Doctoral candidate Kate Johnston presents at Food Conference in Perugia, Italy

3 July 2012

"Perugia is an ideal location for a food conference", says doctoral candidate Kate Johnston.

At what point does a fish, which travels through various routes in its lifespan, become 'sustainable'? How does this 'sustainability' affect fishing communities? These are some of the questions that doctoral candidate Kate Johnston examined in a paper she presented at a recent food conference in Perugia, Italy.

The paper was titled Global Fish, Local Production: Italian fishers in the trade flows of Bluefin Tuna, and was co-written with Kate's supervisor Professor Elspeth Probyn. The work considers the complexity of global flows of humans and fish, in this case the story of Italian migrants who fished for tuna in Southern Italy before migrating to Australia in the early 1900s.

"Only when we can understand the complex relationships between people, cultures and the environment can we begin to render fish-human homes sustainable", says Ms Johnston.

Kate's doctoral research has a strong focus on sustainability. She uses the literal example of canned tuna to study the routes that these fish make before ending up in a can of tuna and how and when they are accredited as sustainable.

"I am interested in the impact these new 'sustainable' brands have upon the fishing communities, places, trade flows and technologies", she says.

Having undertaken a Masters in Italy, Kate jumped at the chance to attend the conference in Perugia, "the conference gave me the chance to connect research undertaken in Italy with the PhD I commenced this year through the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney."

"I was also drawn to the theme title of the conference - 'Italian Food: Fact or Fiction', which proved to foster presentations and discussions that challenged stereotypes of Italian identity and food" she explains.

Conference organizer and director of the Food Studies Program at the Umbria Institute, Professor Zachary Nowak, said of the conference "It was a great opportunity for people from a variety of disciplines to talk about their research on food". Co-organiser Professor Elgin Eckert added, "The level of papers and the quality of the discussion after each session was high. We were honoured that Ms. Johnston would come all the way from Australia to present with us."

Nowak and Elgin hope to repeat the conference at the Umbria Institute in 2014, and this is an opportunity that Kate Johnston would recommend.

"Perugia is an ideal location for a food conference, set in Umbria, a landlocked region of Italy, where the mountainous landscape is scattered with monasteries and home to some of the best cured meats, chocolates, and truffles in Italy", Kate explains.

"Being someone who is not only interested in studying food but also eating, yes, I definitely enjoyed my time there".

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