Themes

Our workshop will address the following issues and themes:

  • Defining amateur food science. This workshop will examine scientifically-oriented food practices ranging from fermentation and molecular gastronomy, to testing for allergens, analyzing the quality of food, or appropriating “precision agriculture” techniques for non-precision contexts, such as foraging, small-scale farming, brewing, etc. In doing so, we will also grapple with the contentious question of whether approaching this area as a science devalues the art of food, and the relationship between science and art more generally.
  • Materially-oriented practice. Food science materials range from tools and containers, to the food products themselves, as well as the broader digital and social systems that are drawn upon for resource and information sharing. The workshop will examine how materiality shapes practice and informs quotidian science knowledge. We will also engage with the phenomenological qualities of food science: how is experimentation (e.g., molecular gastronomy) influenced by the human experiences of taste, smell, texture, sight, and sound of food materials? How can traditional interaction design paradigms such as sensing, monitoring, or visualization technologies be applied to this space, and how would technology represent food states such as ripeness, fermentation, flavor, smell, etc.
  • Alternative systems. Almost by definition, resisting the insidious convenience of the mainstream food supply requires alternative and sustainable practices. By working with physical food experiments, the workshop will directly engage with alternative approaches to nutrition, food culture, and food security. For example, we will reflect on bottom-up systems for material exchange: how do practitioners share their tools and the starters, strains, and finished food items they create? We will also examine alternative value systems, whereby food practices are motivated by sustainability, personal health, or cultural traditions, as opposed to efficiency or financial incentives.
  • Community literacy. While some food science projects are relatively simple, others rely on precise conditions (e.g., particular temperatures for yeasts or cheeses), complex care (e.g., “feeding” open air fermentation starters), longer-term engagements (e.g., brewing mead over the course of several weeks), or specialized local knowledge (e.g., identifying non-poisonous edibles while foraging). The workshop will examine the processes by which practitioners co-construct and share knowledge related to their projects. How are social, digital, and physical systems drawn upon to develop the expertise necessary for performing food experiments at home?
  • Risk and failure. People persist with their food projects under conditions they can’t entirely control. This is especially true for food projects that unfold over days or weeks and require day-to-day science in kitchens where some degree of periodic failure is almost inevitable. How do practitioners troubleshoot their work, identify errors, and iterate on their process? How do adaptations such as changing habits, sharing and collaborating, and managing risk allow people to persist in amateur science?
  • Interactive technologies for food science. Building interactive systems for food science poses unique challenges and opportunities. For one, food is messy. What physical forms might technologies for quotidian science take on to aesthetically and functionally fit into the home? How can information about habitual practice be captured and visualized without disrupting routine? The ephemeral nature of food projects is also intriguing: how do relationships with and narratives around food science shift when the materials are physically consumed by the ‘scientists’ and their friends and families?
  • Slow technology. Food science projects can be time-consuming since many processes operate on the scale of hours, days, or weeks. The integration of complex practice into everyday routine does not occur overnight: initial forays into food science might be simple as fermenting a vegetable, foraging for a berry, or supplementing their diet with a particular herb. Gradually, these projects might become more complex—flavoring second ferment, canning large quantities of surplus foods, or relying on foraging as sustenance. How can Slow Technology research be applied to support a natural transition into food science as a habitual, everyday practice?
  • Multi-disciplinary design methods. Finally, the workshop will be used to more broadly reflect on socially-engaged research across humanities, design, and computational fields. What are the challenges and opportunities for conducting multi-disciplinary action research with local communities? How should designers approach partnering with groups to gain trust, generate knowledge and empower the change they seek while holistically taking into account community members’ perspectives? Could researchers’ involvement with groups—and particular members—unsettle or subvert power structures and community relations? What are the appropriate metrics (e.g., evidence of social change) for evaluating sociotechnical systems with grassroots food communities?