I hurriedly went to the supermarket the other day in the hope I could get my hands on the mythical golden prize which is (here in NZ anyway), a carton of EGGS!!!. This was actually the 5th day I had been searching for them. I got to the shelves and there was none (insert expletive here).
Beside the empty shelves was a young man ( I’m old, so he could have been anywhere between 18 to 35), he was holding a 6 pack of Barn raised large eggs. I must have thought my expletive out loud… because he turned to me and said ” you can have these if you like as they are not free-range”. The supermarkets have always sold free-range eggs alongside barn, colony and before Dec 31st 2022 cage produced eggs, so why the shortage now?.
A bit of background information… Ten years ago the government of the time bought in legislation to stop battery cage farming of our hens by 31st Dec 2022, allowing for a transition to colony cages, barn raised or free-range production. Five years into this transition the 2 supermarket chains decided they only wanted to stock free-range eggs, which didn’t allow enough time for most producers to make the unexpected changes needed. Earlier this year, amid the chaos and shortages the supermarkets backtracked and will continue to sell non free- range eggs until at least 2027, this still hasn’t alleviated the shortages or lowered the now exorbitant price but it has shown that not all of their customers share the same free-range welfare values.
The supermarkets cite “consumer demand” for the free-range only policy and if my eggy savior is anything to go by, there is customer demand for values based purchases. But what about those who don’t share the same values or do not have the resources to enable them to make a choice, should they be excluded from somewhere as accessible as a supermarket? Is this social or values engineering? I don’t know and don’t have the answers but it has got me thinking about where people and food connect (not just the act of consuming) and how as a Food Designer I can encourage others to look at this. This one simple act of an unknown person handing over food to another because it did not fit his values has stayed with me for weeks.
I would love to think that I only post when I feel I have something to say, but the reality is that life and work get in the way of having enough brain space to think about what I want to say. It is a luxury for me that I have had a week day off work, how is it, that the fact it is a weekday and not a weekend day makes all the difference?
I have recently completed ” Leading beyond Sustainability”, through MindLab ( a N.Z based Tertiary learning provider). I am a big believer in constant learning, there is so much information out there, so many interesting people to know more about, so many approaches to thinking and new skills to learn. As a Food Design Coach I think it is important to keep up with latest thinking and ideas, its more than just a “nice to do” but integral to the value you bring to your clients. The best part of learning is not always what you learn but the way your brain makes new connections, a kind of stealth learning, which alters the way you have previously thought about something, sets you off on a new path or makes you think more deeply about one aspect of what you do.
I chose this course as I felt it aligned with the direction I want my work to go in, and yes I learnt a lot about all types of sustainability. I learnt about the financial and human costs of countries ignoring or paying lip service to sustainability issues, and I learnt more about possible solutions plus people actively working in the solutions area, these are all important things to know more about. All of this thinking fed back into the circular mapping project I have been developing for use with start up food businesses, this is the “leading beyond” part of the course. As I said earlier, sometimes it is the stealth learning that can alter your focus. We were encouraged to look deeper into the concepts behind sustainable issues and possible solutions. In all the research and reading I was doing I came across one quote which became personally impactful.
“…maintaining cultural beliefs, cultural practices, heritage conservation, culture as is own entity and attempting to answer the question of whether or not any given cultures will exist in the context of the future.”
I came across the above quote on Cultural Sustainability from Definitions.net, the end of that sentence is, frankly scary… “whether or not any given cultureswill exist in the context of the future“. Wowsers, that’s a biggie.
Food is the thing that powers humans, it is the way we interact with our environment, it is the medium we use to connect to others. Food holds memories of place and time, it can link us to our ancestors or create new futures . Food can be ritualized, it can reflect shared values and can be a political tool. Food is also the soil crops are grown into, the land and water that animals grow from, the seasonal planting and harvesting. Food in its entirety is Culture.
For me, as a person whose lineage comes from generations of cultural and religious refugees, whose culture has been wiped from history and replaced with untruths, this acknowledgement of foods importance in retaining and building culture is important to me. A deep ancestral connection to land is one of the most held values among indigenous peoples of the world. In Aotearoa/New Zealand we have the word, turangawaewae, it is one of the key principals of Te Ao Maori, it is about your connection to place. All other guiding principals and values flow from this point. The phrase of culture no longer existing became a catalyst for me to recognize a kernel of thought that had been there from my early food design days but I hadn’t known how to express it.
