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Sold with a story: food narratives from farm to fork Peter Jackson Tales from the Archive, The British Library, 19 November 2012.

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Presentation on theme: "Sold with a story: food narratives from farm to fork Peter Jackson Tales from the Archive, The British Library, 19 November 2012."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sold with a story: food narratives from farm to fork Peter Jackson Tales from the Archive, The British Library, 19 November 2012

2 Sold with a story [In the commercial world of the Global North] food is increasingly sold with a story (Susanne Freidberg 2003) Food Stories work (with Polly Russell and others) on the producers and consumers of two specific products (chicken and sugar).

3 Social science and oral history A social scientist (human geographer) working with oral historians on a variety of food-related projects (including the AHRC-ESRC Cultures of Consumption programme) Different use of archival material by social scientists and oral historians: the integrity of the individual life-story vs. wider arguments about social change? Different research approaches (epistemologies), not just a tension between individual and social context, or between different temporalities (biographical, generational, chronological change).

4 Secondary data analysis Our AHRC-ESRC Cultures of Consumption project helped create an archive (original recordings for the BLs Food from source to salespoint collection) But also, in my case, re-used data collected by another team member (Polly Russell) and for a specific purpose (analysis of food commodity chains) Raised practical, methodological and ethical issues: different kind of relationship with informants (an enduring responsibility even after formally signed off).

5 Example: manufacturing meaning Re-branding of Oakham chicken at M&S Part of a commercial strategy (clear blue water from high street competitors) Consistent with company line about quality Extent to which key players were personally invested in the process beyond their professional lives.

6 The Oakham story Rebranding of all its chicken lines by British high-street retailer Marks & Spencer Designed to differentiate M&S products from their rival brands (improved animal welfare, lower stocking densities, better feed etc - but still intensively-reared not free-range or organic) Consumer-led: The introduction of Oakham chicken is based around listening to our customers and their concerns about issues such as the welfare of animals and what they are fed… (M&S agricultural technologist).

7 Three extracts From different points along the supply chain a poultry buyer an agricultural technologist a category manager Different perspectives: personal, professional, private, public… political and moral economies…

8 Catherine Lee (poultry buyer) Weve moved so away from … a rural environment … that the majority of the population live in a town, you know, they dont really see a live chicken on a day to day basis any more and therefore theyve become squeamish about dealing with the consequences of that. Theyve become disassociated with it… It comes down to your knowledge of the agricultural system, but customers dont want to know that at all… They dont want to know that thats a dead body sitting in front of them, they dont.

9 If I was [working at ] Asda, it would make my life a lot easier, but when youre at the other end of the market place, where youre trying to get customers to understand quality and what youre doing and a whole proposition of agriculture when they dont really want to know, is extremely hard. Because you want to, you want the customer to understand why it costs ten pence more in M&S than it does in Tescos or Asda, and its very difficult to actually tell them why without making them squeamish.

10 Mark Ranson (agricultural technologist) From a customer perspective I think once an animal has been cut up it loses so much of its … in the customers mind its lost so much of its… what it was. I think the … consumers questioning about chicken in their mind as long as its a whole bird or a portion then thats fine but once its become an ingredient in a recipe dish its kind of lost all its… The same concerns dont exist, as they do for a whole piece of meat… So you know we are developing things like, oven-able trays so the product comes in a tray which can go straight into the oven for cooking rather than them having to lift the product from a piece of cellophane or a plastic wrapper into a tray for them to use themselves. Thats a direct request from customers saying they dont like touching raw meat.

11 Andrew Mackenzie (category manager) The thing which I feel is because chicken is so cheap and so available now, I think peoples aspirations and expectations of chicken have lowered in the course of the last number of years… And I think because its eaten so regularly and we eat such vast quantities of it, and you talked about it down to a unit or a commodity, I think thats a really good analogy because chickens arent the most appealing of things, because you dont think of them as you do a robin or a swan or something which is quite appealing – or a duck… People think of them mostly in connection with either when they think of them, either in a cage as caged battery egg or as something they see scratching around in a farmyard, but they would have a very different perception of the way that chickens are actually grown in the modern broiler world.

12 And I think that they dont want to think about it because theyre not particularly easy to empathise with, whereas people see a lamb outside become a sheep and they see a calf become a heifer or a steer and they are much more visually appealing. The other big difference is that you can see cows and sheep out in the fields if you go to the countryside – youll never see any chickens grown commercially unless you happen to see a free range or organic but often theyre hidden away so you dont see them. Interviewer (Polly Russell): And just coming back to your comment, just to sort of push you a bit further, you said you dont think about it that much, is that because if you think about it, you dont fundamentally believe on some level that its right? Its a very interesting question, and if you do push me on it I would say the following – I think that it is right that we eat flesh, animals, cause I think if you think back through tens of thousands of years, thats what weve done...

13 The thing I struggle with – no, struggles the wrong word – the thing if I were to think about it too much that I might struggle with is the way we have exploited it and moved it to such a clinical and efficient way of doing things. If you, the basic statistic is that the way the breeders have worked – you may have heard this quote before – but the way that the breeders have worked with chicken is that they have almost in the last twenty years taken a day off their life [each year] at the point of slaughter to achieve the same weight through genetic selection. So it means that youve almost got – and I mean they are fully feathered – but youve almost got what would have been twenty years ago baby chickens – they would have been a lot lower weight at that age reaching the weight that we require to slaughter. That kind of – I dont know – that kind of thing, I mean Im obviously not that sentimental about it because I still eat chicken and I still do my job – but if you are pushing me -- that kind of thing just doesnt quite feel right and natural … thats an admission isnt it for me with my job, but you have pushed me and I think thats where Id be on that.

14 Making sense of the data Interviews can be analysed in terms of the respondents own life story (working at M&S just a job or strong personal investment…) Wider social context (industrialization of agriculture, disconnection between producers and consumers…) A specific commercial history (M&Ss reputation for quality, repositioning after period of declining sales…) Tensions between personal and professional narratives (over animal welfare, consumer ethics, waste…)

15 Ethical issues Not just about securing informed consent: an enduring relationship Different contexts of use and re-use: academic papers, conferences, Food Stories website, exhibitions… Different experiences of interviewer and later (re)users of the data Different interests of different participants: M&S (company history), BL (national archive), academic researchers, teachers, students.

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