Introducing Foodways Melbourne

We’re in Melbourne to make the second version of our Foodways project, after piloting it in Darmstadt, Germany. While we’ve already been here a few months and done a million things, this post serves as a belated introduction to what we’re up to.

Each of the Foodways projects involves multiple activities and events that fall into roughly three categories. There’s research activity that is about interacting with the public so that we all get to know the foodways of a place better. There’s some kind of spectacle that allows even non-participating folks to know something’s going on. And there’s some form of information exchange, where we foster quieter interactions between people to share their food knowledges.

In Darmstadt the research process involved working with members of the public to graphically map their foodways, their literal paths of taking food from place to place. The spectacle was a celebratory vegetable parade and picnic. And the information exchange was a day-long event that let participants meet face to face with farmers, chefs, activists, and retailers.

In Melbourne, each of these activity streams is happening in multiple ways, but some clear patterns and landmarks emerged early in our process. Right away we realized that we would set aside the mapping research, as rewarding as it was, for a more narrative approach. People started talking to us about food in Melbourne before we were even off the airplane! We just started jotting down the phrases people used to describe how they shop, cook, eat, eat out, etc, and we were soon filling notebooks with great chunks of language about food.


These three firefighters, for example, were eating Pho at the table next to us, and were eager to share their strategies for planning a week’s worth of lunches together.

Some of the foodways are witty or particularly original, others are very typical and we hear variations on them again and again. We’re compiling them all in a big spreadsheet and we also share a selection on Twitter (@spatcode, or search #FoodwaysMelbourne). This collection of narrative has become so interesting that when we say “foodways” now we’re actually often referring to these bits of language.


“I often eat breakfast for dinner” is an expression of a foodway; so is “I go ‘round the market once to check prices before I go back and shop”–and so is what you serve in your pub on a given weekday

 Want to share a foodway or food story? Comment here, email us, or tweet using #FoodwaysMelbourne

We’ve had a particular date for some spectacle since before we came, since the reason we thought to come to Melbourne in the first place was the invitation to work with the organization Performance Studies international (PSi) to host their 22nd conference here in June, on the theme of “Performance Climates.” Once we had the destination, other kinds of opportunities opened up and we were able to build a whole residency worth of stuff here. We’ll be doing a number of things during the conference, but particularly spectacular should be the opening night “processional dinner.” It’s our job to move 400 conference attendees from the University’s Parkville campus to the old Meat Market performance space where we’ll be feeding them in creative and entertaining ways. More details on this when we have them.


A logo-in-progress for our secret surprise gift to participants…

Because we’ve been hearing so many good food stories, we’ve gravitated toward a practice of knowledge exchange that combines talking, walking, and food. We call them “food walks” right now, for want of a better name. The parameters are simple: our collaborator (guide?) leads a group of 3-5 people on a walk to show them a foodway and talk about it in some form. It might be as simple as a stroll to a favorite coffee spot, or as complicated as telling your life story by touring the food shops in your neighborhood. Some will be purely conversational, while others might be more poetic or artistic. We’ve worked on a few different models, but one set of them will take place over two hours at lunchtime, joined by attendees of the PSi conference who come from all over the world and all over Australia. We’ll also have a day of walks geared toward the general public.


One of our students in the Fed Square intensive developed this prototype “Food Walk” which lead the group to (literally) underground coffee culture and laneways street art.

If you would like to develop a food walk with us, let’s talk! The process can be as simple as a chat and maybe a practice walk or two, or we can work more closely with you to structure your walk. The easiest way to be in touch is to email us at


We’ll write a separate post about the work we’ve been doing with students around the Foodways project and especially our residence at Federation Square. This work has given the project some great contact with the public and helped us develop several of the ideas we’re working with now.


Before we close this post, we’ll share an observation about Melbourne food culture. We like to joke that Germans, when they heard we were doing a project about food in Darmstadt, would immediately apologize to us for our bad luck. There’s actually great food and food culture in and around Darmstadt, and our project celebrated that and tried to give it visibility. In Melbourne, on the other hand, when we say we’re here for a project about food culture here, people frequently exclaim “Well, you’ve come to the right place!” and start bragging about how good the food is. They’re right, and Melbourne certainly deserves its reputation as a food or “foodie” capital. But that’s led us to also look for other kinds of observations and storytelling about food. What’s hard about food cultures, either personally or socially? When does food make us feel bad, or when do we use food to feel better? What is the real cost of food, and to whom? The project is definitely going to stay fun and playful, but we think Melbourne is also a rich place to explore complicated stories about food.



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