When I work with a start up business I want to know about their product idea, how they came up with the it, what is the history of their product or ingredients and where they sit on the continuum of that product, the focus has been more on what innovation they are bringing to the product. I feel now I want to understand the manakitanga or respect through acknowledgement they bring to their product. Food is an evolving language, you take an idea from here and substitute a ingredient and make a personal tweek but all food contains a part of its origin story.
There is an episode of Ugly Delicious were chef David Chang delves into this cultural issue through the medium of Fried Chicken . Just watch Season 1 episode 6 Fried Chicken https://www.netflix.com/nz/title/80170368 as Chang explains the complexity of food histories in a far better way that I could. Please watch it.
As we stand, looking into a third year of Covid disruptions, I feel it is time to double down on my previous years work and really focus on one area I can make a difference in. I am very lucky to have been awarded a study scholarship through Mind Labs, to study ” Leading beyond sustainability”, which ties in with the strategic mapping system I have been working on and with for several years.
“People want to consume better, so lets make better products”
As peoples values have changed because of the disruption to their lives I am seeing an even stronger need for good food products to be developed. I believe we can change a small part of the badly functioning food system one product at a time. By embedding full circle sustainability into each product made, we can nurture producers, makers, communities and cultures, we can strengthen local food security and regenerate the environment. Big results from very small steps.
“Art does not reproduce what is visible; it makes things visible.”
Paul Klee Artist
For a long time I inhabited the Art World, which was considered far removed from the the Design World . Throughout my years at Art School, it was considered a sacrilege to mix the two…the horror!!. To be an Artist was to have an emotional response. Artists were expected to be controversial, or vague and other-worldly. Rules and restrictions were an anathema, as they deaden creativity (eye rolling here). Being an artist was seen as a personal and solitary expression which only a few can understand.
“Designers create usable components, systems and products.”
Then I moved on to Design School. Design is practical and adaptable. Design thinking gave me frameworks to guide the processes of creating with people and for people. Design has at its core, restrictions and limits which must be resolved with new solutions.
“Creativity is the ability to produce or use original and unusual ideas.”
It was at this intersection of Art thinking, Design thinking and my own creativity where I found a purpose (and a use for all my seemingly unrelated skills). I added in Food as the vehicle for expressing this purpose and backed up by a lifetime of working in and with small business, I turned this mass of potential directions into my own small business as a Food Designer, and happily for more than 8 years I have worked on some amazing projects and with some incredible businesses. Then just when you are thinking life is crazy enough… add in a pandemic and multiple lockdowns ….what is a girl to do? Learn some more stuff of course!
I used the quieter pandemic time to embark on self directed professional development, study and research into various types and styles of Coaching, from uptight Business Coaching to loose Creativity coaching and few other modalities in between.
Now here I am 18 months later, A Startup Food Coach, maybe a Food Concept Facilitator or a CreativeBusinessDesigner , even a Life Coach for Food … I am not sure exactly what to call myself as I have not come across anyone applying coaching in quite this way….. designing my own system of collaborative directed thinking to help fledgling food business understand their unique business needs, goals, problems, planning and product(s) , giving them the steps they can take to get where they want to be.
Over the past 6 or more months I have sat down with exasperated women who want to generate their own income from a food or beverage idea. In the city I live in, there is no Food Hub or even a shared kitchen facility, there are plenty of startup programs but none focused on food products and certainly nothing for women who don’t fit the profile of the young entrepreneur, and doubly nothing for those with limited budgets. BUT there is an overload of *suspect* business information online, mainly from companies disguised as solo entrepreneurs, who want to sell you the” SECRET” (which is usually a sales funnel), or great advice(not) from people who tell you need an online presence, social media across all the platforms, retail outlet, influencers, better packaging, you know… you have been there and heard this!
This is all a distraction, I have heard it described as Tactical Maneuver Hell, this dissipates your energy and your money….. What you need a road map so that your emotions don’t derail your efforts.
In my Coaching role we co-create a product road map, mapping out business strategy and thinking, suited to not only your monetary and time constraints but your ethical vision as well. Not everyone wants global category domination, sometimes you start your business to pay for your kids school activities. This first step is the foundation for growth. I believe it is the most important and yes it can be scary, but the reward is all about making your idea a reality and setting you up to take those next steps of … social media platforms, accountants, marketing.
So if you want to take that first leap, message me about setting up a free discovery meeting time, and lets make your food idea happen.
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)
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 foodproduct, designingwith 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 interactiondesign). 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 things