What nourishes us?

A conversation between Dr Clare Pettinger (Associate Professor in Public Health Dietetics, Plymouth University and PMZ Trustee) and PMZ Creativity and Learning Director, Anna Batson. 

What do you think is nourishing about PMZ?

There’s that collective ethos / philosophy of making things better – it feels nurturing – putting smiles on faces, shared experiences. Every time I come here it feels joyful what you do and what you stand for. Bringing joy into lives that may not have that much joy through one of the most powerful mediums we could have. What a privilege that we have music. It doesn’t require justification – it’s there as a medium that’s sensual and primeval. This is where the similarities are with food (my area of expertise) I think because food can offer both these things too.

I think music is a medium that can bring people together – conviviality, hospitality and things like that between different cultures who don’t speak the same language to connect people (beyond words). There’s a shared understanding of what it brings. I’ve seen that in my own children and some of the events I’ve come to at PMZ where you see the joy and magic in peoples’ eyes. Food does similar things but the problem with food is that it can be quite polarised in terms of ‘joy’. I was talking to my students recently about social and cultural aspects and relaying stories. Some people who can’t eat alongside other people (social isolation and agoraphobia) – it can sometimes be quite a negative thing. But there’s something around memories – like food preferences caused by early experiences of food.

Visceral experiences – emotional reactions that can conjure up ‘gut’ (!) reactions e.g. Marmite. It is a powerful medium.

Music can have very powerful triggers too. It can devastate with memories and nostalgia that can powerfully tie you to things, such as a loved one or special experience. In terms of metaphors – the icing is on the cake in a way with music.

As well as nourishment as a theme for part of this conversation, what other aspects relate and interconnect?

For me, food and music have creative relationships – e.g. the use of creative research methodologies is something I use in my research (e.g. zines, collage, photography, film). For me personally, I am also exploring the use of songs as a way to present controversial food topics and research findings.

I’m not the only one. There are two sociologists who present findings as songs in conferences which is very powerful. Academics Kitrina Douglas and David Carless have been doing this for years with some formidable impacts.

Food Fad Trifle:

This quirky little song is all about the messiness, complexity and downright ‘noisiness’ of nutrition information available to the public… It was first performed for a food panel session at the Dartmouth Food Festival in 2019. Since then it has been performed at various events and used as a teaching tool in various contexts. I asked my students to pick out within each verse – a topic that could be potentially controversial in the nutrition world. Each verse tells an interesting story about different subject matters e.g. dieting, fads, ethics, food insecurity, myths, etc. I think as an academic I have an interesting position with one foot in academia and another in community. There’s a parallel in terms of trying to speak the language that helps connect meaningfully with people.

“Translating science into meaningful and accessible forms I think is essential.”

The analogy of ‘the recipe’ – cooking in the kitchen. Exploring new dishes – Creative methods and co-production work well to help bring equality and empowerment and new knowledge. The goal or end point is the same – engaging people in a way that is meaningful to them and sharing their powerful stories. I enjoy the creative methods to support people to share their story in a way that makes sense to them.

Here are some examples of what creative methodology might look like:

“What nourishes me is the joy of sharing – whether it’s food or music…but using that musical thing as a form of expression as well – bringing things together – academic and expression – reconciling ideas.”

Here’s a link to an example of Clare’s work:

A Creative Response to Food Issues during the COVID19 lockdown: Singing Out the Anger

Example Lyrics:

Fermented scobies of rot
Microbiome relenting of snothear the hysteria
feeding bacteria
frustration simmers me hot
frustration boils me hot

Vegan, keto and plump goji
Gluten free now has its own emoji
Sauce of non-dairy Washed down with bloody mary I never know who to believe For Optimal health to achieve

Other notes from our conversation

I’ve got a lot on my PLATE says the Singing Dietitian! My ‘day job’ (in academia) is very busy already with multiple commitments – teaching, marking and also leading a massive research project all about food system justice….but then I must confess everything I do is peppered with imaginative thoughts and various ‘side dishes’ of innovation and creativity! This is how I get through – spinning several plates but each of them is sprinkled with a different topping that makes it scrumptious and impossible not to devour – shaved parmesan, grated chocolate, vinaigrette, cream… I suppose my life and work is a kind of tapas or mezze feast – lots of different dishes to explore and taste. I am using poignant creative methods that will be remembered and also (I hope) will inspire and inform research culture. Then there’s the bigger picture stuff. There’s a parallel here with PMZ, through music and its wider impact on the community and individuals who access what it does. Music and all of what that means – food/nutrition and what all that means…

“There’s something bigger than the sum of its parts – food and music and the ecosystems that surround individual meals / experiences – what it takes to put it all together so it’s not just a recipe, it is class, it is a culture, it is a civilisation!

The chef – all the players in the food system – players…..like an orchestra or a band – each playing their vital part in making musical magic together. The food System involves people from growing, to manufacture, to retail, to eating, to waste – everyone who works within the food system plays their part. If there’s an imbalance in one place it has an effect elsewhere and currently our food system is ‘broken’ and is failing the people most in need . So creative ways of fixing that broken system are required…”

Huge thanks to Dr Clare Pettinger for her insight, reflections and parallels to get us thinking about the different sorts of nourishment we all need.