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How do we overcome the narrative barriers to a unified vision of a healthier, just, and sustainable food system — one that benefits not only consumers and producers writ large, but especially those who have historically been and remain underrepresented? This is the aim of our Reframing Food Futures project, a collaboration with Landworkers’ Alliance, and Stir to Action, that started with an in person narrative analysis workshop in Bristol on 15th September.

Ahead of our online summit on Thursday 12th October, where we will be discussing findings from the workshop and our plans for next steps, we’re sharing a few thoughts and photos from what was a highly enjoyable and inspiring day.

Aims & Objectives

The aim of the workshop was to start the process of understanding the dominant narratives that influence our broken food systems. To this end, we convened 30 representatives, researchers, stakeholders across the diverse fields of food systems change, for a day-long workshop. We worked through a series of exercises, each designed to add to our knowledge of the existing dominant narratives, or the types of approaches that might open up space for new understandings.

The morning session started at the Harbourside Pavilion where participants were briefed about our three areas of focus for the day, each focused on a particular narrative barrier or opportunity, outlined below:

Food is intimately connected with health, whether of individuals, our society or our environment. But, the way we think about this connection is dominated by a consumer choice framing, putting responsibility on the individual over government and business.

How can we overcome this, and find ways of foregrounding framings that encourage systemic understanding of health, nutrition, and climate?

The absurdity of our current system is shown clearly by how the UK no longer grows enough food for itself and millions every week struggle to afford the healthy food they need — but tonnes of edible produce still goes to waste.

How can we best articulate the common roots of these crises, and show the direct benefits of alternatives?

Our dominant visions of the past and future of food are vastly different, but both play a role in sustaining present injustices. History is depicted as insular, traditional, and exclusive, while future visions are dominated by machine-led industrialisation.

How might we bring a richer and more accurate view of the past into a more humane, diverse, and progressive future of food and farming?


Participants were grouped according to these areas and were tasked to share their observations as an initial analysis of the area’s dominant narratives across two exercises, reviewing a sample of relevant materials, and filling out associated Canvases:

    • A Frame Analysis, looking at the way that the existing dominant narrative in each area works, including what it centres and emphasises, what is marginalises and ignores, its key concepts, terms and images, the values it appeals to, and how it justifies itself.
    • A Power Analysis, looking at who wields and is subject to power through this narrative, including who plays a more active and passive role, and their level of support. This identified beneficiaries, proponents, opposers and those most impacted.

Our morning session concluded with lunch on the sunny balcony – a delicious vegetarian spread prepared and served by Two Trees Catering (twotreescatering[at]gmail.com), who, fitting our project’s theme, proudly source seasonal and foraged ingredients from farms and producers around Bristol.

The afternoon began with a walk to our afternoon venue at Windmill Hill City Farm, which provided the opportunity for the group to get to know each other and stretch their legs before diving into our afternoon session.

Having analysed the existing dominant narratives in the morning, our focus for this half of the day was exploring the opportunities for alternatives.

    • We began with a storytelling exercise, exploring our personal connections to the issues
    • This was followed by a short presentation of inspirational activity and ideas
    • Finally, we brought these together with our insights from the morning session, filling out a canvas intended to identify the strongest ideas and opportunities for change

The day concluded with the three groups reconvening to share a summary of their findings, before a final group exercise in the outside auditorium, where we reflected on the day, and how we would take our work in this area forward.

The success of the workshop was built on excellent engagement and open sharing from the participants, from whom the team was able to gather a wealth of insights. An initial analysis of which will be shared during the Online Summit of Reframing Food Futures, on October 12, at 6pm BST.

Most importantly, it represented a crucial first step towards a longer term process of change, which we are excited to take forward from here.

More pictures from the workshop can be viewed below:

 

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