Collective future ideas that break unsustainable patterns

Hello Roots Radicals Community!

Since this is the 6th post of our newly born blog, I wanted to thank the team and you -the guest reader- to be part of this space of discussion and creation. A community is strong as the ideas keep on flowing and nurturing others as we go along. I would also like to encourage you to take part in the other ‘spaces’ of this online community such as the Group for Circular Cooking at Home, lead by our dear Monica Kisic. The lockdown may have stopped us from physically gathering, but we can still come digitally-together and create value in this new Foodscapes -I will talk about this term in a bit.

In our last blog post, we had a gorgeous encounter with a new dynamic for everyday spaces of food consumption. By empowering urban eaters to make decisions in how and what to consume as food, we’re shifting from the anonymous structure of a chain-supermarket into a collaborative SuperCoop. Solidarity and cooperation are now economical values that are changing the classical capitalistic approach to do food-business. Although to be able to think as a community is not an easy path. Because, we begin to question our individualistic scale of values and needs, to include others -humans and, most important, nature. That is when it gets challenging! To collaborate with other humans (who have a physical presence and voice) it’s easier than when we wish to collaborate with nature: how does this exchange look like? and where does it take place? Well … if you eat any sort of legumes, grains or fruit, you are already “shaking natures hand”.

Seeds from an Aji Corazon de Gallo, Biodiversity is key. Photo: @Biodiversidad Alimentaria

By establishing a horizontal dialogue with nature, the synergy between community and ecology can lead to economical and social development. This idea is core to the indigenous cosmovision of growth, portray in the South American Quechua concept Sumak Kawsay (Buen Vivir in Spanish). Further from a “lifestyle” and closer to conscious existence, Buen Vivir or Good Living, explains that “humans are never owners of the earth and its resources, only stewards.” Which means that we are here to take care of it, considering rights and duties from both humans and nature -a sort of companionship as we live together.

To discuss this human-nature collaboration, last Friday 5th we invited Elizabeth Berlinhof from Food Kompanions to our Rooted Lives #5. She is a valuable member of this creative agency in Berlin, lead by 4 women and dedicated to research, design and consultancy for sustainable food-value chains. In short, their research focuses on how to envision more sustainable food futures. From this proposal, we understood the importance of visualizing the food context, both spaces and communities involved in the production and consumption processes of the Food Systems. These spatial and social contexts are the foodscapes, a concept that relates food and landscape, and that portrays the urban and rural spheres and values of our food.

Food Kompanions Team in a field trip. Photo: Food Kompanions

In this sense, it was a perfect coincidence that Elizabeth joined the IG-Live from her very own Tiny farm in Brandenburg, where she’s taking her passion for legumes and food systems to the next level. To fully grasp the idea of foodscapes, it’s necessary to visualize the rural origin of our everyday urban food and “interact with the land on a very physical level”, as Eli expressed. The design means of the Food Kompanions allows them to face a huge constellation of social and cultural backgrounds around food, by taking on one topic that explores a punctual human-nature relationship. 

“For example with Kornlabor -a project I really enjoy- we got together with different stakeholders along the value-chain of legumes and grains and imagine how could it become more sustainable. We try as much to be coherent about our techniques and design procedures. One of them is called ‘immersion’, where we try to go deep and enter the space to work with the communities, to work together. We always start with interviews, and try to understand the different perspectives and then reevaluating exactly what each status quo needs to change unsustainable patterns. From this research phase, we move into the action one. Depending on the project and topic, we develop the intervention -it could be either an image or a temporal installation. The outcome is as diverse as the topic, and we always try to remain open and related to the context.”

While our conversation developed, we refrained from the question of what is Food Systems, to rather consider the relationships that happen inside urban and rural foodscapes and the living systems (water, soil, etc) that are linked to our food.  How can we visualise our role within foodscapes today, and imagine how could they be more coherent tomorrow? This speculative design approach guides The Food Kompanions design research methods. They propose a rooted way of imagining future collaborative scenarios by creating visual tools and spaces where plural perspectives can converse. They work between different actors, within specific contexts: it could be farmers from legume and corn fields or chefs in kantine (german for cafeteria) kitchens. By focusing on the foodscapes relationships –  at social, spatial and ecological levels- the design research goes further and proposes a new set of questions: how to redefine the food systems within collective terms? Which is our role to make it more sustainable?

Welten nach COVID-19. Image: Food Kompanions

“Our practice is based on two facts around food. First, food is essential for every human to live, so by dealing with this topic, we need to involve in a co-creative process. It could never be an individual solution. Second, food is always interdisciplinary and it has an interpersonal level of activating social, economical, cultural and environmental needs. So if we want to understand the status quo and find solutions to evolve into more sustainable ones, we need to acknowledge these different needs and perspectives to find a solution that actually works -for the collective.”

When we -designers and community- decide to navigate the complexity of working with the Food Systems, interdisciplinarity is essential. For example, Elizabeth studied Gastronomic Science at the Slow Food University in Italy and then came back to Germany with all the idea of applying the acquired knowledge. “I realize the need for a more diverse set of tools, to go from thinking about Food Systems to make an impact in it”, mentioned Elizabeth. That’s how she joined the Food Kompanios, where she integrated a diversity of tools and new ways of exploring the spaces and relationships inside the Food Systems. Together with an amazing team of four women: Olga Graf, Stephanie Ries and Anastasia Eggers, they gather a really interest match of backgrounds and expertise, such as businnes transformation process, design research for future visions, regional development and gastronomy.

Scenario of the Future for Brandenburg. Image: Food Kompanions

Their high impact visuals have the power to communicate and make people think about possible solutions and futures around food. For the Food Kompanions, each project offers a possibility to explore a different foodscape and envision possible futures along with a bigger network of food communities. When a single idea becomes a tangible vision -one that you can see, touch or even taste- it invites participation and co-creation. A single image that envisions a radical foodscape can trigger collective imagination -just as natural landscape inspired fables and stories once in renaissance fiction novels. Now we take advantage of fiction to introduce ecological care and recover the lost relationship between our food and nature.

As a critical designer myself, this encounter with the Food Kompanions left me hungry for change! And reminded me of a great quote from the British design duo Fiona Raby and Anthony Dunne: “The challenge is to keep evolving techniques that are appropriate to the times and identifying topics that need to be highlighted (…). We believe to achieve change, it is necessary to unlock people’s imaginations and apply it to all areas of life at a microscale. Critical design, by generating alternatives, can help people construct compasses rather than maps for navigating new sets of values”. 

When we think and design our spaces through food, the activities that we share as a community connect us to cultural and ecological values. We then can measure our impact (positive and harmful) on a diversity of humans and natural landscapes. This awareness could trigger curiosity -and hopefully, change- for other ways of living in harmony with nature. From Food Kompanions, we learn that collective creativity can envision better local and global foodscapes. I would like to invite you to envision how does a sustainable foodscape look like for your community? Leave us a comment below, and keep on thriving! 

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