Problems of food waste, poor nutrition and associated social issues are ever-present throughout the UK and beyond.
But a University of Plymouth academic, as part of the Food Research Collaboration (FRC), suggests that using arts-based methods for food research can shed more light on the complexities of these problems, and why they exist.
Dr Clare Pettinger, Lecturer in Public Health Dietetics, contributed to the FRC review entitled Using the Arts for Food Research and Dialogue.
The authors’ main interest is the way in which arts-based methods – including photography, performance and poetry – can help reveal, and give voice to, perspectives on food issues which remain otherwise absent from research and policy debates.
From creating collages with a community centre, to writing and rehearsing spoken poetry in schools, the methods challenge both how data is collected and the information it yields – with conversations beginning to open up around the social complexities of what people eat and why.
The writers acknowledged that the data is ‘messy’, but stressed that most art-based research required participation from those involved, which offered the opportunity to delve deeper into the issues being explored.
Dr Pettinger said:
“Food research is an incredibly complex area – dealing with everything from food content, to improving the nutrition of socially marginalised groups. Art-based research methods don’t provide definitive answers, but they open up new questions, which is just as valuable – if not more so. These methods help us to understand both what the problems are and why these problems might exist, which we hope will ultimately contribute to transforming our food system. We need to tackle its infrastructure, so that the future of food is optimised in relation to human and planetary health.”