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Understanding Gleaning Historical and Cultural Contexts

Understanding Gleaning Historical and Cultural Contexts

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Published by: Gulf Restoration Network on Jul 16, 2010
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Understanding Gleaning:Historical and Cultural Contexts of the Shift from Rural toUrban Models for the Improvement of Food SecuritySandrine Badio
This research was made possible through the cooperation of Village Harvest, LifeCycles, North Harvest Berkeley, Portland Urban Tree Project, St. Andrews Society, and Thunder Bay Food  Action Network.Sponsored by Dr. Gary Genosko’s Technoculture Lab and the Food Security Research Network at Lakehead University, 2009.
 
 
 2
  Introduction
Gleaning is an ancient practice rooted in the Bible. In the book of Leviticus, God dictatesto Moses the Laws of the land, one of which pertained to the welfare of the poor: “When youreap the harvest of your land do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus: 19:22). In some euro-Christian societies where the line between the church and state was unclear, the ancient act of gleaning was tolerated by law. With the erosion of feudalism and the emergence of capitalism,legal reforms began to ban or curtail the act of gleaning to accommodate the new economic orderin Europe (Simonton 1998: 120). Further, Western states gradually implemented welfare systemsthat repudiated the
laissez-faire
attitude towards poverty (Guest 1997). In doing so, the stateshouldered the responsibility for providing for its poor, externalizing independent acts of philanthropy (Tillotson 2008)In an effort to reduce fiscal deficits, governments have, over the last few decades, slashedsocial programs that protect the welfare of low-income families in Canada. As a result, theresponsibility for providing for the poor is returning to communities and non-profitorganizations. Centuries after the undermining of gleaning, communities across North Americaare reviving and modernizing the ancient practice to tackle one dimension of poverty—foodinsecurity. This report attempts to provide an overview of gleaning, its various facets, and how itis being used presently as a tactic to achieve food security. I will look at how gleaning has beenrepresented in scholarship and the mainstream media. I will analyze the dimensions of gleaningin relation to food politics, food security, and humanitarianism and then briefly look at select
 
 3locations where gleaning is actively underway. I want to offer a comparative analysis of threedistinctive models of gleaning administered by different bodies. Finally, I will close bysummarizing information that I have gathered from individuals who are currently coordinatingsimilar initiatives. It needs to be kept in mind that, in Canada, food insecurity is a silent problemthat plagues about 9.2% of the population (Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion. 2007). Gleaning is a cost-effective tool that may be applied to empower individuals to participate in theprocess of securing food for themselves in a dignified and sustainable manner.
 Rural and Historical Roots
In modern scholarship, gleaning has been largely overlooked. Existing research tends toexamine the topic from a European framework during the pivotal phase of legislative adaptationto the economical restructuring that occurred during the 18th century. By oversimplifying theanalysis of the practice of gleaning, important historical information on its role in communal life,agricultural methods, labour relations within the village, approaches to property, changingperceptions of charity, definitions of criminality and marginality, and the role of women in ruraleconomy has been mostly overlooked (Vardi 1993: 1426).Liana Vardi (1993) illustrates a rather vintage perspective on gleaning in France by lookingpractices from the Middle Ages through to the eighteenth century (Vardi 1993). France, unlikeEngland, protected the customary right of gleaners. This was only achieved, however, throughpervasive state interference. By marginalizing the economic significance of gleaning, a paidactivity that was part of farm labourers’ earnings, was abandoned to the poor under state pressure(Vardi 1993: 1433). The state’s interference in agricultural arrangements led to the victimization

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