Over the last month since my proposal was awarded the GFRY Studio grant, I’ve been asked to explain the project about a dozen times. Each time I’ve done it, it’s been a little bit clearer and a little bit easier to understand.
My project has been reduced to one simple objective:
to reconnect kids with food.
And at the stage I’m currently getting my head around the landscape of players involved in this massively complex system of parts. Below is my attempt at listing it all out. It’s not a comprehensive list of all the factors/players like poverty, chronic health problems, neighborhood crime. Nor does it include the larger systemic USDA scale issues of farming surplus and government subsidy. No-one is suggesting that these massive issues are not relevant, but it’s just that they tend to obfiscate the situation and makes it really hard for a designer like myself to find the levers that I can affect.
So, this is exercise just about the people/player/stakeholders, ok?
My thanks to everyone that has so far agreed to meet, chat, email and skype about this project. I’ve had nothing but great warmth from everyone so far. And a special thanks to Michael Graziano and Ernie Park, makers of the Lunch Line movie—it fast-forwarded my research by about six months. This movie has become ‘required reading’ material for the class.
Cast of players and stakeholders
- School district administration: Newly appointed CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard
- School district Food Services Director: Known as the Nutrition Support Services Dept. at CPS
- Food Services Contractor: Currently this contract is held by Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality. A for-profit food services company that is part of the Compass Group.
- School Principal—TBD depending on the school: This individual has yet to be found but I am hoping to identify more than one receptive kind of leader at the individual school level.
- Faculty at the school—TBD depending on the school: How often the teaching staff are involved in these discussons on food? Sure, some are highly engaged and integrate teaching about food with the same vigour as they do geography and the water cycle. Since they see the students daily in their class rooms, surely they have experience with managing individuals and groups that we should mine for research.
- Parents—TBD depending on the school: As with any category of people, the most vocal ones get to drive the conversation on any number of fronts from what kinds of school lunches are serves, whether breakfast is served, whether home-packed lunches are allowed, nutrition standards, allergies etc. I have to make sure to talk to engaged and the less engaged of the parent populations to be sure I fully understand their needs and goals.
- Students—TBD depending on the school: These students really do hold a lot of keys to the success of this project and for me to design for their needs, I really need to observe, study and interview as many students as I can (in-context in the cafeteria ideally).
- Food advocates, chefs, nutritionists and school lunch reformers: Ann Cooper, Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Kate Adamick and Dr. Diane Schanzenbach. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s are tons of folks all talking on this topic, taking positions and bringing an enormous about of public attention and media focus to this topic right now.
- Food writers, journalists and film makers: Michael Pollan, Monica Eng, Eric Schlosser and many others are often working with or reporting on the activities of food advocates. Michael Graziano and Ernie Park, film makers of the movie Lunch Line are included here as they bring a lot of comprehsive research as does Robert Kenner the director of Food Inc.
- Food corporations: This one is tricky—there’s not an obvious face to this amorphous group of companies here. The large multi-national food corporations are often the go-to ‘bad guys’ in this scenario. I have yet to meet anyone working directly in the food industry but I need to talk to them. I would love to know how they see their role in this landscape.
- Farmers: Again, another group of players I’ve yet to meet but I know I have to. Plenty of local farmers in and around the Mid-west that I hope are interested in meeting with me.
- Lunch room teachers/lunch ladies: An essential group of individuals that can make or break any project about a cafeteria.
- Catering schools and educational institutes: In Chicago, the Kendall College is the most well known school for producing full-time cooks and chefs—surely they know a thing or two about routinely producing large scale quantities of food on a daily basis.
- Behavioral econimists: Research by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics led by Dr. Brian Wansink is a leading research center that have had success nudging decision making in cafeteria with many subtle, low cost changes to the cafeteria environment. This is likely to be the benchmark for our class work.
- School architects: There’s obviously tons of architects that have done work in this field, but I’ve now heard that Cannon Design might be one of the leading firms in school work.
Phew. That’s one list of heavy hitters—each one plays a critical role in the delivery of food to students at CPS elementary school cafeterias on a daily basis. Now my task is to understand what their roles are, what level of influence they have over the system and how we can all work together to achieve my project’s goal: reconnecting food with kids.
If there’s anyone that I have not taken into consideration yet (by category or by example of a person/firm), please let me know and add it in the comments!
Next for me is to visualise this list with a mapping exercise and a stack of post-it notes.