Recently I was invited to record a chat between Perzan of KiwiFoodcast and myself, a rambling discussion around Food Design Thinking, Sustainability and food recollections…. and now it has been published…. EEK! This is the first time I have ever recorded anything I have said or even talked for this long about the subject I am passionate about, the nervousness does show through at the beginning BUT with one part of me excited and the other part mortified, I am putting this out there to the blogosphere. If anyone has any thoughts (kind thoughts please) about the things we are talking about I would love to hear from you.
You have the twinkling of an idea, a feeling fermenting away, a voice nagging at you in the quiet moments, but where to start?
Maybe you have been listening to entrepreneur podcasts, following or attending a Startup organization ….. and now you are ready to pull your Kick-Ass Boots on and step into your business idea.
You will have heard of, or even worked on the Business Model Canvas or the Lean Canvas (Maurya and Osterwalder). You will also by now, be familiar with Simon Sinek’s, WHY, as the starting point of all business.
You have heard people talking of BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals) and unicorn businesses or someone making the ubiquitous 6 figures and you start to think maybe you are aiming too small for your business idea.
I have been in this spot before, I have used these models and thinking myself and now years later, I am working with small businesses and find they can be in this position too!. This was highlighted recently when I had two discovery meetings with small, not quite startups but had been going for about 2 to 4 years. They were both at the stage of shutting down their businesses and moving on to employment .
I usually love those first discovery meetings, I get to hear all about who you are, what you are doing and how you got to that point. I get to be curious and ask all sorts of questions, the energy is incredible!!!. We get to find ways we can work together, it can be like a highly charged puzzle, sadly these last two meetings it was more like a damp fizzle. This got me thinking and researching to pin point the moment things went off track for them and perhaps something I could do to help others before it gets to the “hands in the air, walk away moment”.
I am proposing radical smallness
What I am proposing is a new starting point….. INTENTION. Not in a set your intention and the universe will make it happen kind of way….. But a ground zero as defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary ” 1: starting point. 2 : the center or origin of rapid or intense change: ” This is the notion of radical smallness, or what French philosopher Gaston Bachelard has called “intimate immensity” (all that reading at Art School did settle in the dusty corners my brain).
I came across this concept in E.F. Schumacher’s book Small Is Beautiful (1973) in which he challenged contemporary business thinking. He was a champion of human-centered economics. Schumacher promoted small-scale, decentralized, resilient and locally controlled businesses (thank you Library job, for teaching me surreptitious speed reading). For anyone thinking of starting a business, before you get too far along or too embroiled in the genius of your idea, or what your why is … take a moment to honestly think, what are your intentions are for this business, product or offering?.
What is your Intention? I’m sure you already know what your intentions are, they are the quiet thoughts that sounds a bit wrong to say out loud. You know….wanting to have a financially successful flexible business so you also have lots of time to do your other stuff ? Wanting to be in the spotlight for your fantastic entrepreneurness? Do you want to see you product in a particular retail outlet?. No one is judging, in fact no one need even know, you don’t even have to voice it, you only have to acknowledge it. Go on, do it!
These are not the WHY’S of your business, these are your personal ground zero. This is how I interpret the idea of “intimate immensity”, the intention is personal and its form is unique to you but how you action that intention has an immense effect, a kind of wave which ripples into the future.
What ever answer you found within yourself will determine how you move forward with your entrepreneurial journey. The majority of startups are self funded, with minimal budgets. So if your intention is global domination, FAME and being able to bathe in money (highly overrated btw) then you would make your first decisions based on this…. applying radical smallness thinking gives you actionable steps to start to grow your business. Local and small-scale are within your control and the thinking can then be applied to each new market or situation. If you want to get from here to there, you have to map it out, not only to show directions but the details and inter-connection at each point along the way. Using small thinking allows you to build big. If on the other hand you want your business to be hyper-local with space for human interaction, then small thinking will let you confidently not get sidetracked by thoughts of expansion and really personalize your offering or service by focusing on the craft, environment or connectedness of it within the bounds of your local situation.
Thinking small is not an on-trend branding strategy but a holistic business strategy. My hope is that taking a small step at the very start of your entrepreneurial journey prevents you stumbling later on.
Sustainability is such an overused word, in it’s most general use, it describes one part out of the many threads which build up a system or at its worst, it is applied as a green washing tool or “smoke and mirrors” to help sell a product or service. There have been many new words and thinking added to the sustainability oeuvre. It has moved from being an environmental concern only to now encompassing cultural, social and economic sustainability among others, we have moved some practices from just sustainable to regenerative. This evolution of thinking around practices, behaviors and language got me questioning how to simplify this complex systems thinking for the food businesses I work with.
