Being able to reconnect ourselves to others through the act
of sharing food and to the practices employed in food
production can be one of the many possible options available
in the lives of humans.
The many food-related initiatives in Dunedin demonstrate an
awareness of such issues, linking people from the academic
world to urban gardening groups, to the retail sector and
faith-based organisations, in an effort to realise improved
access to better food.
One opportunity to consider the way we think about food and
related issues, such as foods' production and consumption,
has been provided by the Art and Food Symposium, which was
recently hosted by the School of Art and the University of
Otago, and which attracted international speakers who
presented papers on topics related to the main theme of art
The papers referred to art (both as object and practice) as a
powerful tool to better understand reality and our societal
In providing a unique perspective on a common everyday aspect
of life like food, such events offer us the chance to think
about human nature and the way we perceive and construct our
lives as individuals and as members of society.
In this case, it also provided the opportunity to reflect on
issues relevant to New Zealand, its people and economy.
Among others, two papers captured a contemporary issue of
great importance to food and society in Dunedin; both being
concerned with the meaning we attribute to food and the
practice of eating, seen through the lens of artistry and
The first, "Future Food: fiction and reality", presented by
Emily Gordon, focused on how our relationship with food is
portrayed in futuristic science fiction films and "how much
we actually know about the food we eat and whether popular
culture, and in particular fictional film, can increase our
understanding of it".
A selection of snapshots from movies released in the 1970s
helped the participants to envision (past) expectations
around food in the future and to compare them with the
current cultural and political setting.
The movie Soylent Green, for instance, depicted a society
where overpopulation and overuse of resources would lead to
increasing poverty, food shortages and social disorder.
How far are we, in modern days, from that picture?
The second paper, "Commensality in Contemporary Practices",
presented by Prof Leoni Schmidt, posed compelling questions
concerning the efficacy of practices such as commensality -
or eating together as a social act - in "creating new value
systems" and potential new sets of linked social structures
How do we (re-)negotiate meaning for such human practices in
an era concerned with the potential non-sustainability of
Negotiate, in this sense, is a means to adapt to contingent
situations and to ensure the appropriateness of human agency
within society, to participate in the world "out there" as
active citizens and not as reactive subjects.
Where do sharing food and practices of sustainability
Are we "really" in dangerous positions about food, its safety
and its security?
In times of relative economic stability, seeing the
agricultural production system as unconnected to consumption
and other aspects of social life allows us to calculate a
gain in modern economic terms, in which social wellbeing is
generated by money. During periods of crisis and economic
instability like the one in which we are living, it could
however, reveal a hazard difficult to manage. A production
system detached from consumption denies a very human part of
an act essential to human life.
• Cinzia Piatti is a PhD candidate from Italy who is
researching local food cultures. She is pursuing her PhD at
the Centre for Sustainability, University of Otago.