Science and technology play a substantial role in the food industry. Everyday products we consume are often affected by the work of legions of scientists and engineers. Food producing corporations run enormous research facilities and fund large scale scientific research. All of this effort is expended to make food tastier, easier to produce, more functional and sometimes, but not always, healthier. Still the science and technology that underlies food production is, as most of the “science”, inaccessible for the lay man. We consumers – lack awareness of the scale of research and technological modifications of the food we eat. These modifications can impact both negatively and positively on our health and well being.
The idea of modifying our diet in order to influence our health is not a product of modern times. The Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine practised mainly in India, proposes that each person should find out their temperament type and eat food according to it, that which is suited to the person’s physical and emotional makeup. Ayurveda considers food not only as nourishment but also as medicine, and so one has to be careful and scientific about it.1 Modern science recognises that good diet is central to overall good health and can help us sustain and or improve our energy and feelings of well-being while reducing the risk of health problems and diseases. Nevertheless we have become passive and dependent on advertising when it comes to shaping our diet. Therefore we believe it is important to open our minds, educate ourselves and critically look on what we are,literally, fed with.
That is why we want to communicate the science and technology that is relevant to the food industry and a healthy lifestyle. We aim to create an exhibition by using three complimentary tools:
• Informative visualisations exhibited in a public space
• Science educators and communicators working within the exhibition, engaging visitors in dialogue and debates
• A website containing complimentary multimedia and connecting exhibition users with experts from the field of food and health science and technology.
Using these tools, we aim to inform the general public about the science and technology behind common food groups encourage them to think critically about the products they consume and to voice their concerns and opinions.
Facts in the background
Obesity is a serious health problem, not just cosmetic. It can be the cause of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, sleep apnoea, osteoarthritis, gout, gallbladder diseases and certain cancers. These have become the leading causes of death and disability for both men and women in developed countries.
The problem associated with obesity is growing. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published troubling statistics on the matter. Excess body weight, including obesity is prevalent in Scottish 13 year old boys at 14.5% and 10.5% of Scottish 13 year old girls (ENHIS, 2007).
Similarly, the prevalence of obesity in Europe has tripled in the last 20 years (WHO, 2006).
Therefore, we find that there is an immediate need to explore this issue. Especially because there are people which current health campaigns have failed to reach. There is a need of a different, more inclusive communication method and tools.
We chose to focus on three ordinary groups of consumer products: yoghurt, crisps and carbonated soft drinks. We used these groups based on: • Their connection with healthy or unhealthy lifestyle
• The number of myths, pseudo-science and actual research about them which we can build on or critique
• Their well-established position in people’s diets.
Nevertheless we will use those products only as tools to communicate broader ideas and promote certain attitudes. The individual aspects of the project are listed in detail.
Yoghurt, crisps and carbonated soft drinks will inspire three paths of informative visualisations. Together they will form an attractive public exhibition. In its creation we plan to employ researchers, health and food science specialists and graphic designers. We want to show different facts about our theme products in a broad, interdisciplinary perspective. Viewers will be able to learn not only about the ingredients, process of production and health consequences connected with them but also about their history and social and cultural contexts, myths and research about them, scientists and professionals behind their production, marketing and distribution. We do not plan to cover such a broad field completely. In fact we will use only most important or interesting information, leaving space for questions.
We will also address controversial issues, expose different point views and show examples of critical interpretation of scientific data. For example such issues could be:
• The real versus marketed impact of probiotic yoghurt on immunity
• Institutions that decide why crisps are unhealthy and their evidence
• The intense and manipulative marketing of carbonated drinks
Visitors will be encouraged to produce and expose their questions in a specially designed space. Questions will be regularly posted to the project website and then answered by experts.
Educators are the key of our projects success. They will work at the exhibition not only by providing additional information, but to reach out and talk with people. The exhibition will serve as a means for dialogue.
Educators will motivate people to think about how the information presented relates to their life, and how they feel about the exhibition. This will help visitors to see the exhibition from a different perspective and critically analyse its content. They will encourage visitors to form and leave the questions and redirect to projects website for the answer.
Additionally educators will provide an individual approach to suit the various needs of different individuals involved in the exhibition. They will be trained to be aware to interpersonal and social factors influencing exhibition reception and to use inclusive approaches.
The website will contain multimedia with information complimenting the exhibition, for example, documentaries from the food laboratories or interviews with specialists. An important part of the website will be an interactive forum in which experts from the field can answer the questions of visitors. This will also provide an arena for discussion and feedback.
Models of communication
Our project combines the deficit and the dialogue model of science communication (Trench, 2008). Participants of the project will not only get new knowledge and information, but will have the opportunity to voice their questions and concerns, as well as connect with scientists and experts working in the field of food science and technology.
Implementation of the project
We are aware of the scope of our project. It’s implementation demands a lot of different resources and requires a spectrum of skills that are group currently does not have. This is not to denigrate the value of our experience as science and education students or as science centre workers. But due to this situation we would take more managerial and organisational roles and outsource certain tasks. For example we plan to employ graphic designers, webmasters and professional scientists and co-operate with them to create the exhibition and implement the project. We do not consider ourselves as teachers or educators but rather as mediators between the separate worlds of science and public.
We initially aimed to target the general public, but it quickly became apparent to us that assuming that the public are homogenous is simply untrue. To address this we have situated our campaign in several different locations in order to reach different social groups. Overall by doing this we are still reaching a broad cross section of society while still acknowledging that these groups are heterogeneous. This does not mean a different display at each location. Instead we would train our science communicators to be aware and to respond to the different social contexts at each location. In order to better involve groups that are currently considered to be socially excluded.
Our group is focusing on three different areas to present our campaign to the public. The first is at Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) type events; the second is at selected supermarkets and finally at designated pedestrian shopping districts in cities. Each of these locations would give us access to what we feel are significantly different sections of society.
For the first two venues our rationale is that by having our presentations at both PTA type events and in our selected supermarkets it will allow us to reach two distinct groups of individuals. Given that PTA’s tend to be dominated by “middle class” individuals, we are conscious that if we only situated our campaign here, we would run the risk of inadvertently discriminating against working class individuals. In order to avoid this potential inequality we’ve decided to also situate our campaign in the lower priced supermarkets.
While, ideally, we would like to situate our campaign here, we are conscious that there may be difficulties arising from supermarkets being uncooperative in hosting our campaign due to an unwillingness to alienate producers of the foods they stock. We feel that this maybe countered by supermarkets desire to be seen as supporting healthy eating initiatives but if this is was not the case there is no reason that we couldn’t use shopping malls as an alternative venue and still achieve the same goals.
Situating our campaign outdoors in busy commercial thoroughfares is intended to reach as broad an audience as possible. While the previous two locations were targeted primarily at parents the outdoor location is more likely to reach a younger demographic (teenagers through to graduates/young workers).