This week I’ve completely re-contextualized my project. I’m a hands on researcher and like to have direct access to the people I’m designing for. I realized that working on the US context from Denmark would create an additional constraint and prevent me from doing as many iterations as I’d like, and so I decided to look to Denmark for analogous examples. I’m was initially interested in exploring food deserts, because I wanted to dive deep into the food solutions created by marginalized, resource-constrained communities. To explore a similar theme in Denmark, I’m expanding my scope to three additional areas: 1) remote Danish towns and immigrants / displaced peoples, specifically what kind of access to these remote immigrant enclaves have to ethnic ingredients? 2) Copenhagen and immigrants, and specifically, How has openness to peripheral participation affected ethnic enclaves (restaurants/markets) during the Nordic food trend of recent years? 3) Copenhagen and heritage food learners, specifically, how are immigrants rediscovering and recreating food from their country in Copenhagen?
This week I went to Østergro, a CSA urban farm in Østerbro, Copenhagen. I met with several volunteers and employees that explained to me that Østergro i s not about feeding a lot of people, but more about education about what’s possible in Denmark. The members are privileged, and the nature of the rooftop farm means it’s quite isolated and separate in a way.
I also spoke with employees at Ma’ed Ethiopian Restaurant, where I learned the owner didn’t start cooking Ethiopian food until moving to Denmark. His restaurant is unique in that it attracts Copenhageners from all backgrounds. (The volunteers at Østerbro knew it!) He finds his customers of African descent come because Ethiopian food is particularly difficult to make for one person, because it’s not easy to source the ingredients and it takes a long time. He makes his own butter, with spices from Ethiopia. They rely on a complex network of food suppliers including restaurant suppliers, African markets, (what they referred to as) “Arab” shops, and friends and family who bring things back from Ethiopia.
I also conducted some remote interviews. I spoke with Devin Peek, designer and anthropologist with an interest in food advocacy currently at IDEO in San Francisco. She introduced me to Culinary Diplomacy, and the way food can be used as a trojan horse to talk about bigger issues. It’s based on the idea that “the easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach." Sam Chapple-Sokol, a thought leader on the subject wrote that culinary diplomacy is "the use of food and cuisine as an instrument to create cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions and cooperation.” Devin also spoke of Conflict Kitchen, a restaurant in Pittsburgh that only serves food from countries that are currently in conflict with the US. They change the menu every quarter and have done cuisine from Cuba, Iran, Palestine and North Korea.
I also spoke with John Poisson, an entrepreneur with a particular skill at sourcing beautiful, unique products around the world. I was struggling with finding a hook in Denmark, and he explained that “being an outsider yourself is part of your hook” - that being from California is a part of my identity. I just counted and realized I’ve moved at least 17 times across three continents and seven cities in the past ten years. In my experience relocating, food has played an incredibly powerful role in it’s ability to serve as an entry point for understanding other cultures. I’ve found great pleasure but also frustration in trying to adapt ingredients and recreate food memories from my past. For this project, I’m interested in exploring the intersection between migration, place, history, food and the interactions created between people that occur as a result.
For me, I’m really curious to keep exploring how food can be a vehicle for nostalgia and interaction. How ethnic ingredient scarcity can provoke culinary exploration. A big learning this week is that our two month time limit is going to be quite a constraint. Additionally, designers often think about what problems they’re solving, but (as encouraged by my mentor Erlend) I’d also like to explore how to elevate pleasure and increase gains - food can play a big role here. I need to be very intentional about what scale I’m addressing, what level of problems I’m attempting to fix, and be clear that a two month time frame isn’t realistic to solve major conflicts, but an opportunity to bring a bit more joy to a select group of individuals.