Getting Cozy with Commensality

Monday and Tuesday (Jan 23 & 24)

During this Monday class session, Geoff Tansey of the Food Systems Academy spent the day with us. He explained the vast inequalities found in the current global food system and potential solutions to this issue should the world decide to spread the economic and comestible wealth. 

There is more than enough food to more than adequately feed all 7 billion people on this planet, but inequity prevents the equal distribution of food (it’s all about power).

For example, India has amassed an enormous grain stockpile, but millions of people are going hungry. While it’s understandable that one would want to save for a rainy day, action should be taken when it’s drizzling to prevent a giant flood later on.

On Tuesday, we started getting into the nitty gritty of food communications, covering semiotics, or the study of signs and sign systems. We also discussed understanding meaning, specifically the denotation and connotation of something. For example, the deep fried mars bar…its denotation or literal meaning is that it is a battered and deep fried candy bar; its connotation or perceived meaning is that it is a greasy and unhealthy food representative of Scotland’s state of health and food culture (or lack thereof).

Monday and Tuesday (Jan 30 & 31)mungoswells

On Monday, we took a field trip to Mungoswells, an arable farm located in East Lothian, also known as the breadbasket of Scotland. The 550-acre farm (160 acres organic) grows cereals, beans, and clover, specializing in wheat that they mill into flour. Angus McDowall, farmer and owner of Mungoswells, told us a bit about the history of the farm and why he began growing wheat for flour (his answer: diversification is vital for farmers to stay afloat these days).

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Angus speaking on the far right

After a chilly 45-minute talk on one of his fields, Angus then took us to a large barn where flour is milled and barley that they also grow is malted for local breweries. We then had the opportunity to taste their flour in some baked goods his crew had made for us, as well as a bit of malted barley (which tasted just like a Malteser sans chocolate).

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Angus on his milling machine

That afternoon back at QMU, Allan Bowie, president of the National Farmers’ Union  Scotland (NFUS) paid a visit and spoke to us about the current state of farming in Scotland, as well as the challenges and potential opportunities facing Scottish farmers due to Brexit.

On Tuesday, we discussed the concept of commensality, a term most (if not all) of us had never come across, let alone understand. Commensality, defined by one scholar as the act of eating together, or by another, literally eating at the same table (mensa is latin for table) is without a doubt a word with many meanings.

We also discussed the idea of the third space, a place where people of various social standings are put on level ground where they can comfortably interact with one another outside of work and the home (Ex: cafés or pubs). There is also an argument that the third space is no longer solely physical, due to the creation of online social media networks.

Next week, we’re learning about seafood and the Scottish fisheries system as well as paying a visit to a Michelin-starred (!) restaurant in Leith.

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