The COVID-19 pandemic is changing all parts of life. COVID FOODWAYS is new series of Spatula&Barcode projects and actions responding to the pandemic impact on food systems and food cultures.

Empty grocery store shelves
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Background and Purpose

By mid-March of this year it was already apparent that the pandemic would impact food systems and food culture as deeply as it did other aspects of daily life and society. We began to observe media and social media reports of food shortages, hoarding and food waste, but also of innovation, organizing, and mutual aid. In the US, mainstream media soon began to feature “quarantine cuisine” as a relatively lighthearted topic that connected with middle-class audiences sheltering at home, while food assistance programs began to grapple with increased need and distribution systems such as our local farmer’s markets struggled to support producers and reach consumers.

A man in civilian clothes stacking boxes of apples
(Photo: Staff Sgt. Jonathan Pietrantoni. License: CC BY-ND 2.0)

In March 2020 we began developing the COVID writing project in these times/at this moment; soon after we began initial work on a food-specific exploration of pandemic living. The first part of COVID FOODWAYS is a social science research project in collaboration with colleagues from around the world who connected to the South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability (SARAS). With SARAS colleagues, we began work on a pair of surveys aimed at learning about how diverse consumers and producers were responding to the pandemic. The team now includes members from the University of Wisconsin Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS).

While we hope that someday the pandemic will no longer define the ways that we live and work, we can also hope that some of the creativity with which individuals and groups have met these crises will persist and be remembered for remaking the world. Specifically, consumers, producers, and distributors of food are innovating to cope with shortages, restrictions on movement, and physical distancing in ways that can teach us how resilient food systems and food cultures can have long-lasting beneficial effects for culture and society. COVID FOODWAYS will foreground the creative and innovative ways that individuals and food systems have responded. For example, some restaurant produce in London was quickly re-routed for direct sales to consumers, neighbors in Uruguay opened street kitchens (Ollas Populares) to combat hunger and, closer to home, the Dane County Farmers Market reinvented itself for online ordering and drive-through distribution.

Dane County Farmers Market drive-through (Photo Clark Peterson)

“Foodways” is an anthropological and food studies term for cultural practices of “doing food”; COVID FOODWAYS aims to study how we are doing food differently. We want to move past the popular media attention to how privileged consumers are adapting to shortages and isolation, to consider the food systems that are the real, material story of how the crisis is revealing and challenging our established foodways. We are interested in how art can engage participants in understanding their food systems and the impact of the pandemic, and in how art can tell the stories of suffering and resilience we are experiencing in these times and at this moment.

In Development

As with much of our work, we are getting started before we have a full picture of what the work will be. Below is information on the first stage of COVID FOODWAYS, which surveys consumers and producers. We are developing participatory arts events to facilitate more wide-ranging sharing of the experiences and food knowledges that have developed during the pandemic and plan for those events to form the basis for internet and/or video archives of COVID FOODWAYS.

Invitation to Participate

How has the pandemic changed food for you? How have you adapted your foodways to meet these new conditions?
Spatula&Barcode invites you to participate in the first components of the COVID FOODWAYS project, by documenting your foodways on social media (using the tag #covidfoodways), by completing a survey, or even being interviewed. Details are here.

People sitting at a dinner table with food and dishes in front of an internet video conference on screen
{Photo: Clark Peterson)