Photo credit: Straits Times
With more than half of the population living in cities, there is now a growing interest in producing food in urban areas. Living in Singapore allowed me to see a different kind of urban farming movement. In the United States, there is a tendency for urban farming movements to focus on the issues of food security and justice. Nestled in post-industrial inner cities, urban farming spaces in the United States endeavor to address issues of food access in low-income, communities of color. However, critical food scholars have now raised concerns about the tendency of urban farming to be associated with gentrification.
The case of Singapore, however, is different. Urban farming began largely as a nostalgic endeavor among residents who long for the opportunity to touch the soil and interact with the natural environment. It is only recently that urban farming has taken a more food security perspective. Our findings thus far point to an overemphasis on aesthetics (i.e. what and how urban farms should look like in manicured Singapore), which drives everyday politics among urban farmers, state bureaucrats, institution officials, and even non-farming residents—a situation we refer to as everyday aesthetic politics. Urban farmers negotiate aesthetic politics and governance as they plan and execute their production spaces, resulting in both benefits (e.g. recognition and awards) and disadvantages (e.g. double work and production disruptions). Thus they both take advantage of and resist aesthetic forms of governance. On the surface, observers deem urban farmers in Singapore as just performing rather than producing—that it’s just a hobby and that they’re not actually “producing” food. A closer look, however, would reveal how urban farmers pay attention to the nourishment materialities of food for everyday consumption while performing what is expected of them in Singapore’s aesthetic politics.