Francesca Forno on the Food Citizens? i-doc
Advisory Board member Francesca Forno shares insights about the Food Citizens? project.
Being a member of the Food Citizens? project Advisory Panel was a great opportunity for me, as I could follow from year to year the many improvements and discoveries made by the research team. I should say that I was impressed during the February 4th final conference to see how much this project has produced in terms of new knowledge and understanding while exploring different forms of food activism in different contexts.
In recent years, food has once again become a central topic in political and public debates. The reasons for this are various and have expanded over the last years. I, myself, feel often lost in the multitude of books and articles published on food-related issues. As known, food scandals have caused people to pay more attention to the healthiness of what is on their plates and, in general, there has been a growing awareness of issues related to the conventional agri-food supply chain. All over the world citizens are mobilizing, both individually and collectively, as they increasingly recognize that the way in which food is produced, distributed, and consumed has significant environmental and social impacts.
Food activism can take different forms, emerge on different issues, and involve different types of people. Motivations to take action may also vary, as often those mobilized have a different understanding of how society should work. Although it is interesting to see that similar practices and organizations are mushrooming simultaneously in different parts of the world, it is also important to recognize how the same practice can take a very different meaning in different contexts.
The Food Citizens? project has observed a number of comparable experiences in three different European cities: Turin, Rotterdam, and Gdańsk. By following from the very beginning a clear research design - which kept the focus on four key issues: solidarity, diversity, skill, and scale - the project has made it possible to appreciate and acknowledge diversity in similarity. As the researchers explained to us, the project proceeded through continuous discussions and confrontations among the members of the team and between the researchers and their informants. Besides the many achievements of the project in terms of academic publications, what I have also found extremely important and original was the researchers’ efforts to set up an innovative tool through which to disseminate their findings also outside the academic world.
During the conference, I was particularly fascinated by the presentation of the i-doc digital platform. Through this instrument, everyone interested has the possibility to visualize actors, listen to their voices, and see them in action. The i-doc contains 50 case studies which include among others community gardens, food banks, food aid NGOs, solidarity economy groups and shops, food markets, vegan shops and cafes, online delivery platforms, etc. Watching videos and photo slideshows, listening to sound files, and reading text documents allows one to appreciate even more the impressive research work made during the project. The i-doc represents something tangible that researchers have given back to research participants, for their reflection and analysis.
Francesca Forno is Associate Professor of Sociology at the
Department of Sociology and Social Research
University of Trento