The Cultural Food Challenge: A Post-Cold War Solution
A post-Cold-War solution?
According to a new study by the National Academy of Sciences, the idea of creating a cultural food challenge has some merit.
The researchers argue that such a challenge could serve as a catalyst for change in our cultural landscapes and help us to reclaim the “food for thought” of our past, as well as help us reclaim our identity as citizens of a better world.
In other words, the new research suggests that a cultural-food challenge might be more important than ever.
This new study, which has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change, also suggests that it may be feasible to create such a cultural challenge within the context of a post-war economic order, where economic prosperity is a primary goal of policymakers.
The study authors, including Harvard Business School professor Richard Vedder, argued that the economic order that we are in today may be “too complex and too dependent on technologies” to be sustainable in the long run.
They pointed out that while economic success can be measured in terms of jobs created, “social and political resilience is a function of social and political wellbeing,” and that “this is one of the key reasons why cultural challenges can play such an important role in promoting economic prosperity.”
“The key challenge in developing a successful cultural food task force is that it must be able to effectively mobilize people across diverse cultural landscapes to produce a cultural meal,” Vedder said.
“In the past, these task forces have been focused on the specific challenges of the specific community and have failed to address broader socio-economic and cultural factors that may affect the outcome of a food challenge.”
But Vedder’s idea of a cultural project is an appealing one: It focuses on the problems of a specific cultural group, such as the immigrant-led resistance in the 1970s or the indigenous-led food-initiative in the 1980s.
“This is a unique opportunity to address some of the bigger issues facing our world today, and to engage people across cultures,” Ved, a co-author of the new study along with MIT’s Shira Goldin, said in a statement.
The authors of the study argue that cultural food challenges can serve as “a catalyst for cultural change” and can help us “reclaim our identity and reclaim our place in a post Cold War world.”
They write: In addition to challenging a specific problem, cultural food tasks can help the task force “explore, design, and execute a cultural task for a specific community, community group, or community-based project” in order to address the broader socio/economic issues that affect the entire community.
The task force could “provide an opportunity for people of different cultural backgrounds to collaborate, develop, and coordinate their efforts, including in order for them to create a food project that has the potential to change the way people consume, use, and experience food.”
For example, the task forces that have been proposed by researchers in the past have focused on a specific group, but the authors of this study argue “cultural food challenges are particularly valuable when it comes to engaging people across different cultural contexts.”
The task forces could help people of all backgrounds “engage in an innovative and culturally-relevant way” to challenge the problems that plague their communities.
“Our goal is to help the communities that are struggling most in the world today by working with them to develop creative and innovative cultural food strategies that are effective and sustainable,” Ved said.
The cultural-cookbook concept is already being used in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the University of Arizona and other academic institutions, has produced a list of books that will be featured in schools as part of a National Day of Learning.
“I think it is going to be an opportunity to get the whole food community talking about food and about the power of food,” said J. Michael Strickland, the USDA’s chief nutritionist.
The National Science Foundation has also been working to build a database of books and other cultural-related materials that would be featured at schools across the country.
“It is a really good idea to get a broad cultural awareness of the problem, to get all people in the country thinking about it, and then to make the food we eat a way that is sustainable, nutritious, and a source of pride,” Stricklands said.
That may be a tall order, but there are some people who have done just that.