Food, Cosmology and Futures Studies

Pinakbet Futures

“Eat what your genes like” The Economist

It was wonderful and magnificent attending the Asia Pacific Conference 2012. This year the foresighteers summit was held in Perth, Australia. I was invited to speak at the conference and was glad to present two diverse papers on foresight.

This blog discusses briefly the paper that I wrote on food, cosmology and futures studies. Entitled There is hope in pinakbet: exploring Ilocano alternative futures, the article was my first attempt to explore and make sense of  food as a context/setting in the exploration of alternative futures.

Inspired by Johann Galtung’s article on the cosmology of civilization, it argued that food as a manifestation of life is a symbolic and material code of a civilization. Galtung writes “food is a carrier of cosmology (macro-culture).”

The paper employed Sohail Inayatullah’s Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) to unpack Ilocano alternative futures. Pinakbet was used as a conceptual framework to deconstruct the Ilocanoes personal, community and global futures. Pinakbet is a unique and authentic vegetable stew invented by Ilocanos, the third largest ethnolinguistic group in the Philippines. I interviewed 50 respondents in five separate CLA focus group discussion workshops to explore their perspectives on Ilocano futures.

Pinakbet as a worldview and myth for present and future generations

It was apparent that Pinakbet was used by participants as a worldview and metaphor for hope, their struggles, their openness and belief in diversity and sustainable futures. Participants opined that Pinakbet symbolizes the Ilocanoes true nature.Their natural inclination to blend and evolve and their capacity to learn and relearn (life) when faced with harsh situations was similar to the vegetables shriveling when boiled. Like Pinakbet, Ilocanoes are, the participants noted, soft but flavorful.

The mixed vegetables represents the Ilocanoes willingness to embrace the world and they were, in fact, the first generation of migrant workers in the Philippines. Pinakbet represents a people that knows no boundaries. As a worldview and myth, the food serves to inspire and it could create a new community-indigenous story. The participants felt that it could, the Pinakbet, in many ways, help in re-perceiving the present and that it was more “relatable” hence was a practical narrative to inspire people to create positive futures.

We are what we eat: Beyond Gastronomy and Pinakbet as a carrier of cosmology

Also, the popular saying “we are what we eat” and “the food shall be your remedy and your remedy shall be your food” was socially relevant. That it could engage people to act to create the new story. They said that Pinakbet as a story was a story that local community’s and Ilocanoes could relate and reflect to. That Pinakbet, in its multidimensional context, was ennobling (the dignifying effect of the food on persons and communities) and it was personal and transformational.

The food is our remedy, Pinakbet in the context of the social and the economic

Decoding Pinakbet from the perspective of the Ilocano revealed new ways of perceiving the real (food as a manifestation of the real). A number of discourses emerged when CLA was applied. One is the “vegetable discourse”. With Pinakbet in mind, the social and economic life must reflect his/her values, culture and local context. Wealth is re-perceived in the context of food sufficiency and sustainability. In a climate change future where food and water become elusive, the “Pinakbet village or village vegetable” is a source of refuge and renewal. Other narratives uncovered were “Pinakbet (food) as the new cultural”, “Pinakbet (food) revitalizes tourism industry” and “Pinakbet farmers emerges as the new CEOs.”

Hyun Rul Park (South Korea), Dennis Morgan (United States), Neema Veneema (Australia), and Shermon Cruz (Philippines)
Hyun Rul Park (South Korea), Dennis Morgan (United States), Neema Veneema (Australia), and Shermon Cruz (Philippines)

Food is enlightenment!

This experience with food research and developing it as a futures context, I assume, can enrich our ways of knowing the real. As a method, it could help us unpack new ways of shaping and designing alternative futures.

What I learned in this process was that what we actually eat can influence, drive the way we perceive family, work, leisure, tourism, politics, economics, past and future futures. Food, I argue, is a driver and/or influencer of possible futures.

I was happy to share this and was glad that my food-futures concept expanded when I attended Prof. Hyun Rul Park (South Korea) and Prof. Dennis Morgan (United States) presentation on Heal Tech and Heal Being Culture. The food discussion deepened during lunch with Matti Heinonen (Finland), Marcus Barber (Australia) and Gareth Priday (Australia) and noted their brilliant positive comments.

I was glad to hear Emma Veenema’s (Australia) feedback and said she would love to integrate the concept in her “West Australia Food Fest” project.

The Asia Pacific Foresight Conference was amazing! It was e to borrow Marcus Barber’s words – satisfying and, yes, neurologically rich!

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