Megan Stewart is an MA candidate in sociology. She grew up in Bishop’s Falls, Newfoundland and completed her undergraduate degree at Memorial with a major in sociology and minor in English. Under the supervision of Dr. Mark Stoddart in sociology and Dr. Charlie Mather in geography, her graduate research explores the relationships between food tourism and the security of the food system in the Bonavista Peninsula region of Newfoundland.
How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your graduate degree?
Continuing my graduate studies at Memorial after finishing my undergrad here was an easy choice. During my five years in the university community, I was able to build relationships with amazing, supportive people whose research interests matched and helped shape my own. Two of these people are now my graduate supervisors. I had taken courses in sociological theory, social movements, and oil development with Dr. Stoddart, and participated in an interdisciplinary food studies programme at Memorial’s campus in Harlow, UK with Dr. Mather. Having a previous relationship with two people who were on board to help guide my research was a big deciding factor for me. That, and of course the fact that my work is very much focused on Newfoundland definitely makes Memorial the best place for me to do my research.
What drew you to explore sociology originally?
I’ve always been interested in social justice. In junior high and high school I was very outspoken about climate change, industrial farming, and class inequality, among other things, but I didn’t always have a good grasp on what real solutions I could work toward. I think studying sociology gave me the tools I needed to understand how seemingly individual problems are connected with wider social, political, and economic issues. Understanding how the world around us is constructed is absolutely necessary to being able to re-shape it in more just ways, and studying sociology was a great way to help me engage meaningfully with social issues.
Why is food security such an important issue these days?
I think food security has always been an important issue, but it seems to me that there’s an increasing awareness of how complicated and unequal our food systems are, and so food security has become a bit of a hot topic. This seems especially true in Newfoundland and Labrador, where it’s possible to have to pay thirteen dollars for a container of juice, or for a whole town to run out of fresh meats and produce if ferry service to the mainland is disrupted for a day. It’s hard to hear about something like that on the news and not wonder how our food system can be that broken. I also think Newfoundlanders and Labradorians see solutions to the problem of food insecurity where perhaps they didn’t before. New greenhouses in Labrador, the expansion of the St. John’s Farmer’s Market, and community gardens popping up across the island are local examples that make people think it’s possible to produce food or make a profit from a small farm here. Fighting food insecurity in these ways also gets people paying attention to the wider issue.
Can you tell us a bit about your current research?
My research explores the relationships between food tourism and the security of the food system in the Bonavista Peninsula region of Newfoundland. This is a rural area that relies heavily on income from tourist operations and has seen a tremendous increase in food tourism recently. Restaurants like the Bonavista Social Club and Boreal Diner, the Two Whales Café, the newly opened Port Rexton Brewery, and the Roots, Rants, and Roars culinary festival in Elliston have been wildly successful. At the same time, we know that a dispersed population and reliance on imported food in Newfoundland present a major challenge to consistent access to healthy, affordable foods. I’m interested in whether there is a conflict between food tourism and the security of the Bonavista Peninsula’s food system, and how communities, food security activists, and the tourism industry can work together for the economic sustainability of rural communities. Ideally, the ability for tourists to eat local, healthy, and sustainable foods could help local people have access to these foods, too. I’m really hoping that the findings of this research will be used as a resource for guiding the development of local food systems and for ethical tourism development in rural areas.
A supervisor can be key to the success of any grad student. What do your supervisors, Dr. Mark Stoddart and Dr. Charlie Mather bring to their roles as your advisors and mentors?
I’m lucky that both my supervisors are skilled and experienced researchers in their different fields whose work each relates to a different aspect of my own research. Dr. Stoddart works in the areas of tourism, social movements, and environmental sociology, which makes for a great fit with my interests in food tourism and food security activism. I am also working as a research assistant on Dr. Stoddart’s SSHRC Insight Grant-funded project “The Oil-Tourism Interface and Social-Ecological Change in the North Atlantic”. Contributing to this project is a great opportunity for me to get to know the process of doing qualitative research before I dive in to my own. Dr. Mather’s work in geography focuses on the globalization of food production, community and regional sustainability, and resource allocation. He is able to speak to the other side of my research that is concerned with the Bonavista Peninsula’s food security and food system. Aside from each being extraordinarily helpful and supportive supervisors, they are also coming to the issues of food tourism and food security from different perspectives that I’m sure will help bring some nuance to my graduate work.
Have you attended any conferences/delivered any papers this year? Can you give details?
I just started my program in September, so an opportunity to travel to a conference or give a presentation hasn’t come up yet. I’ll definitely be attending the Aldrich graduate conference here at Memorial in March, though, and looking for ways to share my research with others when it’s more developed.
Are you involved in any organizations on-campus or off? If so, can you explain and detail such involvement?
In other semesters I’ve been much more involved, but this fall I decided to give myself a bit of a break to focus on coursework. One activity I took on is writing for the School of Graduate Studies student blog, My Master Plan, which is available on the SGS website. In the past I’ve been active with FARM (Food Advocacy Research Memorial), which brings together faculty and students who are interested in food studies and does fantastic work connecting researchers together and promoting interest in food-related issues. I am excited to be more involved again after my final papers are finished, and have a few volunteer activities lined up for the winter break. One of them will be guiding visitors during the first holiday light festival at MUN Botanical Garden, where I worked through most of my undergraduate degree.
What do you like most about being a graduate student at Memorial?
Being a graduate student at Memorial gives me an opportunity to explore the issues that are most important to me in a place that I love and consider my home. Researching and writing about my passions during the week and hiking, cod fishing with family, or listening to my friends play music on the weekend is pretty much a dream come true. Despite the demands and stress that also come with graduate school, I am very grateful to be doing what I’m doing, where I’m doing it.
What do you hope to do after completing your graduate degree?
I have two post-graduation options in my head. In one scenario, I move to another Canadian city to pursue a Ph.D. In the other, I am in Newfoundland working toward food security with a non-profit and finally starting my backyard farm.