The idea evolved slowly each time I worked with a food business or product. There were similarities in the questions I was asking or the areas I could see gaps in thinking, and I love a good framework to help clarify and simplify thinking and actions plus it uses less brain energy. 🧠
Let me introduce Jane’s mapping framework ( yes I am a research geek)
Mapping step 1
History• Ancestry• Beginning
What is the origin of your product?
Where do your raw materials come from?
What is the history of the use of those ingredients?
Why did you choose to use those ingredients or components?
Where do you/your product fit within this history?
These questions are centered on social, cultural, and environmental sustainability … how is your product/business supporting a pattern of regenerative culture?
Mapping step 2
Money• Reward• Impact
Who benefits from your purchase of goods/materials?
What impact does your business have?
Who is being supported by you?
Is your business financially viable?
These questions are centered around economics, people and environmental sustainability. Where you chose to spend your money impacts people, places, cultures, histories. What impact is your business having?
Mapping step 3
Equitable• Even• Continuation
Are your packaging materials given as much thought as the sourcing of your ingredients?
Are your distribution channels as sustainable as the product you are making?
How are you making /working in a way that balances the input and the output?
How are you paying it forward?
You are at the axis of sourcing and distribution, is it balanced?
By using sustainable thinking it strengthens your business and others.
Mapping step 4
Unique• Different• Rethought
What makes your product/business different?
How are you rethinking something that already exists?
Are you doing something unique?
This is business sustainability but is also social, environmental or cultural sustainability.
In almost every case your business idea already exists so dig deep, what is it that YOU do?
Mapping step 5
Clearly• Open• Understood
Can a customer ask you questions about your product/service and do you know the answers?
Do you know the where and how of your supply chain?
Is there some “slight of hand” happening, are you skimming over an answer because “it won’t sound good”?
To be sustainable you have to know every aspect of your product/service/business. But there are times when the technology, component, supplier that you would like is not available to you, be honest about it, address that gap in your product or service.
Mapping step 6
This is central to my thinking, you have to get curious…. is my product as sustainable as I can make it? Is my business agile enough to change when more sustainable components are able to be sourced? What are the sustainable parts of the businesses I buy from? What areas of sustainability are important to my customers? and what areas are important to me ? Always…ask the questions.
Mapping step 7
Seen• Unseen• Connection
Sustainability is about connection, what you do affects others in both obvious and subtle ways. Can you look at each part of your product/business and see how they are connected to each other, the past and the future? This is the infrastructure of sustainability, no longer just a 2 dimensional circular way of thinking but an evolving, questioning 3 D sphere of connection and communication.
… A New Year
In the quiet space of the burgeoning new year my social media feed has been assaulted with sponsored posts from global diet/wellness companies extoling their solutions to my “problems”. Many other companies/individuals/franchises have joined this tsunami of “new year, new me” bollocks. To be fair, there have been a lot of responses pushing back against these messages and (as expected, this is social media!) a few completely off the wall comments. My head space was ambushed by sometimes very clever negativity disguised as positivity, that is not how I need to start a new year!. When I thought about this, I realized the content for this post has been quietly incubating in my head for months….I have started, rethought it, re-written it, allowed it to cogitate.
As a woman in a Western 1st world country I have been surrounded by the miasma of messaging around weight (too much or not enough) all my life. I know first hand the destructive power of companies encouraging a hatred and loathing of ourselves for profit or the equally damaging power of the “wellness” industry. Either end of the spectrum, someone is making a lot of money from creating dis-ease. These businesses use the biological fact that our brains are hard wired to want connection to a group, whether this is cultural, familial or social groups, we all want to “fit in” somewhere.
I am a Food Designer, I think about food for a job, I think about food for my personal enjoyment, I think about food in an abstract creative way, I think about food for sustenance, I think about food for the enjoyment of others. I think about the history and culture of food, I love to talk about food. I may possibly/probably think about food, taste food, make food more than others….. but at its most basic, we all have the same physical need to sustain our bodies with fuel.
Our humanness is encoded with the need to connect to our group/tribe, our bodies hard wired to need sustenance plus we evolved a reward system in our brains…. eek we are pretty much screwed!! .
So as I try to find within myself, a quiet, positive direction to start my year, I have gone back to food’s role in society. Its place in cultural and familial rituals to cement our social and personal connections. I am beginning to verbalize my thoughts (not groundbreaking or particularly original) that as food has become industrialized, easy, plentiful and cheap we have lost the connection of special food for meaningful occasions which has lead to a disconnect between consumption and what our bodies need. As a society, feasts are no longer a marker of the seasons or cultural occasions to be shared with our cultural/social group as a way of strengthening bonds and connections, a sharing of bounteous foods with your tribe, no longer an event where you eat food items that are not your everyday sustenance foods. Over time these foods have become something that can be had at anytime, in any quantities, to anyone with the money to purchase or make it, and sadly you can consume this food in a solitary way with only the ghostliest whisper of connection or occasion. I think as a nation we have lost the idea of occasion. Births, death and life marking events at one time all had food associations within Western society. Fabulous writers like Sarah Chavez from https://nourishingdeath.wordpress.com/ post articles about food and death ( image below is Swedish Death Candies from Sarah’s blog). Pregnancy and birth had narratives surrounding the food to be avoided at this time, like this gem ” No eating fish, rabbit, sheep’s trotter or heads, and definitely no chewing gum” . I cannot think of any event now that has its own unique food that is only consumed for that occasion?.
