A month in the life of a Gastronomy student…

Stevie Williams is one of our new writers for SFYN Scotland and will be providing a monthly round-up of her journey studying the MSc Gastronomy at QMU, condensed from her weekly posts on her own blog, Duck.Egg.Sponge. Stevie hopes these posts provide you with a insight into the breadth of food topics covered on this pioneering course…

dsc_0189.jpgAll systems go

Structure and Systems Thinking

Monday was spent with Geoff Tansey, an expert in food systems, food policy and food justice. His key message is that all that matters is to have “safe, secure, sustainable, sufficient and nutritious diets for all, equitably”. Geoff helped us to understand some of the workings of the food system and where the problems might be, which resulted in a fascinating but somewhat frustrating day; feelings that seem to sum up the systems module so far.

Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to rebuild the food system during our afternoon group activity, but hopefully if more people approach the problem in this way, and begin to understand the complexity of the system, there might be a chance of a more promising future.’

Mass Media, Power and Trust

On Tuesday, we took a whistle-stop tour through the history of mass media, before considering how it is used today. The emergence of mass media came about due to advances in technology, such as the introduction of the printing press in the fifteenth century; the invention of the telegraph and telephone in the nineteenth century; the discovery of radio waves in the early twentieth century; and the launch of the television in 1936.

The BBC was formed in 1922, and food featured on the radio very early on. As technology improved, communications went global. Nowadays we take it for granted that a news story can travel across continents in seconds.

To further examine mass media and its role in the world of food, we were joined by investigative and campaigning journalist, Alex Renton. […]

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Tricks of the trade

Economics and Trade

Monday morning involved an overview of basic economics, to give us the background we needed to approach the rest of the day. Queen Margaret University Economics lecturer, Dr Gemma Blackledge-Foughali, was quick to point out that economic models are simply models, so can’t accurately capture reality.

After considering the reasons behind supply and demand, Gemma introduced us to the four main types of market structures: perfect competition, monopolistic competition, oligopoly and monopoly. Following on from this, we looked at the conditions affecting trade.

In the afternoon, we explored some of these ideas further, through the study of coffee. We discussed circular economy as an alternative to the traditional linear economy, which involves re-using resources to obtain their maximum value.

Alternative models can [also] be used to approach economics, taking the focus from Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to using, for example, Doughnut Economics, which suggests an area between social and environmental boundaries in which all people on this planet can prosper. Katherine Trebeck, Senior Researcher for Oxfam, came in to speak to us about these other alternative models, including the Humankind Index.

Communicating and Educating about Food

Today we considered food education, not through schools or courses, but through cookery books and food documentaries. Initially, recipes would have been passed down from parent to child or through apprenticeships, but once literacy increased, instructions could be written down.

The afternoon was spent discussing food and film, in particular food documentaries. Food documentaries for example, are often created to campaign for change, and use food as a tool to communicate wider issues, much as we are doing in our study of gastronomy. Whereas narrative films tend not to show the politics behind food, which is where documentaries can provide an alternative view, and be used to investigate and educate.

As spectators, we also have a role to play. We become part of these stories as we engage with them, and can continue the education by sharing what we’ve learned with others and perhaps turning to food activism. In this way, we might play some part in promoting change in our complex food industry. In the words of Michael Pollan, “Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even if you can’t prove that it will.” […]

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At your service

Agriculture and Brexit 

It was an ambitious task to cover agriculture and Brexit in one day. As usual, we were only just able to scratch the surface of a hugely complex issue to which no one has the answer. Farming in the UK is hugely misunderstood, largely due to conflicting information in the media. Some recognise the difficulties involved and the struggle to make ends meet, while others believe that agriculture is booming and that money is being thrown at already-affluent farmers.

In the afternoon, Allan Bowie, former President of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, and Dr Isabel Fletcher, senior research fellow at Edinburgh Law School, came in to offer us more of an insight into farming and Brexit.

Communicating through Manners and Space 

Restaurant day. A day I’d been looking forward to since I started the course. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy a day of eating, drinking and restaurant-hopping. It’s probably what most people think I do when I tell them I’m studying Gastronomy. Now to actually do it.

It’s an interesting experiment to try when you next go to a restaurant. Enjoy the food, but take a bit more time to notice what else is going on around you. How much of the experience is determined by the food, and how much by the environment?

A real showstopper

Fish and Seafood

Following last week’s class on agriculture and Brexit, we certainly weren’t tackling any smaller an issue this week by investigating the UK fishing industry.  We were joined by Jess Sparks, Scotland Regional Manager for Seafish. The mission of Seafish is to support “a profitable, sustainable and socially responsible future for the seafood industry”, which they do by promoting the consumption of fish, enhancing the reputation of the fishing industry, and providing data to inform decision-making.  Jess explained the fishing process to us, highlighting the difficulties of life at sea, [and] believes that people are not eating enough fish.

Following this, Nick Underdown from Open Seas came to speak to us. Open Seas is a Scottish charity campaigning to protect the marine environment through the introduction of more sustainable fishing methods and regulation of fisheries. A huge threat to the fishing industry, and to food security, is Illegal, Unreported or Unregulated (IUU) fishing, which, staggeringly, counts for around 15 per cent of the world’s catches. Research by Open Seas has revealed that there have been 78 reports of illegal fishing in MPAs.

With so little information, it is very difficult for consumers to be sure that they are buying sustainable fish. I suppose we can only hope that post-Brexit policy may offer some solutions, and that improvements in technology might increase transparency in the system.

The Media and Celebrity Chefs

On Tuesday, we were delighted to be joined by Queen Margaret University’s Chancellor, Prue Leith. Now probably most famous as a judge on The Great British Bake Off, Prue has been a restauranteur, caterer, writer, journalist and businesswoman, opening Leith’s School of Food and Wine in 1975, and previously being a judge on The Great British Menu.Today was our chance to hear from, and question, Prue about her role as a celebrity food personality, and as a campaigner in food education.

Prue discussed how much has changed in food media since she began working, with social media being the main form, and most people consulting Google for recipes rather than cookbooks. Prue believes that although food education starts with learning to cook and making food together, it’s not really about cooking; it’s learning to eat.

As food is what keeps us alive, cooking is more, or at least as, important as other school subjects. She advocates the multidisciplinary study of food as taught on the MSc Gastronomy, stating that this approach demonstrates the best kind of food education.

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IMG_2050Stevie Williams is one of our new writers for SFYN Scotland. She describes herself as a totally food-obsessed Londoner, who moved to Edinburgh last year to start an MSc in Gastronomy to continue delving into the fascinating world of cuisine. Her blog Duck Egg Sponge is named after the rich, golden cake that her grandmother used to have ready and waiting when Stevie and her dad went up to visit when she was younger, which they’d eat most of that evening with glasses of warm milk.

Stevie will be writing a monthly round-up of her journey through the course in order to give you an insight into studying Gastronomy and maybe inspire you to take the course yourself!


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