Category Archives: BSUFN

BSUFN Symposium 2017 – Provocation: The problem with the past

At this year’s symposium we decided not to have a keynote speaker, but to open up the floor to anyone attending to issue a provocation relating to food, it’s production, politics or study. There were four provocations.

This is the provocation given by Food Network member Abigail Wincott of the University of Brighton.

I study alternative food movements and politics of lifestyle and consumption. These lifestyle discourses are often very politicised. There is stuff relating to personal health, fashions and fads, like macarons or kale. But a lot of it is more or less overtly about a number of big issues that really are important.

There is a concern for social justice or fairness – an interest in the impact on workers and consumers of the quest for excessive profits, and of the dominance of corporations over the food system. A lot of attention is paid to the environmental damage caused by the same.

In addition, I’ve found there is a lot of concern expressed about a loss of diversity. This may be expressed as a blandness and homogeneity of food culture or of food itself and also characterises the experience of shopping for it. This is generally regarded as a negative byproduct of globalised capitalist food systems.

There is a concern about obesity, of course. This isn’t just a personal issue in lifestyle media, it is talked about as a social issue, one that the government or industry or society needs to take charge of.

Finally, there is a lot of talk about loss – loss of foods, loss of knowledge, a loss of pleasure. For example there are lots of references to the way people don’t know how to shop for the best, cheapest foods anymore, that they don’t sit and eat together anymore. In a sense this is an idea of a loss of pleasure in life. I guess this is also connected closely to the sense of homogeneity, and to the colonisation of life by corporations.

Now in these lifestyle stories about what is wrong with food and what puts it right, ‘the past’ keeps cropping up. The past takes various forms:

  • nostalgia for the way things used to be or taste
  • the past as a benchmark (a dinner plate used to be so big, people used to spend X amount on food, people used to know how to cook)
  • heritage – protect what is disappearing before it is lost forever
  • retro or historic themes or imagery: The ministry of food, bunting, wartime and austerity, for example.

I am partial to all of this myself, and of course I write about the uses of the past in lifestyle media. I’m not going to join in the dismissal of these uses of the past as automatically socially conservative, elitist or misinformed. People are using these ‘pasts’ to argue for different and better futures.

But I think we have to give some more thought to the way we use the past.

When we think about the future through the past, that affects what we think about, the solutions we come up with and how we feel about them. My problem with our uses of the past are that we tend to think in terms of individual solutions (lifestyle, individual consumer choice) and not to think about the modern state and complex social organisation, or modern technology.

Our ideas about the past are culturally produced: western, gendered, classed, colonial. They’re not a window onto reality.

Thinking through the past isn’t ubiquitous, people buy novel and high tech foods. People start co-ops and campaign for government regulation using a health science frame instead of a nostalgia frame, for example. But it’s pretty ubiquitous among alternative food types and that includes campaigners and academics. journalists, food writers…

It seems to me that these uses of the past are a heuristic. They have allowed us to boil down some very complex considerations in ways that allow us to ‘feel’ what is wrong or right, at a glance. Simple, traditional, like our grandparents cooked and ate, like other people’s grandparents cooked and ate – these things can come to ‘feel’ right. That helps us make fast judgements about what to eat, what to buy and what causes to support.

This heuristic has served its purpose and I think now it’s holding us back. We need to be more critical. We could cast our historical net wider for more unusual practices and ideas.

We need to ask more specific questions. The Green Revolution, mechanised production of food – are they just 100% intrinsically bad, or specifically bad for contingent reasons, like who profits from them or particular techniques that can be changed?

That would allow us to try some thought experiments. What if… we had factories making food, run by not-for-profit organisations? Might they be more energy efficient than home cooking, each of us heating our own ovens in our own home kitchens? That can’t be ‘felt’ to be right, within the dominant lifestyle discourse, which says, go back to the home, go back to traditional methods of production, go back to the small producer.

Industrialisation and high tech solutions to food problems are collective, public approaches to feeding the world. At the moment they are largely profit-making, but that doesn’t make them private in the sense of individual or small-scale. They are mass solutions to mass problems. This collective action on feeding the world has been developing over thousands of years. Social organisation is something people do really well. That mass organisation, planning and economies of scale are hidden in almost all the discourses of good food that look to the past.

