Category Archives: Food Research Methods and Theories

New Paper on Using the Arts for Food Research and Dialogue

Everyone can speak the language of food because we must all eat. Equally, everyone can engage in creative activities regardless of their perceived ability.

Collage as a creative method to explore food issues. Photo from BSUFN-FRC workshop held in London in May 2016.

Last year BSUFN teamed up with the Food Research Collaboration (City University London) and the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (Coventry University) to host a workshop on using arts-based methods for research and dialogue around food issues. The use of creative methods facilitates engagement and can initiaite dialogue with a range of groups, from community groups, to private sector elites, to researchers and academics.


Today, the Food Research Collaboration has published a new briefing paper on ‘Using the Arts for Food Research and Dialogue’. This paper came out of the success of the workshop held in London in May 2016. The paper was co-authored by members of BSUFN along with other academics and civil society groups. You can read the briefing paper here.

Drama as a creative method to explore food issues. Photo from BSUFN-FRC workshop in London in May 2016.

The paper particularly examines creative arts-based methods through a participatory and community-centred approach to research and community engagement.  The briefing paper explores the use of photography, drama, and collage, providing details of the approach, method, and other considerations, as well as case studies of how the methods have been used for engagement on food issues. It is hoped that this briefing paper will be of interest to researchers and civil society groups who are working on food-related issues.

A range of resources and information about the different methods, including additional examples from case studies and the outputs from the BSUFN-FRC workshop held in 2016 are available here.


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.

Discovering Food in Brighton through Photography

Last week BSUFN facilitated a workshop hosted by the University of Brighton Student’s Union. During this workshop students explored food through photography and photography through food.

The workshop gave an opportunity to experiment with using photography to explore food issues, create narratives around food, initiate communication and engagement on food issues, and as a research method for food topics. During the workshop participants spent time with a camera in central Brighton capturing scenes related to food.

Workshop participants found that when looking for food-related things to photograph they noticed things in Brighton which they would not otherwise notice. The resulting photos paid attention to details which individually may seem insignificant but when seen together create narratives around food issues in central Brighton.

One of the narratives which emerged from the photographs was around food waste, including seagulls eating food from bins and even a discarded refrigerator with rotting milk inside.


Given the time of year, one theme which arose in photos was the use of Christmas in food retail.

Again considering the retailing of food, a third narrative which emerged through photos was the use of language on boards outside cafes. This identified humour, descriptive and romanticised language.

Discussion during the workshop also led to ideas for further exploration of food through photography so watch this space for more events and news on this method in food dialogues!

Other resources about the use of photography as a creative method in food research and dialogue are available here.

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.

Contemporary Food Issues Symposium Keynote Speaker Announced: Tom Wakeford

We are delighted to announce that Dr Tom Wakeford will be giving the keynote lecture during our annual symposium on the 16th of June 2016.

Tom Wakeford is Reader in Public Science at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University. His work focuses on the addressing inequality and human rights through collaborative generation of democratic knowledge. Tom’s research is often practice-based through the use of participatory action research methods. He has a particular interest in addressing racism within the research system and, more generally, bridging the divide between academics and those whose expertise comes from their experience. His past research on food sovereignty and agroecological initiatives has primarily been in the UK and India.

In recent months Tom has been working with BSUFN on a number of initiatives, including a workshop on the use of arts as a method for engagement to improve research and dialogue around food.

We are looking forward to hearing Tom’s insights into collaboration across academia and non-academia and transdisciplinarity as BSUFN contunies to grow and develop expertise in this area.

More details about the symposium are available here, including information on how to register to attend and the call for abstracts (open until the 29th of April 2016).

Supported by the Doctoral School’s Researcher-Led Initiative (RLI) Fund. The Symposium 2016 is also kindly supported by: SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit) and the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, and COSTALS (Centre of Sport, Tourism and Leisure Studies), University of Brighton.

Using the Arts to Improve Research and Dialogue on Food – Workshop

In May BSUFN will be co-hosting a workshop with the Food Research Collaboration, CIty University London, and People’s Knowledge, Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University. This workshop will explore the use of arts-based methods for research and dialogue on food-related topics.

The arts could be central to a more participatory approach to researching a healthier and more sustainable food system. That is the premise of this wide-ranging workshop, which addresses a need expressed by researchers on food and farming. It will present a diverse range of arts-based approaches to dialogue with communities, and methods for thinking more creatively about how to create change.

Photograph taken by research participants depiciting collaborative working in farming activities in Northern Ghana

Photograph taken by research participants depiciting collaborative working in farming activities in Northern Ghana

Some members of BSUFN have expereince and expertise in using arts and creative methods for research and public engagement activities. These methods include the use of collage, sculpture, installation, photography, film, and sound. Some of BSUFN’s members will co-convene this workshop along with colleagues from People’s Knowledge, a cross-theme group working at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University.

Collage and mapping being used at the launch of Hastings Bites Back at Hastings Herring Fair 2015

Collage and mapping being used at the launch of Hastings Bites Back at Hastings Herring Fair 2015

Full details of the workshop are avilable on the Food Research Collaboration website which includes a link for registration for the workshop. The event will be held in London and will be free to attend.

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How Much has Food Research Changed in the Past 40 Years? New Event Announced

Food systems have seen many changes, innovations, and challenges during the past 40 years. Research on food-related issues has responded to changing food systems and demands through developing new areas of inquiry, new methods, and new forms of interactions with food systems.

BSUFN are hosting a short series of discussion groups on the topic of changes in food research over the past 40 years. These discussions are intended to provoke critical analysis of changing food research priorities by asking whether the food-related issues under investigation have really changed.

To inform the discussion we will draw on two readings, listed below.

‘Food Aid?…Or Weapon?’, Chapter 8, pages 192-213 in: Susan George (1976) How the Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons for World Hunger, Penguin

‘Food governance: a rapid historical review’, Chapter 1, pages 11-30, in: Nora McKeon (2015) Food Security Governance: Empowering communities, regulating corporations, Routledge

There are many other texts which are highly relevant to this topic and it is not necessary for you to read these two suggested chapters in order to join the discussion. No prior knowledge or preparation is required so please join us if you are interested in the topic. If there are other readings you would like to suggest please let us know and we will be able to propose them for follow-up discussions in January.

The discussions will be held on the following dates and we will organise more follow-up discussions should there be interest and additional readings suggested.

Monday the 14th of December 2015 – 12:30 to 14:00 – Fulton Building room 102, University of Sussex campus, Falmer, Brighton

Monday the 18th of January 2016 – 12:30 to 14:00 – Fulton Building room 111, University of Sussex campus, Falmer, Brighton

If you are unable to attend either of these discussions but you would like to contribute your thoughts on this topic, please feel free to e-mail us ( your ideas on comment using the box below.

There is no need to register your attendance for the discussion groups, just come along and join the conversation. As the groups will be held during lunchtime, please feel free to bring your lunch with you.