The Openhouse takes place every year in the summer (this year online 15th & 22nd Nov.) and each project of the institute has to come up with a unique activity around their research theme. Taking place in the middle of the summer vacations the four hour event draws about 800 junior- and middle-school kids with their parents or grandparents in tow to do some fun activity while practically adding to the mandatory school summer break science assignment (Yes, in Japan kids get homework over the summer vacations).
In the last years the FEAST project had among several other activities asked the visitors what they consider is bad and what is good food and among many other things let the visitors draw the Kyoto foodscape.
In 2018 our institute hosted Joost Vervoort (Assistant Professor, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University) and in 2019 Christine Barnes (Lecturer, King’s College, London) as visiting research fellows. The FEAST team got inspired by their work on futuring and serious gaming, as well as on food and visuality. At the same time, Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement was on the rise and the Food Policy Council Kyoto had picked up School Lunches as a topic. We arrived at the question, what might school kids in Japan get served in the future?
FEAST project leader Steven McGreevy made the first proposal with a matrix from combinations of whether food trade will be more globalized or more localized, and whether humanity manages to achieve the 1.5 degree Paris climate change goal or fails to do so. This gave us the four scenarios which we then backed up in a team crowdsourcing effort with scientific publications, reports and articles on international and national ecosystem models, climate change scenarios, political and economic analysis, and food technology development and marketing trends. Through the combination of the various information in this matrix our scenarios became richer and offered more insights than some of those sources with a more narrow view.
Those scenario descriptions then translated into meals where the food items are a combination of three aspects: 1) extension of already familiar shapes, colors and forms even though the ingredients might be radically new, 2) at least one rather odd item uncommon for current Japanese tastes in each lunch set, and 3) to take into account popular visual aesthetics and the growing impact of ‘instagramability’ of food. After several iterations and back and forth translations of English and Japanese versions by Yuko Kobayashi (FEAST research associate), the menus were set. Lastly, we were confronted with the challenging task to actually make the sets. While some ingredients could be bought and others re-purposed, several were created from scratch by our research associate Yuko Matsuoka.
When the installation was set up, visitors took well time to read the scenario descriptions, menus and have detailed looks at the lunch sets. At the end, adults and children were asked to make a choice about which of the four future school lunches they would prefer to eat. This way the display became a hybrid activity where research results are presented visually through art and at the same time also new findings were generated.
Since the Openhouse in July 2019 the installation has been used four more times at various, food related events in Kyoto, Kameoka and Obuse and while we did collect the voting results showing a clear favorite future for school lunches, at this point other preliminary observations about this method are maybe more interesting:
1) School lunches indeed embody an important cultural experience from grandparents to children, and across all walks of life in Japan. We could witness how this shared background triggered curiosity, as well as allowed easy discussion and conversation.
2) The installation could mindfully challenge widely-held values, worldviews, and understandings of future trajectories. Confronted with the real-looking future school lunch displays and the task to make a decision about the future, yet having an absence of a description of the current situation, many visitors wondered through their mental maps and raised questions about the functioning of the on-going food system.
3) Climate change is a serious, maybe the most serious contemporary challenge, yet the necessary sense of urgency has still not arrived among decision makers, the media, and the public in Japan. The display underscores that change to the food system of Japan will come one way or the other while also showing possible positive activities that could be enacted by individual citizens and society at large.
Jokingly during the creation process I had mentioned that by 2050 children might not be going to school anymore at all, but little could we know back then how soon that day would come and we could still laugh the laughter of the innocent.
With funding support from the institute, the installation has received a full overhaul and includes now professionally drawn scenario images by Elie Tanabe and its own portable set up created by Kouske Imada.
However, the high impact-high unpredictable situation of the C19 pandemic has led to the cancellation of events e.g. Earth Day Kyoto in April. Therefore, I am now in the process of turning the installation into a digital version that should allow an even wider audience to imagine and consider the premises of the current and the future food system.