The possible exception is the nostalgia for the post-war era – the idea of the Ministry of Food and the benevolent state, which Rebecca Bramall and others have written about. This is a time when people believed more wholeheartedly in progress and modernity. When the British had been hungry until they had been fed by state organised rations. They knew the past could be hungry and dirty and unregulated. People were a bit happier to embrace the new and the large-scale.

But generally,still our heuristic holds us back Some new ideas can’t be understood, don’t make sense if we look through the past in ways we do – tackling global social problems as individuals.

What injustices will become visible, if we stop assuming our ideas about the past are neutral and ‘true’? What kind of society-wide solutions could we find, that we have never found before, if we stop using the past as our benchmark? Who might we hold to account if we stop focusing on food as individual choice?

Would you like to post a provocation about food and its research? Let us know using the contact form and we’ll get back to you.


Food Agendas in a Post-Brexit Future – Symposium Programme Available

Monday 6th of February 2017

9:00 – 17:20

Auditorium, Brighthelm Centre, North Road, Brighton, BN1 1YD

Provisional Programme  – a full version of the programme with abstracts is available by following this link: Provisional programme

Time Session
9:00-9:20 Registration, tea/coffee
9:20-9:30 Welcome
9:30-10:15 Provocations

Brexit Implications for Food Agendas

Speakers to include: Brighton & Hove Food Partnership, The Linseed Farm, University of Sussex, University of Brighton, and the Institute of Development Studies
10:15-11:15 Session 1 – Policy Dynamics
Prof. Erik Millstone

The future of UK food & agricultural policies post-Brexit

Peter Senker

Post-Truth Politics and Food Poverty in the UK  after Brexit

11:15-11:45 Tea/coffee break
11:45-13:15 Session 2 – Panel Discussion – Learning from Global Discourses

Three 15-minute presentations followed by 45 minutes of open discussion

Dipak Sarker

Use, History and Promises, Both True and Untrue, of Genetically-Modified (GM) Crops: Reflections Post-Brexit

Jennifer Constantine

Prospects for the Sustainable Development Goals in post-Brexit Britain: learning from Brazil’s experience with food and nutrition governance

Rachael Taylor

Finding the Future in the Past: Agroecology and Remnants of Colonialism in Senegal

13:15-14:15 Lunch
14:15-15:00 Future Food Agendas

Synergies for Policy, Practice and Research

15:00-16:00 Session 3 – Sustaining Farming through Brexit
Adrian Ely

Transforming Food Systems in Brighton and Hove – Local Opportunities within a Changing Global Context

Helena Howe

Farming through Brexit

16:00-16:20 Tea/coffee break
16:20-17:20 Session 4 – Ecological Knowledge and Policy
Elise Wach

What scope for food sovereignty in a post-Brexit Future?

Jeremy Evans

A radical Regionalisation of fisheries quota for LIFE: developing new mechanisms of emancipatory fisheries governance

17:20 Close – move to Earth and Stars, 46 Windsor Street, Brighton, BN1 1RJ for a social evening


BSUFN Annual Symposium 2017 – Call for Abstracts

Call for Abstracts

Food Agendas in a Post-Brexit Future

Brighton and Sussex Universities Food Network Annual Symposium 2017

6th February 2017

There has been much talk of the ways in which the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, or ‘Brexit’, will impact British farmers due to changes to the Common Agricultural Policy.  We believe that Brexit will have far reaching effects across the food systems in many ways, in the UK, Europe and beyond. From policy implications for food safety standards and nutrition labels, to international trade and markets, to controls on chemical pesticides and the regulation of genetically modified (GM) organisms, and to diet and public health, and more.

To reflect current discussions about Brexit and its implications, the BSUFN Annual Symposium 2017 will consider food agendas in a post-Brexit future. This may reflect anticipated impacts of Brexit on the UK food system as well as implications for food agendas in other countries and regions of the world. Topics may explore the future of food in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, likely to be 2019, or a more distant horizon.

