Researchers meet artists and activists

Alongside the work happening in the North East, the Our Food project set up a meeting of agricultural researchers, activists and artists, who met at Harper Adams Agricultural College near Telford in September.

Through forming this group, Our Food hopes to:

  • find ways to improve discussions between people who work in and support conventional intensive agriculture, including genetic modification, and those who want a different food system
    This first meeting was a bit of an experiment to see how this could be done. It was structured to help people understand each other better, for example: by getting to know people in a more rounded way, not just in their work role; through discussing personal thoughts and experiences of food; and through creative activities.
  • encourage the use of arts and creativity in learning about food systems
    Madhoo, the theatre maker for the project, was present at the meeting, and will include what he learnt at this meeting, as well as information from the activities in the North East, in the theatre piece he is devising.
  • support the work of the Our Food project in the North East.

The people attending this gathering found the meeting really helpful (see comments below) and would like to meet up again. A suggestion that came out of the meeting was that this group could also provide peer support to academics and researchers to change university curricula relating to food.

Comments from participants

Dave – crop breeder and horticulturalist

The workshop was valuable for me on both a professional and personal level. Professionally it was extremely valuable to meet and have open and free discussions with a group of people with a common interest in food but who came from very diverse disciplines. Usually when I have been involved in multidisciplinary approaches to food it has involved attempting to cross the divide between ‘hard’ science and social sciences and humanities, the involvement of people from the Arts pushed the idea of interdisciplinary approaches to a problem much further than I had experienced previously. Although always enjoyable and valuable there were times when this was also challenging to me (which in itself was valuable).

On a personal level I found the whole experience stimulating and renewed my enthusiasm and energy. I also realised that I have a somewhat schizophrenic attitude to food. This was brought home to me when interviewed by Flora about food. My responses to her questions made me realise how important food was to me in my personal and social life but that this ‘from the heart’ view of food was generally kept separate from my ‘from the head’ view of my scientific research. Hopefully I can connect them more.

Bex – food and science policy researcher

I would say everyone at the workshop was an explorer on a food journey of sorts, but with very different paths trodden, lenses used, tools in the box, and in all manner of landscapes – actual and conceptual. What was so nice was the openness and support with which we all explored those different experiences, and importantly were then able to more clearly reflect on our work and the broader food journey of which that is only a part. For me this process was very exciting, in part because it made me realise the particularities of my path (both as an individual, but also as a member of a research institution), it gave shape to some of the ruts that I knew were there, but hadn’t had a chance to reflect on, and showed me some other highways, byways, bush tracks and tow paths. I’d like to think it also created a community of people who will keep sharing and collectively questioning.

I liked also the faith that Tom and Madhoo instilled in us to be creative and productive, without forcing it. This seems characteristic of the project as a whole and the ideas on which it is based – of valuing broader engagement and having faith that that will be generative of much richer and more deeply held ideas about the food system, its problems and potential, and the many ways it can be known.

Wendy – Plant Scientist and Vegetable Grower

I am a research scientist by training, and that style of thought (linear, logical, deductive) is second nature. I employ this way of thinking in my current day-to-day work as a vegetable producer. I love arts, but they have been kept in the leisure side of my life. Using arts to address issues central to my work life (food, and all the issues that surround it’s production and consumption) is something that never occurred to me until I attended the “Our Food” workshop.

I found working with a group of people who have very different skills in arts and sciences very instructive. We all had the same problem, but had very different approaches. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the workshop was discovering how helpful a poem can be in making complex issues accessible! I have had my thinking expanded, and I am sure that some of the things that I have learnt will be useful in improving the ways that I exchange knowledge. This is important for me because part of my current role is facilitation of knowledge transfer between scientists and growers – two groups who, for various reasons, do not always see eye to eye.

Our Food intends to reopen and invigorate the discussion about food in society. Bringing together people who may not normally exchange ideas on this topic is a great way forward, and the surprise associated with how differently others approach the same problem does actually help the discussion move forward.

Michel – researcher on agroecology, food, and citizenship

I was happy with this workshop because everyone helped create a supportive atmosphere in which all participants felt valued and respected – regardless of who they were, where they were coming from, and what they said. The group dynamic was fun and creative as it became increasingly open to more artistic and personal expressions of feelings and emotions. And people also engaged in serious intellectual discussions that framed issues very broadly and inclusively – great! I very much enjoyed participating in this gently chaotic but creative process in which good ideas playfully emerged through our collective intelligence and shared desire to find ways out of the dead end of industrial food and farming.

Ruth – multi-disciplinary participatory researcher, facilitator and arts practitioner

It was a really special gathering; two days that helped us to understand each other, not just as one dimensional characters, which gave a better understanding of people’s motivations, developed trust and gave insights into ways to have better dialogue.

