A conversation or project focused on food presents a challenge for participants to consider where food comes from and the processes and stories involved in getting it from the ground to our plate. Food is location aware. This awareness can serve as a model for us when considering our location, and what it means to be in a place. With help of technology, it is increasingly easy to share our whereabouts with others. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) give us a method for determining our coordinates, and in combination with Geographic Information System (GIS) data, we can know our current locations along with a history of where we have been (Kennedy 3). Over the past three years, there has been a rise in the availability of location-based applications and online services that make use of GPS and GIS so that we, with the assistance of our mobile devices, have the illusion of being location aware. The growth in location-based information and services highlight that, even in an increasingly globally-connected world, location matters. John Cohn (2010) suggests that, “Location awareness is actually a projection of human curiosity into the material world. We can extend our vision, we can extend our senses and actually make it part of the environment” (IBMSocialMedia).
In order to be truly location aware, we need to be narration aware. Key to our awareness of where we are is the understanding of the stories of the people, the community and the space. Thomas King writes, “[t]he truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (32). Food feeds our narratives. It is what sustains us and makes us what we are. Through food stories, we can gain a recognition of the political, economic and power narratives that have been created or imposed on the location as well as the stories that go untold which speak to other truths of the location and community. By exploring and sharing our stories we are contributing the larger community narrative of location and a dialogue of awareness.
In Getting to Maybe (2006), authors Westley, Zimmerman and Patton present a model for categorizing and differentiating problems. They suggest that problems fall into three categories; simple, complicated, and complex. Their model is adapted from Glouberman and Zimmerman (2004), who discuss complicated and complex systems in health care. Westley et al. suggest that, “complex systems, from human beings to stock markets to global organizations, share behaviors that cannot be explained by their parts. The whole is different than the sum of the parts…In complex systems, relationships are key. Connections or relationships define how complex systems work” (7). These categories are useful in analysis of systems broadly.
Using the framework presented in Getting to Maybe, food needs to be recognized and respected as a complex system. Rigid protocols have limited application and can be counter-productive in the analysis of food production and consumption. While expertise helps with responsiveness to issues and crises, as a diverse and ever-changing system, there is always a significant degree uncertainty of outcomes when considering food issues (9). As Westley et al. suggest, the implications of failing to respect the complexity of a system such as food can be dire, “disasters can occur when complex issues are managed or measured as if they are purely complicated or even simple” (10). Food is tied to the biophysical realities of our existence which are themselves diverse and changing. Problems arise when the complexities of food systems are neglected or when there are attempts to circumvent these complex systems. Storytelling can serve as a platform to uncover and celebrate the complexity food.