Submissions are invited from researchers, undergraduate and postgraduate students, non-academic organisations, community groups, practitioners, policy-makers, and other interested parties or individuals. Submissions from any disciplinary background are welcomed. We welcome submissions for presentations, posters, or discussion sessions. As much of the outcome of Brexit may be uncertain, stimulants for discussion sessions are particularly welcome.

Please submit an abstract of no more than 350 words in length. The abstract should contain a brief description of the topic, a title, contact details of the corresponding individual, names of any collaborators, and the format of the presentation or other contribution. Abstracts should be submitted via e-mail to by 17:00 on Friday the 16th of December 2016. Applicants will be informed of the outcome of their submission no later than Friday the 23rd of December 2016.

If you would like to become a member of the Brighton and Sussex Universities Food Network, you can register your interest using the online form or by expressing your interest via e-mail to

The BSUFN Symposium will be a full day on the 6th of February 2017. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. The symposium will be held in Brighton, UK.

Registration to attend the BSUFN Symposium is £10. Registration will open soon, please check the website for further details.

Details for the symposium will be made available online as they are updated. Please check the website for updates.

Review of Contemporary Food Issues Symposium

On the 16th of June 2016, the Brighton and Sussex Universities Food Network hosted its third annual symposium. The event was the biggest BSUFN has held to date, with attendance from students, staff, and faculty across Brighton and Sussex Universities, as well as wide representation from non-academic organisations, community groups, food producers, activist networks, and other academic institutions across the UK.

The programme reflected the diversity of contemporary food issues and the prevalence of food in practice, policy and research at present. Topics addressed during the day included obesity, food poverty, international food security, novel foods and edible insects, sustainable food systems, and food manufacturing.

Presentations and the poster display triggered much discussion during the day, both in the room and online via social media.

Issues of diversity, privalege and marginalisation, and representation within the food system and academia were addressed by the keynote speaker, Dr Tom Wakeford (Coventry University), and again during other presentations including Beth Kamunge (University of Sheffield). This discussion particularly focused on the dominance of white middle-class voices within the UK food system and academia and called for the current structures to explicitly seek the involvement of those from ethnic minorities and other social classes. Perspectives of activists, researchers, and food producers were reflected in the discussion on this topic.

You can read more about Gilly Smith and Jo Rallings’ discussions surrounding the influence of TV chefs on the way we eat and Jamie Oliver’s Sugar Smart Campaign here.

The results of the poll of food issue priorities, as referred to by a number of speakers, can be found here.

Details of some of the arts and creative methods projects outlined in the poster display are available through BSUFN’s online resource on creative methods and food here.

Jamie Oliver, heating up the debate at BSUFN16

By Abigail Wincott, University of Brighton

Jamie OliverThe BSUFN annual symposium yesterday was a lively one and there was a particularly heated discussion during our parallel session on ‘Consumers, Identity and Culture’.

My media colleague Gilly Smith and Jo Ralling from the Jamie Oliver Foundation talked about TV chefs, the changes they might effect in wider food culture and the materials and structures which accompany those changes. For example, Gilly mentioned new restaurants and a foodie tourist trade in Hungary, in part the product of a Hungarian version of Jamie Oliver. Jo talked up the successes of Jamie’s food campaigns in the UK, including the sugar tax and changes to school dinners.
A couple of people in the room took issue with their account, accusing Jamie-style cheftivism of unforgivable smugness and asking why Oliver doesn’t raise the issue of food poverty more often.

Others worried that these chefs’ campaigns tend to shame people, that lifestyle TV formats of problem-expert advice-redemption are inherently judgemental, assume lack of information is the reason for poor eating and don’t recognise the varied and individual circumstances people eat and cook in. The same might be said however for public health campaigning the world over…

To her credit Jo acknowledged she and the team at the JO Foundation were aware of these issues, discussed them and tried to produce programmes which took account of them. At all costs they wanted to avoid shaming she said.

Gilly argued people who make sweeping statements about foodie campaign TV tend not to have watched the half hour programmes, but only read the soundbites in news reports. These leave less room for nuance she argued.