Julia – researcher into organic agriculture and food systems

The several things I enjoyed most of all about the event were: meeting such creative people who I’d love to work with again, having time to reflect from different angles, and the personal implications of what we were discussing.

Tom – participatory worker and researcher

Such an amazing group of people. Our shared purpose and motives combined in a chaotic space that allowed us to think in new ways. We still disagreed, but without losing mutual respect. We began conversations that can and must continue. We began a journey that I hope will support more and even more diverse voices to join.

Flora and Miche – research and arts, inspiring cultural transition through ecological food practices

Our question: What was inspiring and pioneering about Our Food group?

  • an interdisciplinary group
  • exchanges with and through the arts
  • continuous enquiry and reflection within the process.
  • working with mind body and spirit – personal and political histories, memories, cultures, experiences
  • letting the objects speak
  • spaciousness of time to share feelings, to explore blocks, challenges, resources and potential directions to follow
  • focus on the relationship with food itself
  • exploring new form of thinking .. No fixed plan … allowing ‘exploring systems’
  • to evolve organically
  • group as a model of embodied, extended enquiry
  • through the group a diversity of experience in the world becoming a barometer for meaningful research.

Chris – poet and DJ

Food in the 70’s plenty plenty Ardent Yardies

Used to called it YabbY Yoods

 Still Food

 Sit still chill

If you will

 If your will wills let’s talk…….let’s break unleavened bread…….palpating pittas….. Cascading comfort conjuring chapattis….contagious croissants….. will waking wholegrain…….holy guacamole no wholly processed Loafs…… Hard Dough or Soda bread And talk YabbY YooDs

Oops sorry Food

 We all require each morsel……of each portions mighty empire……of vivaciously varied vitality voluminating fuel

I ts cruel……crude that the very commodity that’s essential to replenish our energies……has been sentenced to a relatively Narrow field….. fallow yields…….of nutrient deficient Frankenstein meals to appease the ceaseless entreats…..the cellular Level repetitious habitudes of our dis-information deluded sense of taste…is traded….is viewed as a source of profit…….by The fundamentally dishonest malevolent prophets of profit…of gaining from an others loss………the basic stuff of life Should be free apart from reasonable righteously redistributed returns on costs…….

We must countenance or at least contemplate…debate…….the latent yet prescient truth

 That the vast majority of overly processed…….stunted osmosis substances……..the masses have been duped to consumes only true utility is to addict and abuse

 We’ve been doting…….foolishly nurtured to fiend on an over prevalence of protein since our ancestors admirable adventurousness led them to relegate balanced harmonious sustainable agricultural pursuits……….

Producing a slew….a slurry of rueful – Gaia’s spewing – ensuing conclusions…….once tilling and worshiping Mother eArth……and an utter contempt for unnecessary inhumane killing was usurped for a perverse predilection for industrial scale slaying……and abeyance to the dictates of a dearth of worthless catatonia conjuring conversions…….whose purpose – aside from profit maximisation – is indeterminate……..

Deferring  large parts…….of large portions……of poorly informed and resourced paupers – Ancestral land debauched…..forcefully torn from humble hard toiling owners… sales snakes with no soul kahunas……………..deferring  large parts…….of large portions……of poorly informed and resourced populations diets………..for inert virtually virtual perversions in oversized servings 

No matter that our ozone’s been – like napoleon – blown apart……….wide open by greenhouses gases that includes in their Gambit belches and flatulence …from the moo tube and backside of cattle…ample quantities to vanquish the industrial Military complex in a asymmetric battle…this fact is a not oft miasmic mainstreAm media mentioned facet in our inherently Suicidal tussle with what is in fact our primary asset.

 Tragic……almost  self-satanic mantras that trap and entrance by stimulating an emotional Avalanche…..subliminal and crass advertising…….agitates dormant vestiges………..irrational emotional longings…….fears…aspirations…’s not by Chance that the marketing of the veritable edibles that enter our body temples are contextualized through……Nutrition prison prisms of price..status…separation…..homogenization…..…..and of course exorbitant profit proliferation

Incite innovation…. imbibe inspiration….expire eviscerating…………..enshrine Eating education………..creAte collective Celebrations………Foods facilitation……harmonization of families….streets……neighbourhoods…..communities…whole Wholesomely bestowed… that which when unencumbered…..un-tampered enhances folks…..the Spokes of the wheels…..that are Humanity’s gears…..the food the fuel for the engine room of….imagination……of nations………Simple solution we need a RevoFooDtion

Kindling Kindred kindness

Eric – social epidemiologist

Really a fine and fun meeting. Thank you for inviting me!


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