Field Guides to Food

Manifesto for Food System Scholarship

Many people are attempting to support and improve food systems in a wide range of ways—and people struggle to work together across difference and to make processes for doing so that are publicly accountable. Consequently, our investigation process into how people feed each other should address:

1. The need to reorient the question of “how do we feed the world?” to “how are people feeding each other?,” with attention to what that reorientation makes possible and what is different between those investigations.

This reorientation helps to integrate the natural and technical science approaches to feeding with popular approaches as well as approaches from the social sciences, humanities, and arts, and to address dissonances in different understandings of the challenges of food security and agroecology.

The focus here is on what works to enable people to feed each other—as well as on providing people with ways to explore how orthodox explanations of food security work have come to be dominant. (A subsidiary focus is on sharing various ways that people explore feeding on their own terms as a collective exploratory curriculum, recognizing that assertions aimed at deconstructing status quo explanations are unlikely to be as effective as more participatory project-based inquiry.) 

2. The challenges of upscaling and downscaling knowledge practices as appropriate—challenges that are particularly salient in the context of understanding U.S. food issues and Midwestern agroecologies in global context.

Understanding the global flows that have shaped specific dynamics (the shape of the current global agri-food system)—and the corollary ways that specific local events, relationships, and efforts have had global effects (the role of U.S. and Midwestern science, industry, and geopolitics in the roll out of various green revolution technologies and relationships) is crucial for facilitating dialogue between people who focus not only on different approaches but also on different scales of food activity. This dialogue across different scales is, in turn, crucial for building shared understandings of how we have come to the social arrangements in which we find ourselves and how we can improve these to address the challenges that face us.

The development of usable public models of who has power over what value(s) in the food system—and under what conditions—could benefit from this practice of understanding the implications of moving across scale. 

3. The centrality of participatory research in relationship and in place.

Explorations of food should include a focus on popular knowledge, action, and relationships that may be useful in building the mutual legitimacy of different domains of food knowledge production. In turn, this popular emphasis involves a participatory, transformative, and performative scholarship that recognizes the process of exploratory learning in relationship as central to the purpose of research and teaching. 

Rigorous collective public development and analysis of knowledge involves a co-education process committed to communicative participation, accountability, transparency, solidarity, and equity. Practical and place-based case studies are crucial to this approach, as a domain for learning in relationship while doing, and with particular attention to the need to revise the meaning of public and everyday spaces that reproduce problematic power relations and practices in food systems.

Our philosophy of working together rests on the principles that our collaborative processes should:

  1. engage an adequate range of perspectives and types of knowledge;
  2. address conflicts between perspectives; and
  3. translate productively between diverse perspectives. 

These translate into questions to ask about our process as we go along:

1. All people should have the chance to explore, shape, and tell their own stories.

•    Are we engaging an adequate range of perspectives and types of knowledge?
•    Are we being adequately inclusive at all stages in our process, with opportunities for all participants to define problems and solutions -- as well as the system in question, including communication and process tools to be used?

2. People should be able to learn from each other, and negotiate and tell stories in relationship, in order to figure out how to modify and support stories that improve our conditions.

•    How are we learning from each other? (What is surprising us about what we’re learning?)
•    How adequately are we generating useful information for and from all participants?
•    How are we able to put what we’re learning into action as we go along?

3. Our explanations should relate our experiences to our social and environmental relationships, recognizing that different relationships will shape different environments and perspectives, and that part of the work of our stories is translating between these.

•    Are we considering the contexts of the systems in question and their relationships across scale?
•    Are we addressing conflicts among perspectives?