(one of four food scenarios on the topic of food futures)

Top down

Hello everyone,

I bring greetings from the Transition Network of Regions and our many communities across the globe. Alongside my heartfelt greetings I also bring warnings. Take your weather seriously! Now is the time to act, together. Beware of infinite growth!

I know you've heard all of this before, but I deplore you to take my warnings seriously. I come from a time where we ignored all the obvious signs of climate chaos and continued business as usual. For a while it seemed that we were going to get away with not having to change much at all. But little by little all of us were dramatically affected by extreme weather and the related social and economic consequences. After waiting for too long for someone else to solve our problems, we deployed a two-pronged strategy: on the grassroots level, we created first temporary and then permanent autonomous zones, where we practiced a disciplined approach to life, feeding the planet while feeding ourselves. On another level, we began infiltrating government and industry, changing environmental policies and health regulations. I come from the second branch of our movement and come to you as the current chairperson of the environmental wisdom committee, the heart of of our chaordic governance structure.

It is through food that we began to change the hearts and minds of our people. They experienced weather that had become so unpredictable that industrial agribusiness could not prouduce enough food for us all. We would have starved if we had continued eating as you do today. We implement strict transition protocols, structures of certification and tracking, fines for excessive waste. Some people voluntarily uploaded information about their eating and health habits, using old technologies from the Quantified Self movement. But for most of us, social reinforcement seemed to encourage us to become more disciplined about our eating and wasting habits.

On the ground, the grassroots movement provided examples to sway even the most sceptical. We developed a trans-local network of regions in transition, which has proven resilient in the face of most severe weather. In these regions supply chains are shortened to the minimum. As much as possible is grown and eaten as close as possible to the source. We established seed saving and sharing networks, encouraging sufficient biodiversity. We teach pre-industrial hunting and foraging practices, especially focused on culling invasive species. Our children learn from an early age that if they want to take food from the environment, they must feed it as well. If we accept that humans are not separate from our surroundings, but an integral part, we still have a chance.

Tonight we serve you an example of the staples of our times: seasonal wild greens in a nourishing, warming broth. A comforting start of a meal, keeping your gut flora happy. There is nothing fanciful about this dish, but it is delicious. This is how we like our food to be: freshly picked, nutritious without bells and whistles.

When I arrived in your time, I was shocked by the abundance of food, but also the abundance of disease and general malaise of your population. Your environment is on the one hand mindlessly exploited, on the other it is left unused. Just on my walk here today, I saw delicious wild greens left unharvested by the side of the road, as well as a manicured grass lawn covered in pesticides. So I have a conundrum for you tonight: what would you do to feed yourself and your loved ones if your complicated global supply chains began to crumble? What would Edingburgh look like if it had to become self-sufficent once again? What would you need to import from elsewhere and how would you do it? Basically, I'd like you to tell me how you would live a moderate, disciplined life and survive the inevitable climate weirding that you've already begun to experience?

I wish you all the best and leave you with a wish: may you understand your limits and eat within them! Cheers!

Bottom Up

Hi everyone!

You have already met my fellow traveller from the Environmental Wisdom Committee who offered you the wild garlic soup. Each of us were sent as a representative of the two branches of our transition movement. While my friend represents our governance body, I come from the ground, from one of the founding grassroots movements that gave rise to the translocal transiton regions. Our approach to tackling climate chaos is very different to their top-down approach. We didn't wait for anyone to solve our problems, we did it ourselves and we did it with others. Nothing I say will sound very new to you – I've met many people in your timeline who practice similar lifestyles – you might know them from transition towns, slow food or permaculture movements. Similarly, we began changing the little things in our lives: shortening working hours, choosing appropriate technologies and practicing anticipatory design. We created post-industrial cottage industries with a focus on public commons and principles of sharing. Small, slow and local is our motto. We practice permaculture and cradle-to-cradle design, wasting as little as possible. This kind of food production and distribution has lead to a massive social and cultural shift. We began living in larger groups, preferring clans rather than the old nuclear family, with enough hands to help each other grow enough food for a small village.

Even before the extreme weather events, economic crises and pandemics plagued humanity, we began our disciplined descent. We have our own lifestyle and strong moral foundations. Food production, distribution and consumption is highly regulated and taxed. The dish you are about to eat is one of the examples of working within restrictions. Meat is usually seen as a decadent luxury in our time. Cuisine vegetal on the other hand thrives more than ever now. We've learned to recreate many carnivourous dishes with a focus on our abundant vegetables. Tonight you're eating shepherd's pie, one that changes seasonally. Our versatility in adapting traditional recipes to use alternative ingredients has made our diets increasingly resilient in the face of changing climates and soil conditions.

I have family in Italy, who have worked with principles of flavour pairing to solve the problem of disappearing basil. They have found that their pasta napoletana tastes nearly the same when they combine lavender and thyme. On your dishes, the hearty taste of sheep meat is invoked using smoked garlic and paprika, adding the umami taste of mushrooms and binding them all in a stock made with local beer. This dish summarises the story of our success: our creativity, curiosity, integrity and flexibility have made our diets more resilient, but no less tasty.

So I'm curious – how do you see your communities adapting to changing environmental and economic conditions? What lifestyles would make you better equipped to survive or even thrive in these turbulent times? What will your diet be like in the coming years? What will happen to your work-life balance?

But before you dive into your conversations, I'd like us to raise a glass to culinary adaptation in the face of unprecedented social and environmental changes… To resilience of food and cooking!

After a series of extreme weather events, economic crises and pandemics, it was time for a disciplined descent. The local, national and transnational institutions from the top-down and grassroots initiatives from the bottom-up began regulating and curbing excess in all aspects of life, from population control to the amount and type of food consumed. The regulatory system has imposed taxes and fines enforced by lifestyle police: production, distribution and consumption of food are highly constrained and regulated. This is the heyday of certification bureaucracy and the micro-accountability mafia. People and products are traceable and information-rich, making use of the advanced internet of things. The “quantified self” has entered into the supply chain, making it possible for personalised diets and medicine to be delivered. Strict diets are followed as closely as religions. Cuisine vegetal emerged as one of the least strict, most common regimes, initially as a strategy to lower meat production. Meat and fish are still regularly consumed, but often rationed and appearing as a luxury product.

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Where top-down regulations aren’t effective, social enforcement is: neighbours and friends will report misconduct “for your own good” and punishments are readily accepted as character building. Supply chains are as short as possible, creating small community enclaves with strict immigration procedures. In these enclaves cradle-to-cradle practices are created and protected through customs and rituals. Seed exchanges are authorised and regulated through transnational social networks. Bali (with its traditional agricultural system) and Switzerland are depicted as ideal social organisations where community, religion and economy are tightly intertwined. Food is produced using sustainable farming technologies and ultra-optimised agro-ecology and smart feedback systems. The food supply chain is contained in a circular economy with recycling seen as a highly valued activity. Outside of the supply chain, environmental protection and rewilding are used to conserve what little non-polluted environment is left.

This scenario was translated into one of the courses in a tasting menu. The discipline scenario was served in two courses, as a soup and main course:

  • Wild garlic and mushroom veloute
    • Prosecco
  • Seasonal vegetables shepherd's pie
    • Heather ale

The complete food futures tasting dinner can be found on the latelab menu

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