This discussion about lifestyle TV activism is a really important one and we didn’t even scrape the surface on the day. It seems to me the question of form or format is key – Jo and Jamie and  Jo Ralling speaking at the symposiumother media producers are bound by generic conventions like the quest or the transformation. Commissioners need to show they are moving with ‘the next big thing’ and won’t always stick around to follow things up (a point Gilly made). Sound bites may get read more, but long form journalism and longer programmes do have the potential to be both entertaining and a bit judgemental but also so much more.

I think we should all be mindful that food debates of all kinds are mediated, and all are affected by the medium. Academic journal articles, conferences presentations and Q&As are no exception. Our discussion was at least as inadequate on the day as any news report – but it was, I hope, an important opener to a much longer conversation.

Food Insecurity and Food Poverty Rank Top in Poll of Food Issues

Food insecurity and food poverty have come top of a poll on contemporary food issues. Receiving 32% of votes, issues of food insecurity and food poverty emerged as the highest priority among voters.

In the lead up to our annual symposium on the theme of contemporary food issues, we’ve been running a poll to establish which food issues our members and wider audience consider to be the top priority. We’re announcing the results of the poll at the start of the symposium on the 16th of June 2016.

Other priority issues include nutrition and diet, food waste, and food sovereignty.

Results of the online poll of priority areas for contemporary food issues

Results of the online poll of priority areas for contemporary food issues

The full results of the poll are listed below. In the coming months we’re going to feature more posts and articles about the topics which have ranked as high priorities for BSUFN members and we will incorporate these issue into future events and research.

Food insecurity and food poverty 32%
Nutrition and diet 14%
Food sovereignty 12%
Food waste 10%
Sustainable agriculture 7%
Social justice and equality 6%
Public and cultural values 6%
Food-water-energy-environment nexus 4%
Markets, trade and TTIP 1.5%
Biotechnology and innovation 1.5%
Pleasure of food 1.5%
Urban agriculture and community gardens 1.5%
Obesity 1.5%
Increased production 1.5%

New Resource Launched: Creative Methods for Food Research and Dialogue

On the 11th of May 2016, BSUFN co-hosted a workshop on using creative, arts-based methods to improve research, community engagement and dialogue on food issues. The workshop brought a range of academic and non-academic participants together to explore the ways in which arts-based methods can be use to address food-related issues in a variety of contexts and for a range of purposes.

Workshop participants exploring food issues through drama and theatre

Workshop participants exploring food issues through drama and theatre

Held in London, the workshop was co-hosted with the Food Research Collaboration (FRC, City University London) and the People’s Knowledge research group based at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR, Coverty University).

During the day, workshop participants were able to explore the use of three creative methods through hands-on activities in order to experience the methods first-hand and identify the benefits and challenges of using the methods. The three cretive methods explored during the workshop were drama and theatre, art and collage, and photography and film.

A full report on the workshop is available by following this link Creative Methods Workshop Report (opens pdf).

Following the success of the workshop in May 2016 and in response to demand and growing interest in the use of arts-based methods, BSUFN are pleased to be launching a new resource providing information about the use of art in research and community engagement activities, including examples of artworks and relevant projects.

Collage exploring food issues produced by a workshop participant

Collage exploring food issues produced by a workshop participant

There is now an area of our website dedicated to creative and arts-based methods. These pages include examples of artworks produced during the May 2016 workshop in London, as well as descriptions of how these methods were explored during the event. There are extensive bibliographies for creative methods in research and engagement including references for the three key methods BSUFN have focused on to date: art and collage, drama and theatre, and photography and film. The resource also provides links to relevant projects which have used arts-based methods for exploring food issues, and useful external resources.

We will be adding new resources to these webpages frequently. If there are additional resources you think we should include, or something you would like more information on related to the use of creative methods in food research and dialogue, please get in touch via email to or use the comments box below. Any feedback on this resource is appreciated as we continue to develop it and build ongoing discourse around these issues.

If you are involved in a project which uses creative, arts-based methods to explore food issues, or you are interested in developing a project, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch via email to or use the comments box below.