'Four Generic Futures' from food futures scenarios, looking at the relationship between food, well-being and the environment, based on basic horizon scanning and Causal Layered Analysis of change drivers. The scenarios were translated into two thematic food events.
The first event is a five course tasting dinner (with the Discipline scenario split into two courses) for the Edinburgh Science Festival. We designed dishes that would illustrate the tastes, ingredients and processes likely to be used in food and cooking in each of the four scenarios. At the dinner, as a dish was served, the host proposed discussion topics/questions for that course, in the form of a short speech and a toast that used the dish instead of a slideshow to illustrate the scenario. The participants were asked to have a conversation about the scenario and the questions. They could take notes on the table cloth, guided by a 'table host' - a moderator who helped guide the discussions. The discussions were summarised at the dessert table.
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The scenarios above focusing on the evolution of the relationship between food, well-being and the environment are designed by Nik Gaffney, Rasa Alksnyte, Michka Melo and Maja Kuzmanovic in April 2014. In this experiment we tested two techniques from our background research: the CLA (or causal layered analysis) and “four generic futures”. CLA helped us narrow down the world-views and cultural myths behind a forest of change drivers that influence the future of food (such as antibiotic resistance, diet cults, soil degradation, financialisation of food markets, etc.). The three dominant but co-existing myths appeared to be the infinite growth, hybrid openness and “small, slow and local”.
To construct the scenarios we used “the four generic futures” technique from the Manoa School. The person behind this method is Jim Dator, one of the head figures of the futures field. Dator suggested that in most (or even all) scenario planning exercises, people come up with variations on the four archetypal futures: continue, collapse, discipline or transform. In our case, the Continue scenario was about increasing efficiency of food production, distribution and consumption; the Collapse scenario happened post “resource wars”, evolving into a strange hybrid of decadent debauchery and food scarcity, culminating in consensual cannibalism and suicidal tendencies in the “last supper club”; Discipline bifurcated into a bureaucratic certification and audit heaven populated by quantified selves and a network of rather conservative Transition Regions; and finally in the Transform scenario people live in Bucolicities - metropolis-sized food forests with biomimetic drones delivering delicacies grown in labs on Earth as well as the moon.
We then translated the scenarios into the types of tastes, ingredients and processes that we could use in Scotland in early spring, and created the sketch of a five course tasting menu, that we refined with Ginny Hunter, the chef who prepared the food in Edinburgh. The final menu consisted of a wild garlic soup, a beetroot and blue cheese tart, fried potato-skins with seaweed, vegetarian shepherd’s pie, bubblegum panna-cotta with absinthe truffles, served paired with local beers and whiskeys. This was the first time that we created a food event where we didn’t cook ourselves. It has proven feasible, although we concluded that we prefer being in the kitchen ourselves…
Instead of cooking the dinner, Nik and Maja were hosts of the evening. We invited the participants to imagine being at a gala dinner, where delegates from different futures came to speak to them about food in the times in which they lived. As the budget for the event was tight, Maja role-played each of the delegates and proposed toasts to resilience of food and cooking, to surviving the collapse of food and agribusiness, to understanding our limits and eating within them, to continued intensification of taste and farming, and finally to openness and transformation of food systems.
As with the original Open Sauces dinner, we used the dishes to illustrate the scenarios and asked the participants a set of questions that would help them get deeper into the different worlds, as well as reflect on what would need to happen in the present in order for them to end up in the different scenarios themselves.
We adapted the menu to a different season and different context. The research and design are presented as part of FoAM's Futures Lab, as part of the exhibition.