So as I find thoughts I can move into the new year with, I am encouraging myself and others to ignore the self harming “weight war”, but also ignore the notion of ” you deserve treat food everyday” and direct thinking toward food in a positive, connecting way. Let’s celebrate the simplicity of seasonal everyday food and the joyful food rituals which connect us to our family and culture at memorable events.
I have been working on a couple of diverse food related projects over the last few weeks and during initial consultations this has been a question that comes up….so what is the difference? Here is my simplified interpretation…
Food technologists study the basic elements of food, they analyze the nutritional components of food, research alternative additives or improvements for food and develop ways to make processed food meet government and industry safety standards. It can be seen as ‘a sector exploring how technology can be leveraged to create efficiency and sustainability in designing, producing, choosing, delivering and enjoying food.’ This is the science of the edible.
Food designers can be involved in a wide range of activities…. designing a food product, designing with food, for food, consumption design, food service, engagement and interaction with food , food systems design, food business and critical thinking around food. As opposed to being science of the edible , this is the meeting point of philosophy, creativity and practicality , it is perhaps the emotion of the edible. Click on the link below the image to see some incredible work being done which (to me) shows exactly those intersections of philosophy, creativity and practicality and how it creates emotion…..
Whilst I don’t get to work on projects quite like the Madrid Design Festival, I do get to use all those same design thinking and skills in my daily work, here is a quick run down of my last few weeks…. helping an startup beverage business with their business plan ( design for food, with food, food service, food systems, food business, engagement and interaction design). Working with an emergent business to brainstorm elements to make their events unique ( designing a food product, food service, consumption design, engagement and interaction design), a fund raiser donation ( design for and with food, food systems, service, consumption design, spatial design, critical food thinking), styling for a photoshoot ( design with and for food, engagement design), recipe development ( product design ), a tasting event (spatial design, engagement and interaction design, product design, design for and with food), planning for a Art event workshop using recipes and food stories ( food design, with and for food, creativity, concept development, practical skills, engagement through food) and finally writing this blog post (critical thinking). I live for this variety !!
How often do you get to be involved in a project that uses all your skillsets? At my first meeting, I had the big Aha” moment when I knew that every random thing I had done over my working life could come together to help make this commission a reality! I was asked to come on board as part of a team of professionals to take the idea of an immersive, fantastical product activation into a physical experience. This was Food Design thinking AND Experiential design AND a lot of making ( all my favorite things) ….. lets look at some of the design thinking steps that went into this award winning project. ( Video uploaded to Vimeo by Danny Carlsen)
Expanded thinking and research about the subject and content…. What narratives exist around vegetable gardens, fruit orchards and the produce itself ? are there cultural aspects to think about?. How does each fruit and vegetable feel in your hands?
The physicality of the experience…. How will people interact with the objects? or move through the space? are there health and safety aspects to consider?
Materiality part 1… Research and development of required tools and equipment. Can we make our own silicon moulds? (Yes)
Materiality part 2… What edible material can be used to form the vegetable and fruit shells ? can it be transported? what is its shelf life? can it be adapted for use in both sweet and savory forms? how will the fruits and vegetables be “planted” ?
Culinary experiments…. Recipe development of fillings and the outer shells, make forms in components or fully formed? filling the shells? stability of the fillings and moulded forms? how to hang the fruit ?
Logistics…..Timeframes? People resources, packaging and transport? production schedules ? sourcing ingredients ?
Communications…. How to communicate efficiently? what are the timeframes for the other industries involved in this project?
This is not an exhaustive list of all the Food Design thinking required but shows that the essence of design thinking, the real core is….. CURIOSITY !!!
