Professor David Meek (PhD University of Georgia, 2014) is an environmental anthropologist, critical geographer, and food systems education scholar with area specializations in Brazil and India. Professor Meek theoretically grounds his research in a synthesis of political ecology, critical pedagogy, and agrarian studies. His interests include: sustainable agriculture, social movements, and environmental education.
In a series of recent publications, Meek has begun advancing a theoretical framework of the political ecology of education. This perspective illuminates how the reciprocal relations between political economic forces and pedagogical opportunities—from tacit to formal learning—affect the production, dissemination, and contestation of environmental knowledge at various interconnected scales. This framework draws upon nearly a decade of research Meek has conducted on the opportunities and constraints facing the Brazilian Landless Workers' Movement’s (MST) efforts to advance sustainable agriculture education into state curricula at various institutional scales. As part of this research, Meek combined ethnography, community-level surveys to assess food insecurity and livelihood activities, and geospatial analyses. Although the MST has made gains in advancing sustainable agriculture education by harnessing public policies, Meek found that the entrenched land management culture of extensive cattle ranching and the region’s largely degraded landscapes remain significant challenges for developing sustainable food system
Currently, Meek is working to synthesize the political ecologies of health and education—two emerging areas of scholarship that together illuminate how knowledge, health, and the environment are intertwined. By integrating these theories, Meek seeks to provide new insight into how food systems education can produce landscapes of well- or ill-being, and how education shapes adaptation, food sovereignty and food security. This research speaks to a call from within anthropology for new analyses of the relationships between sustainable food production practices and long-term health—an obvious but surprisingly under-studied area.
Meek has two active, and related, research projects that sit at the intersection of food production and mental health in India. The first project focuses on food sovereignty, critical food systems education, and mental health in the South Indian state of Karnataka. Given the prevalence of farmer suicides in India, Meek is evaluating whether or not a farmer’s degree of food sovereignty and participation in critical food systems education is associated with positive mental health outcomes. Preliminary results suggest that farmers are able to better adapt to agricultural and ecological uncertainties associated with climate change through learning sustainable agriculture techniques.
The second project explores how food systems education functions within the state’s push to advance organic agriculture. Meek is analyzing the linkages between food systems education, food sovereignty, and scale in the remote Northeastern Indian states of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and Nagaland, all of which are pursuing certifications for 100% state-wide organic production. Since scale and human health are related, Meek is analyzing whether rescaling agricultural systems (from polycultures to monocultures or vice versa) changes indices of food sovereignty.
Together, these two emerging projects form a cohesive whole: each draws upon ethnographic and spatial methods to illuminate the role of food systems education in improving, or potentially damaging, farmers' food sovereignty, mental health, and food security.
As a political ecologist of education, Meek’s third project is not explicitly health-related, but rather explores the interrelations between the spatiality of rural school closings across Brazil and the advance of agroindustrial capitalism. In Brazil, more than 28,000 rural schools have been closed within the last eight years. Drawing upon geostatistical techniques, this project analyzes whether spatial correlations exist between the locations of school closings, and those municipalities that have either high indices of large-scale agricultural development, or large numbers of social movement settlements. This project is a collaboration with scholars in Brazil’s Nucleus of Agrarian Reform Studies at the State University of São Paulo.