At the end of April, I had the pleasure of speaking at the TEDx Edmonton Salon Series entitled Food for Thought. The two other speakers and I represented the broad representation of food topics that are at the forefront of public discussion today.
Tom Lynch-Staunton from Livestock Gentec discussed his work in technology that is being developed to improve beef production. Tom’s perspective was very interesting in that he is both a rancher and a scientist seeking ways to enhance beef genetics. His talk broached both the topics of how beef is produced here in Alberta, and how technology is being used to breed cattle for production.
Carol Neuman from the 10 Mile Meal chatted about the role of story in food and eating. She talked about how food plays an important role in giving us access to the story of our heritage. She discussed the ways that food allows us to connect to both our own heritage, and to the heritages of other cultures. Food is a way to share and experience those stories. As someone who lived in rural places across the world, including across Alberta, I appreciated her insights into how food stories bring us together both within and across cultures.
Lastly, I talked about Localize and the importance of finding better ways to communicate information about our food.
Carol’s talk about the connection between food and story caused me to reflect on Localize’s own mantra: “Food should have a story.” Last year, we embarked on a months-long investigation into what our motto should be. We were also formulating our mission and values, and although these keep evolving, one of our stumbling blocks was ensuring that we did not bite off more than we could chew. Because the public engages with a vast number of food issues each day, we knew that we had to target one specific area that we could succeed at and achieve positive outcomes in.
We kept circling back on the idea of story. We felt that the simple idea that food should have a story was an achievable outcome when supporting local and regional food businesses in grocery stores. These businesses’ ability to recount the story behind their food production is superior to what the biggest and most far-away businesses can provide. Local and regional businesses are also more easily held to account for the quality and accuracy of their story.
Our focus on story was risky because stories can be shaped and marketed. Nevertheless, we decided to commit to the concept of storytelling to uncover truths in food. In a time where we are bombarded with marketing and messaging, a simple recounting of facts and figures does not connect with people. The recount needs to be filled in with a context and to have a shape to its meaning. And a story achieves that. Blending a mixture of facts and story is significant in meeting people where they are in their pursuit for food knowledge. Our pursuit for food stories had to be a bridge between these two ideals.
Food is becoming more complicated. Complications arise with genetically modified organisms, animal welfare, environmental issues, food safety, food security, nutritional information, sovereignty of our food system, the urbanization of our society, and so on and so on.
We need to start formulating better dialogues and creating a better language to communicate food information to the masses. Both Tom’s and Carol’s talks left me with the reminder that whether we are strengthening our cultural connections, or seeking to understand how technologies are working in our food system, we need more stories, more perspectives, and better communication about food. Ultimately this is the toolkit which will allow every individual to piece together their own understanding of and connection to their food.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Pedersen from 3Ten Photo