My part in all of this was formulating a vegan white chocolate which I could then flavour and colour to imitate real fruit and vegetables, which would also work across the sweet and savory fillings and be able to hold liquid fillings. Plus be strong enough to handle an air flight and transport from Dunedin to Auckland but equally fragile enough to be bitten into as part of the experience. Oh, and the making, moulding process had to be streamlined so a team of helpers could assist as we needed 3500 individual fruit and vegetables. As a food designer I love those tricky intersections , I was in my happy place… questioning, trialing, experimenting, problem solving. The end result was a reconstructed array of fruit and vegetables. The spiced Pumpkin form contained a sweet pumpkin pie filling sitting on a crumb “soil”, the savory tomato contained a chilled tomato gazpacho, the hanging pears where filled with pear and ginger vegan cheesecake mousse, the carrots had a savory outer with a miso puree filling and were “planted” in dark edible soil, the hanging apples contained an apple and chia smoothie, my favorite was the unexpectedness of the chilies, they had a spicy dhal filling with a vanilla infused savory shell.
Quite delightful and playful and totally edible!
A little fantastical, sensory wonderland for all the senses – Designed in line with the food message to try new and different thingsBest Design Awards 2018
Food Design thinking can be incorporated into everyday eating, in fact, you can do it!.
Start with curiosity, let’s look at an apple.
How does an apple feel?, its weight, the texture of the apple skin. Take a big sniff, how does it smell? ( hint..it will always be more than just apple). Now bite into the apple, does it crunch, does it almost fizz on your tongue, is it juicy?. Close your eyes, are you transported to a memory of a place, a time, or something you have tasted in the past?. Your senses are now activated.
Is there anything or anyone you are reminded of, a flavour that might pair with the apple?, A texture you may want to explore, a memory you may want to express?. Can you change the scale, create a story, try a new technique or an old one?. It is time to get curious and play.
Creativity is how you elevate a meal from just something you have to cook to something that feels more joyful.
Food Design is not always complex, sometimes it is the simplicity of ingredients, the skill of resourcefulness, or sharing food with loved ones.
At it’s most basic, food is essential to all human life, we cannot survive without it. Whether we eat for pleasure or to fuel our bodies, whether we love food or couldn’t care less about taste or look, regardless of being a clean eater or a junk food gorger, we all consume food.
On another level, food is an intrinsic part of our cultures, customs and rituals. I think most people are aware via American TV shows of the restorative qualities of a Jewish Mother’s Chicken Noodle Soup, or the role of Birthday Cake in celebrations. I am sure you can think of you own rituals which have food as an central part. This interaction with food keeps cultures, communities together.
On yet another level, Food as a commodity has been created through systems that favour a single outcome. The first big outcome I can think of is, deforestation of the Amazon due to palm kernel oil being a commercially desirable additive to human and animal food . It is this system of one track (usually profit driven) thinking which has led to global problems which affect us all; agriculture, landscape, health issues, politics and power.
We use Food Design thinking as a map to navigate the areas between problems and solutions. Everything is laid out, you see the terrain of the problem, the oceans of solutions, the scary “here be dragons” uncharted areas.
In a world full of Specialists, a food designer is a Generalist, we love the intersections of improbable things. We connect things, ideas, people, we question the status quo, shake up perspectives and look at new ways to express ideas. Food designers connect the Specialists, connect the ideas … we approach food with the perspective of creativity.
By using a Design thinking methodology we can tease out and unravel tiny personal food dilemmas or great big food problems, shedding light on the individual threads of a issue which enable us to find solutions. Click on the link below to see how Marathon organisers are doing away with thousands of single use plastic bottles.
In the increasingly complex world that we live in, we need Food Design to help simplify all things food related, so that we can get on with finding solutions to personal, local and global issues. Food Design = Problem solving.
When you ask most people this question they will answer with a variation on “is it putting unusual combinations of food together?”. I always get a momentary vision of the inventive Letitia Cropley from The Vicar of Dibly with her celebration Chocolate Cake when I hear that.
If you do a Google search of the question ” what is food design?” you get an answer like this, “a process of design studies and research that generates new products related to food”. But that seems too academic or commercially driven and especially removed from food as a essential part of life.
Food is fundamental to life, every person has a connection to food that is personal and unique to them, we all have to eat!. Food is also a commodity in the world, where there is an undeniable link between food and agriculture, health, landscape, science, aesthetics, memory, culture, rituals. which means every human is connected to food in a global way as well as a personal way.
But my personal take on Food Design is that there is a hybridity to it. It is formed at the intersections of disparate personal and global systems, the grey areas that are neither one thing or another. It is a connecting practice, joining reality and thought.
Are you a Foodie, Food Geek, Gourmand, Food Buff, Bon Vivant, Food Nerd, Food lover, Food Curious, Gastrophile, Chowhound, Foodist?.
Can we build a community of Food interested people with this blog?
Do you want to talk about how Food impacts us all, from personal daily eating to the bigger issues surrounding food globally?.
Lets all encourage discussion on great ideas and innovation (aka. Food Design) happening in the world.
Please comment or contact me if you have a food idea/solution/issue, you would like me to write about, as I love diving into research.
We have lots to learn from each other ….. Jane