Food Systems Team Update #1

This post is by Adriana Baird, Moon, Han Lin (Nancy), Alec Hogan, Zoey Zhou Yang

We are the food systems group, investigating the changing nature of food systems and preferences in modern Beijing during this period of rapid urbanization. We are excited to engage in this project through observing people in their environments, interviewing individuals in different places and spaces in Beijing, using other various fieldwork techniques like counting and tracking, and of course, eating the food of Beijing.

What did you do?

We began this workshop as strangers to one another, but have since pushed past the language barrier and are both friends and collaborators. After breaking the initial awkwardness through icebreakers, we got to know each other by sharing experiences. We have shared everything from meals to intimate bike trips and trips to cafes.  The two Americans sat on the back of our Chinese collaborators bikes, which drew quite a few looks and laughs across the Tsinghua campus. In sharing these experiences as a group, we are definitely forming a more cohesive unit that will be beneficial in adding enjoyment and productivity to the experience moving forward. We are leaning the idiosyncrasies of our very different cultures, and are going to try and learn a new phrase from each other every day. Hopefully by the end of the seminar Adriana and Alec will be able to say more than “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you” in Chinese, and Nancy, Zoe, and Moon will pick up some American slang.

In terms of formal activities, we have done some preliminary fieldwork and practiced a few fieldwork and observing techniques from the Bridge Café in Wudaokou, presented our observations to the rest of the students in the seminar, and have since begun to delve deeper into forming the foundation for our project. Today we explored the topic of food systems in general through a “mind map” in order to come to a more narrow research question that we can use to address the four pillars of sustainability. It took us a while to come to a research question that we all though was relevant and interesting because of the broad spectrum of the topic and an inability to understand one another perfectly. We spent a lot of time discussing and sharing our views over lunch at the canteen and the Paradiso Café during out break. After a few hours of discussion, we ultimately decided on a research question and proceeded to create our action plan for next week–where we are going to go, who we are going to talk to, and when we are going to do it. We all seem to be on the same page and are excited to go into the field and start researching!

Why does it matter? Why do we care?

The research question we ultimately decided to pursue is: what do citizens of Beijing think about the quality of food and how important is food quality in determining food preferences? The answers to this question will provide insight into understanding what qualities of food are most important to the people of Beijing. We believe that this avenue of research is significant because knowing perceptions of food can speak to the affects urbanization has had on Chinese culture. Since food is traditionally very important to individuals and family life, the way that people see food now can shed light on the changing nature of culture in China. In China, food is a distinct representation of culture: Ming i shuwei tian.

How will you move forward? What’s next?

We will begin our research next week! Our fieldwork will consist of traveling to different places individuals in Beijing get their food and interviewing the consumers there. We plan to conduct interviews at three different places, which are an open market, a supermarket, and a canteen (cafeteria) at Tsinghua. We hope to interview people from both the old and new generation to gain insight into how food preferences have altered over time and to increase the depth and breadth of our research. Our action plan for the rest of the seminar is listed below.

Monday Morning — Open Market @ West Gate of Tsinghua
Tuesday Afternoon — Supermarket near Wudaokou & streets vendors of Wudaokou
Wednesday Lunch – Canteen @ Tsinghua
Wednesday Afternoon — TBD (potentials: market near lakes, counting observations for markets v. supermarkets, interviewing family with multiple generations, observe food systems in hutongs)
Thursday – Build Exhibition
Friday – Build Exhibition
Saturday – Exhibition and Final Presentations!