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Blog of the Centre for Invention & Social Process, Goldsmiths

Eat a tactic: A picnic concept


A picnic concept by Michael Guggenheim and Christian von Wissel for the “engaging tactics” conference at Goldsmiths, Department of Sociology in collaboration with the British Sociological Association and Goldsmiths’ Methods Lab in April 30th – May 1st, 2012, with contributions by the conference participants.

The aim of the conference was “to explore social sciences’ ways of engaging with the social world. The event seeked to explore how to (re)imagine ‘tactics’ for producing and sharing social knowledge, focusing on the construction and upholding of meaningful and confiding relationships with both research participants and ‘emerging publics’.”

Our (self-assigned) task: Create a lunch for the conference. Constraints: No money to pay cooks and little time to prepare and eat.

Our idea: Turn each talk into a tactic for buying, preparing, assembling and eating and have each presenter at the conference prepare one dish. Translate social science tactics into cooking tactics to learn from cooking how to do social science and learn from social science how to cook (for a more theoretical statement, check here).

Here is an excerpt from the email we sent to the participants:

On Monday we would like to have a picnic at the Deptford Project, which we prepare and eat all together. This picnic, of course, shall not just be any picnic, but one where we would like to ask you to share with the others a first impression of your presentation topic by preparing a dish related to the engaging tactic that you are using in your research and discussing with us during the two days.

Starting from your abstracts, we have developed a list of tasks for each one of you (cooking instructions, preparation, food presentation or eating instructions), which aim at inviting you to prepare a dish inspired by your topic.

The general instructions are the following:

  • You will be assigned a partner to share the work and costs – and also the fun, we hope – of solving the task.
  • Your task will be to provide one dish (starter, main, or dessert or any combination of these) that feeds four people.
  • We don’t want this to be a financial excess: as a rough guidance, the dish – prepared among two people – should cost between £10- £20.
  • Each dish shall be functional for a picnic.  It has to be prepared beforehand, or you have to be able to prepare it in a couple of minutes on the spot. There are no cooking facilities that you can use. You need to use the facilities at your home, or those of local friends or other establishments.”

Here are the results. For each participant we list the title of the talk, the instruction given, followed by an edited transcript of how the person interpreted the instruction, and a photograph. Some titles of the talk are  a bit cryptic. If you are interested in exploring the deeper links to the talks, check the abstracts on the conference webpage.

Veronica Olivotto: Thank You for Coming! 

Tactic: Create a dish from teenage ingredients that says ‘fuck you’ to the adult food order.

“The instruction I was given was to create a dish that says “Fuck you to the adult food order”. And I worked on it with Miranda. What we came up with was to buy these pink-coated tartes from the Netherlands. These would normally be considered junk food in the Netherlands. And then we added Nutella and Jelly beans, to me, these beans are essentially British, and we decided to buy crisps and Cider, Cider!, to drink on the streets.”

Ruth Sheldon: Collaborative Conflict

Tactic: Prepare the following dish (an overly precise recipe for Insalata Caprese). Revolt against the recipe in as many ways you can.

„So my instruction was a very precise recipe for an Insalate Caprese, including the freshness of the products and so on and I was told to rebel against it. So the rebellion took off once I started to talk with Katharina about it. I started off rebelling by incorporating north African and eastern European foods into it, because, obviously, anyway. And then I talked to Katharina and we incorporated all kinds of different cultural versions of traditional Italian foods, so there is Chinese filtered olives in there as well. And it’s called Lampedusa mix salad and Berlusconi is hanging out in the background, as he is always.

James Gilpin: Nil by Mouth

Tactic: Bring as many things that do not look like what they are. They should together form a dish.

Katie Hare: “I was working with James, and I was away this weekend, so there was not a lot of time to think. Our task was to prepare something from ingredients that are not what they are or not what they look like and James came up with the idea that it could be a load of processed food. So he bought scotch eggs that do not look like eggs and pork pies that are not really made of pork and processed cheese and Club bisquits that are orange flavoured but not really orangey and I quickly ran out and bought Jaffa cakes because they are not a cake and not a biscuit, but what are they? And I bought  prawn crakers that obviously do not contain prawn.”

Tobie Kerridge: Designing Debate – Speculative Design and Public Engagement with Science and Technology

Tactic: Bring as many things that look the same, but taste differently. They should together form a dish.

Tobie: “We paired off and made these two dishes here. The brief for these two dishes was to do something that look the same but taste different. I don’t know if they will taste different, but I hope we have a pair of dishes that are edible.”

Florencia Marchetti: Provoking Memories: A Brief Account of Situated/ Performative/ Collaborative Acts of Social Analysis

Tactic: Bring a dish that can only be prepared/eaten collaboratively (i.e.: somebody has to hold something for the eaters…).

“My instruction was to bring something that could only be prepared or eaten collaboratively, so I brought maple caramel which is a common combination and I will claim Argentinian. And I brought cookies, and you are only allowed to touch one of the ingredients, so you need somebody to help you.”

