one woman, three men). With ages between 65 and 80 at the beginning of the study, the average age was 71.1 years old. We provided participants with a smartwatch: they could choose from among the Moto G 360 models available on the market during the recruitment process.

The project is led by ACT co-applicant Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol of Open University of Catalonia’s (OUC) IN3 in Barcelona, and includes other ACT members Francesca Comunello of Lumsa University in Rome, Simone Mulargia of Sapienza University of Rome and Núria Ferran-Ferrer of OUC.

Seniors Media Day at the Atwater Library and Computer Centre in Montreal

On Friday March 17, our partner the Atwater Library and Computer Centre (ALCC) is organizing a full day of activities under the theme “Seniors Media Day.” This day of events, which is the culmination of ALCC’s “Downsizing Project” conducted in collaboration with ACT, brings together seniors from the community to engage in hands-on workshops, panels and discussions on the topics at the intersections of downsizing in later life and analog/digital technologies. ACT collaborator Eric Craven of ALCC and ACT co-applicant Line Grenier of the Université de Montréal will be part of the day.



RECAA-ACT Pop Up Restaurant

Ressources ethnoculturelles contre l’abus envers les aîné(e)s (RECAA) and ACT invite you to their POP-UP Restaurant at Place Commune on March 25th, from 12pm to 2pm in Montreal.

This event is part of a food blog project, Food Talks, À table with RECAA and friends, developed in partnership with ACT. The project has unfolded through four main types of activities: cooking sessions and food forums that invite conversation, participation and inclusion; intergenerational digital skills workshops that focus on the skills required to write blog posts (photography, audio and writing workshops); the production and publication of blog posts and printed promotional cards; and cooking and eating events with partners and friends to favour discussion and raise awareness through community about RECAA’s concerns and mandate. Through this food blog project, RECAA, as an activist organization, strives to develop agency within a contemporary “food culture”.

Come to enjoy recipes from our food blog at foodtalks.recaa.ca and find out more about the project on the ACT project page.

Where: 7669 Querbes, Parc Extension – Wheelchair accessible (Metro Parc, 80 Bus)

When: Brunch will be served on March 25th, from 12pm to 2pm

How much: $8 for a plate; $2 for tea/coffee

WAM Summer School: Celebrating 10 Years of WAM

Call for Papers – Summer School 2017


“Noisy Women!”: The Women, Ageing and Media International Research Summer School 2017

27th – 29th June 2017

University of Gloucestershire, at Gloucester and Cheltenham

The 2017 International Women, Ageing and Media (WAM) Research Summer School (at the University of Gloucestershire) will take place in Gloucester and Cheltenham (UK) on 27th, 28th and 29th June. It will bring together international postgraduate researchers across disciplines, whose research engages with women and ageing in relation to popular cultural forms (e.g. popular music, film, television, literature. dance, fashion and digital social media) and any of the following approaches and/or issues: identity, activism, representation, cultural activity, creativity, lived experience. The Summer School theme is ‘Noisy Women’ (which can be interpreted broadly as older women who are not silent).

We are delighted to announce the participation of ACT colleagues, Professor Kim Sawchuk (Concordia University, Canada) and Professor Stephen Katz (Trent University, Canada).

The Summer School will take place over three days and provides excellent opportunities for postgraduate researchers to make important connections with other researchers working in the field of Ageing Studies. In addition to presenting your own research, there will be workshops exploring methods and conceptual issues relating to women and ageing studies. The third day will involve discussions and learning opportunities co-created with representatives from WAM’s community partners.

In addition to the academic programme there will also be the annual WAM dancing event. This year will be an extra special celebration to mark the 10th anniversary of WAM – we very much look forward to celebrating with you!

Call for abstracts:

We invite applications to two different strands of presentation:

  1. Proposals for 20 minute presentations are invited from doctoral and early career researchers at any stage of their work and from any discipline whose topics are relevant to women, ageing and the theme ‘Noisy Women!’. Presentations may take the form of papers, posters, films and multimedia presentations.
  1. Proposals are also invited for our inaugural ‘Three Minute Thesis’ session. This is your opportunity to present a clear and precise account of your research thesis/project. It is a great opportunity to prepare for submission, viva and/or grant application.

Please submit abstracts of 250 words by 24th March 2017 to wambookings@glos.ac.uk

Your abstract details should include:
· Your name, email address, institutional affiliation and year of study
· Title of PhD/Research Project and disciplinary field
· Up to five key words, which will help reviewers classify your panel
· Technical requirements for presentation

We will confirm you have a place by 31st March 2017. The deadline for registration and payment is 31st May 2017. There is a fee of £80 (unwaged) and £120 (waged) which covers Summer School participation.

A full programme plus details for registration, travel and accommodation will appear on the WAM webpage by the end of April, once places have been confirmed:

If you have any queries, please contact WAM Administrator and WAM/ACT doctoral student Alison Willmott (AlisonWillmott@connect.glos.ac.uk).


ACT Funding

ACT will partially fund up to four ACT-affiliated PhD students or postdoctoral fellows who have been admitted to participate in “strand 1” (meaning, they have been accepted to give a 20-minute presentation), and who have not yet had the chance to participate in the summer school. Priority will be given to those who have not received ACT funding in the previous 12 months. Funding will offset costs for the flight (or train) as well as accommodations, for a total amount of up to 1,500 CAD.  Those wanting to be considered for ACT funding should include in their abstract to WAM a statement indicating they want to be considered for ACT funding. They should also send to ACT (application@actproject.ca) a copy of their full application to WAM, a budget detailing costs for travel in CAD (flight or train, and accommodations), and a completed support form signed by a senior ACT researcher (available to download here). The deadline for the funding application to ACT is also March 24th, 2017.

This call for applications has been written with information originally published on the WAM website.


Postdoctoral Fellowship at Concordia University on “The Politics of Social Gerontology in Asian Post-Industrialised Societies”

The Concordia University Research Chair in Aging and Public Policy is seeking candidates for a postdoctoral fellow position to conduct research on “The Politics of Social Gerontology in Asian Post-Industrialized Societies.” The selected candidate will work with ACT Collaborator Patrik Marier, as well as Meghan Joy at Concordia University. Applications are due April 1, and the complete call for applicants is available on the Concordia University website.

ACT members on CKUT radio in Montreal

ACT members will be alongside partners Respecting Elders Communities against Abuse (RECAA) on the Older Women Live (OWL) radio programme on CKUT in Montreal. They will discuss the recent food blog project, and will talk about the longstanding collaboration between ACT and RECAA that spans creative and research projects. Listen in on Wednesday, March 8 at 6pm on CKUT (90.3) in Montreal.