Field Guides to Food

Vision for the Field Guides to Food Systems

The Field Guides to Food Systems is an exploratory field guide where we can share tools to tell stories we think are important about food—particularly about what we think makes food good.

The tools for this project allow us to tell stories together, and to tell parts of stories that others will be able to build on, to connect, expand, and transform food into something we feed each other with.

This project is building a crowd-sourced archive of food knowledge, experiences, communities, and events.

This guide is a way to get oriented in and do justice to people’s public stories about the conditions that make food good!


/Questions to ask about our process as we go along:

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

Manifesto for developing a community-student-faculty food and society workshop as the social context for this project

Following from the three principles above, the process of developing investigations of *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 science and humanities, and to address dissonances in different understandings of the challenges of food security. 

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 collecting various ways that people set about exploring feeding on their own terms as a sort of collective exploratory curriculum, recognizing that assertions to deconstruct status quo explanations are unlikely to be as effective as more participatory investigation-based inquiry.)

2. The challenges of upscaling and downscaling knowledge practices as appropriate—challenges that are particularly salient in the context of understanding the Midwest in global context. Understanding the global flows that have shaped specific dynamics (the shape of the current food system in the midwest)—and the corollary ways that specific local events, relationships, and efforts have had global effects (the role of the midwest in the roll out of various green revolution technologies and relationships) is crucial for facilitating dialogue between people who focus 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.

Something that could really benefit from this practice of understanding the implications of moving across scale would be the development of usable public models of who has power over what value(s) in the food system, under what conditions. To use an interdisciplinary data-analysis technique as an example, different parts of the food system could be assigned different audio pitches for how much power over them is shared by the public, and that could be both very interesting to explore together and rewarding to enter information into, and to parse analytically, even for people who do not usually identify with such practices.

3. The centrality of people acting in relationship and in place. Exploring popular understandings of food involves re-centering the importance of popular knowledge, action, and relationships that may be useful in building the mutual legitimacy of different domains of food knowledge production. In turn, this public 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 case studies seem crucial to this approach, as a domain for learning in relationship while doing—rather than trying to reconstruct learning processes only out of questioning past processes, etc.

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