New year, new semester.
Welcome back. It’s been a while. Not only did I miss my final blog post of the term as a result of it being essay-writing season, but we also had a month away from uni for Christmas and New Year. A month to finally get bored of eating sprouts, to question the traditions of turkey and goose, to debate the ethics behind our pigs in blankets, to ponder the authenticity of our mince pies, and to ferment the last of the endless cabbages.
This week, as the snow fell and the Easter eggs started to fill the shops, we began to delve into our two new topics for this semester: food systems, and food communications.
Monday 15th January
The System: From Field to Market
Politics, Power and Control
After an overview of what promises to be a fascinating yet heavy-going module, we took a look at the fundamental principles behind the food system.
The food system involves biological, political, economic, social and cultural issues. Everything we have studied so far on the course, and everything we will study this semester, fits somewhere into the food system. We looked at the food system as being like an hourglass, with a vast number of producers supplying a small number of traders and retailers, who sell to an enormous quantity of consumers.
We tried to distinguish between ‘food security’ and ‘food sovereignty’, terms that are often misused and misunderstood. Food security is about the ability to access the food needed in order to live. Food sovereignty goes further, taking into account the need for people to have local control over food production, such as choosing to be self-sufficient, and being able to access food that is appropriate to their surroundings, community and cultural identity.
We thought back to the topic of the microbiome, which we studied last semester, in relation to food aid and food banks, because an extreme change in diet for a community that has previously eaten local and culturally-appropriate foods, could be detrimental to their gut health.
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals were introduced in 2015 in order to “end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all”. The 17 goals have been adopted by all countries of the UN to achieve sustainable development over the next 15 years, and even large corporations, such as Coca-Cola, have committed to the challenge. Looking through the list of goals, all encompass the food system in some way:
Good health and well-being
Clean water and sanitation
Affordable and clean energy
Decent work and economic growth
Industry, innovation and infrastructure
Sustainable cities and communities
Responsible production and consumption
Life below water
Life on land
Peace, justice and strong institutions
Partnerships for the goals
In the afternoon, Elli Kontorravdis, Policy and Campaign Manager for Nourish Scotland, came in to speak to us about the Right to Food Campaign. According to the Nourish website, “The right to food is our individual right to be able to eat well, and our collective right to a fair and sustainable food system.” It sits more in the area of food sovereignty than food security. Although part of international human rights law, the right to food has not been incorporated into domestic law. Nourish is campaigning for the Scottish Government to do just that through the Good Food Nation Bill, which you can also read about in my post from last semester.
In the UK, 21-29% of people are living in poverty. The current food system is causing issues such as obesity and the use of pesticides, and limiting geographical access to food as well as access to land. The fear is that without the right to food, Brexit could increase regression in the food system. If the bill goes through, the Scottish Government could be protected against decisions being overridden by the UK Government.
We are currently facing challenges such as globalisation, urbanisation, climate change, biodiversity loss, economic instability and growing inequality. In a food system where around ten brands dominate the market, and seeds are owned by a handful of corporations, campaigns such as this have the power to change policy, going some way to making changes to the way the food system functions.
Corinna Hawkes, Director for the Centre for Food Policy at City University, believes that there are seven connections that need to be made in order to fix the food system: connecting the problems; connecting decision-making; connecting the supply chain; connecting with consumers; connecting with ourselves; connecting with place; and connecting with people. With this in mind, perhaps the gastronomer’s view could hold some of the answers to this seemingly insurmountable problem.
Tuesday 16th January
Food Communication and Consumption
Introduction: Communication Theory and Semiotics
On Tuesday, we began the (more light-hearted) communications module. We’d been asked to bring in examples of food communication, which ranged from cookbooks and magazines, to food and cookware packaging, and even a personal dinner party planner. These forms of communication, as well as many more, are so familiar that it is important distance oneself in order to analyse them and approach them critically. However, it must also be remembered that forms of communication such as television, radio and magazines, are there for our enjoyment.
Communication can be used to inform and entertain, but also to persuade and sell, through politics and marketing. It also has the potential to make change, for example through a campaign such as the Right to Food, which we heard about yesterday. Often it seems there is an overwhelming amount of information available, making it hard to know what to believe.
We had a look at language and semiotics (the study of meaning) as the basis of communication, thinking about the importance of context. In the food world, a word such as meat can have one literal meaning, but cultural connotations can invoke other meanings, such as masculinity or wealth. These connotations change over time, for example in the case of white bread, which has shifted across the social classes, from its association as a pure, refined food of the rich, to that of a cheap product connected with working-class dietary health problems.
In this module, we will be studying a range of methods of food communication. Through both this and the systems module, we will be taking the theory from last semester to a more practical level. There will be a great deal to learn and plenty to blog about!