Kata Halasz: […] 2007

Tactic: Food is a drawing

“Basically, I would just like you to listen to this song. Come to the front and take one of these fruits.”  (plays Billie Holiday: Strange Fruit)

Terese Jonsson: Curating Narratives

Tactic: Design a dish, for which neither you, nor other conference participants have to do anything. None of you are allowed to shop, prepare, cut. Your are the curator!

Anna Bull: “This is Terese and I am Anna. Our task was that we were not allowed to shop or buy or cut anything. So I stayed with my friend Ruth last night, who is also a new Zealander, and we tried to go skipdiving, but there were no skips, and so she said, right, I will make you some biscuits. So she made NZ biscuits, which are traditional biscuits and I had to stand there and watch her, because I was not allowed to do anything. And now we decided to go skipdiving, but we couldn’t find any skips, so we went to some fruit and vegetable shops and asked whether we could have anything they are going to throw away. Here we have bananas and apples and what we think is jackfruit. We didn’t buy any of it or do anything to it.”

Paolo Cardullo: “Finally I found my Prince Charming, Oh I Love You!”

Tactic: Tell us what you think of us with your dish. Your dish consists of individual identical small items that speak to us.

“I was told to bring something a bit of the same to everyone. So I just grappled some Indian sweets and chopped them into pieces. They are very sweet, so be very careful about how much sugar you can take. Because I got married with a British-Indian woman last month. So this is my invitation to say “I love you”. And this is my next talk, the psychogeography of love and affect.

David Kendall: Collaboration Revisited

Tactic: Create a blind tasting event. Think of 5 items which can be tasted individually and that confuse tasting experiences.

“The tactic was about access and encounter and ideas of collaboration. And the idea was that we rely and access on food visually, we rely on the visual, it’s instinctive in some way. We rely on the visual to see whether it’s gone off, or whether it’s poisonous, maybe that’s a human trait. And it’s about the problem of how we encounter food without the visual in terms of touch and smell and taste. And at the end people were asked to hand each other the plate over, so there was another twist on it. So whatever they assumed they picked up, they would get something else to eat. And I lead them down to the food, so you did not even know where you were coming to, you were completely discoordinated. Thus verbal communication was very important. It was about trust and listening and relying on other people for assistance.”

Excerpt from David explaining to the blind tasters what to do: “In front of you is a selection of food laid out, and what I am asking you is to take one selection of food, I am giving you the plate, come back forward a bit, that is the edge, and in front of you is the food, and you need to pick something and then move to the next. In front of you are spoons, and have as much as you like. And move along to the next. Pick the first thing you see. Touch it, feel it.

Blind Taster: “Quite tasty.”

David: “Just pick it and put it down on your plate. Have a piece of that one. And if you move to the next, you may find something you like. You can take a selection. And then there is a bottle of water there as a price… You can’t eat it yet, because you need to share it with other people. “

Leah Gibbs: Embodied Ethnographic Methods and the River

Tactic: Run! Think ahead, then run to the high street and get your stuff!

“My instruction was run. Think ahead and run! I ran to the high street to buy stuff. But I didn’t run fast enough, so I am still preparing. And I did not know the high street. But I found some things that I love, some cucumbers, bread, and Brie and tahini and some pickled onions that don’t quite go together, but that’s it. So it did not run fast enough.”

Madli Maruste: The Children of Freedom. Ethnic and National Identity of Young Estonians

Tactic: A dish that needs many hours preparation time (it should cook, soak, marinade for at least overnight)

Michael Guggenheim: “The task was to do something which soaks, which infuses, which hangs around. This is a fresh raw soaked vegetable salad, which is made from Olive-oil infused for two days with rosemary and pink pepper and then the salad is soaked but uncooked for half a day in the oil. And there are almonds soaked in water for two days.”

Alexandra Baixinho: Video-Café: Self-Reflexivity, Urban Rhythms and Materialities

Tactic: Cook a tango.

“I did a chilli-brownie. I am not sure whether it fits. It’s very subtle. I was ordered to cook a tango. So this is my tango. It is a tango because it is spicy and sweet at the same time. It is not very spicy, so those who want to go over the top can add more of the chillies on top. And here is Anthony’s interpretation.”

Anthony Thickett: “So mine is the stereotypically British interpretation of the Tango. Tango, the orange-like softdrink, yeah, Fanta. That’s very I drew my inspiration from. So I thought I can do a little bit better, a little bit more health conscious and eco. So this is a tango-inspired fruit salad, where all ingredients are orange.”

Alison Thomson: Nil by Mouth

Tactic: Bring five ingredients. They should all be edible as they are (raw or pre-cooked). It should be possible to combine all of them. The item with the largest volume, should be 1kg. Adjust all the others accordingly (i.e., try to adjust them that they allow participants to make fair choices. Participants should be able to create 125 different dishes from them, depending on their ideas of fairness. 

“We had to pick five ingredients and one of them had to weigh a kilogram, and they all had togo well together. I guesstimated this morning that three avocados would be a kilogram. “



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