Food for thought and Food + Thought

IMG_0213While my visit to NYC was a dream trip, I was also there for a purpose and had some work to do during my stay. Cue me dropping “I’m off to NY on a business trip” into as many conversations as possible before I left. Excited, much!  Alas, I was not flying business class….one day maybe!

I was in New York to attend the Second International Conference on Food Design, hosted by The New School/Parsons School of Design. I missed the first conference, held in London in 2012 but when the call for papers came in for the 2015 event, I was keen to contribute.

Now I’m not a food designer, not a chef by any stretch of the imagination (to which I’m sure my family will testify!) but some of my research has been based within the space of food and collaboration within the food sector.

The Design in Action project was split into core strategic themes, with each institution allocated Sport, Health & Wellbeing, Rural Economy, ICT and Food. Alongside the strong cultural and industrial heritage, the connection to food in the North of Scotland made Gray’s a good fit with the food theme, so while my research wasn’t about food, it was situated within that context.

The conference itself was a collaboration between The New School, the International Food Design Society, and Food Design North America. Following on from the very successful First International Conference on Designing Food and Designing For Food (London 2012), the aim of the conference was to create the opportunity for the presentation and discussion of research on fundamental aspects of Food Design.   And that success in delivering against that aim was clear when the programme was announced (You can see the programme here).

Featuring a host of speakers from across the world, the conference intended that the papers and project presented would explore how food design can modify, improve, and optimize individual and communal relationships with and around food in the most diverse ways and instances (food products, materials, objects, practices, events, environments, services, systems, etc.).

IMG_9800The main venue was conveniently located right next to West Village, part of the trendy NYC must-see Greenwich Village. The Auditorium, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall, 66 West 12th Street, down a beautiful tree-lined street with a second site, Woolman Hall, Eugene Lang College hosting a second track of presentations.

Emilie Baltz gave the keynote presentation and if you ever get the opportunity to hear her speak, please please go. She’s engaging, honest and very inspiring. Sharing her journey and her connection to food (the good and the bad), Emilie’s storytelling was enthralling. Artist, designer, author and educator, it’s no wonder she was snapped up as a TedX presenter. With a career that reads like an abstract dinner menu, Emilie’s projects are as juxtaposed as they are complementary (think Museum of Sex to respected academic), a fusion of flavours, fun and food. She identifies herself as:

an experiential artist, director & educator with a focus on food and sensory storytelling. I create playful and unconventional work that moves people to discover new worlds one lick, suck, bite, sniff and gulp at a time”’

Have a look at her work; I promise you will not be disappointed.

IMG_9798I presented my paper ‘Recipes for Co-Creation in the Food Sector’ in a session alongside Hendrick Shifferstein, Editor of the Journal of Food Design and Richard Mitchell, an academic from New Zealand who discussed the narrative of food experience. As usual I had more to say than my time allocation allowed but enjoyed the experience a lot.

Other interesting speakers included Raffaella Perrone with ‘Gastronomy and Design Praxis: Decoding Processes’, Miranda Vane with ‘Food, Design and Food Design’ and ‘The Identity of Food Design in Latin America: Improving the Human Relationship with Food’, presented by Juan Jose Aranga Correa.

The message that came away with me was one shared by Sarah Alfalah in her presentation of the paper ‘Playful Design and Children’s (Dis)Liking of Vegetables’. Sarah talked about her research question ‘Why do kids not eat vegetables’ and shared the moment when she found out during her studies that actually they do. I immediately began reframing the question in my own mind. Is it more about the parents? Why do parents think their kids won’t eat vegetables? Why don’t parents serve their children vegetables? As a mum of three, could I design a better vegetable experience for my children?

This is exactly why attending conferences is so important. Not simply to visit exciting cities (although this was part of the attraction) and not even just to present your own research (although again, this is very valuable). It’s about finding that spark of interest, something that catches your imagination and informs how or where your research develops in the future.




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