SLU news

You never know the consequences of one conversation

Published: 20 November 2023
People around a table. Photo.

“Humans are amazing! If you put them in a room and allow them to be who they are, allow them to bring all of themselves, not just their intellectual part, we hear wonderful stories. You never know the consequences of one conversation.” Keri Facer was one of the organizers of an interdisciplinary day at Ullbo. The aim of the day was to discover new kind of conversations about future food and how we use the landscape.

On the morning of November 15th, bustling activity fills Ullbo in Ultuna. In the grand room under the crystal chandeliers, Keri Facer and Åsa Berggren is engaged in a discussions about table arrangements. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Pernilla Glaser prepares a five-course lunch. The room will soon welcome a diverse mix of scientists, smallholder farmers, and artists. Throughout the day, a unique dialogue will unfold, orchestrated by SLU Future Foods.

– Today, each participant will play a leading role; every contribution holds great significance. We aim to assemble individuals from varied backgrounds, fostering a conversation grounded in their distinct thoughts, experiences, and narratives regarding the future. The conversation will center around our utilization of landscapes and the future of food, says Åsa Berggren.

Åsa Berggren is a Professor at the Department of Ecology at SLU and has worked with interdisciplinary sciences for many years. She emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary research in addressing significant societal challenges. Research in food, climate, and conservation of wildlife and plant populations require an interdisciplinary approach.

– Today we use food to trigger stories, feelings, and moods to make it easier for the participants to access their own thoughts about how we use the landscape and the food of the future, says Åsa.

Electric daisy – an explosion in the mouth

Today's curator, Pernilla Glaser, is stationed in the kitchen, preparing "mind dishes" for the participants. On the plates you can see bread, mushrooms, caviar, Ethiopian cabbage, cornflowers, Japanese plums and a peculiar flower bud known as the electric daisy.

– Electric daisies produce curious sensations in one's mouth! They grow in the Amazon, where locals use them to combat diseases and fortify the immune system, explains Pernilla.

And the flower buds do indeed produce a strange experience. First, it tastes like mint, then transitions to a potent chili-like flavor, culminating in an unexpected sensation—a tingling sensation enveloping the entire mouth!

– Today, a significant portion of our time will revolve around dining. I may not be a chef extraordinaire, but my passion for food and culinary experiences has led me to organize numerous food-centric events. There's a transformative quality when we come together to eat and discuss food. Food holds a profound significance in many aspects of our lives, says Pernilla.

Pernilla started working as a theater director and drama teacher but was restless and interested in exploring experiences and education. During her career, she has therefore created new places and trained people in how we collaborate in a way that makes use of everyone’s skills. Pernilla operates at the intersection of civil society, research, and art.

One conversation can lead to all sorts of things

Keri Facer, affiliated with the University of Bristol in England, currently holds an August T Larsson visiting professorship at SLU for three years. She has 20 years of interdisciplinary research behind her.

– Today we create a space where we will build trust and relationships. Humans need to get support to listen to each other. They will not automatically start listening. Frankly, interdisciplinary work is all about building friendships and relationships. This day is part of a longer-term project, Transformative conversation. It is a creative, utopian experiment which says that as the world changes, we need to change our conversation, says Keri.

Keri believes that the most interesting conversations happen at the edges, when two subjects meet each other. She explains that in biology there is the concept of the ecotone, where two systems meet, where you get a very rich diversity.

– You get the most beautiful conversations happening and new ideas. We need new thinking for the world we are in. We will not be able to respond to the world’s problems with the ways of thinking that got us into it. We have to find new ways of thinking to help us make sense of what is going on, says Keri.

– Humans are amazing! If you put them in a room and allow them to be who they are, allow them to bring all of themselves, not just their intellectual part, we hear wonderful stories and we hear people making sense of the world in their own unique way. This is a very magical thing. You never know the consequences of one conversation. One conversation can lead to all sorts of things, says Keri.

Charcoal drawings and meditation

At two o'clock in the afternoon, the 14 participants stand around a large table in a meditative state. Pencil drawings hang on the tiled stove, while notes and charcoal drawings lay scattered across a large piece of paper placed on the table. Following the meditative session, it is time for conversations in small groups.

– This is a very exciting and unusual day. I will depart with a sense of hope that the food system can undergo transformation, says Elin Boström, a grower in Tensta, close to Vattholma.

This day took me out of my own context and gave me legitimacy to appreciate sensual aspects of my work that I usually, in a scientific environment, do not give much space. But they are actually a big part of why I am fascinated by my work. So it made me feel more whole, says Astrid Taylor, researcher at the Department of Ecology at SLU.

"I haven't thought of that"

Paula von Seth is an artist and works with, among other things, sculptures, installations, and performances. She is currently engaged in the exhibition "Moulding Nature - Discursive Struggles Over the Environment" at Färgfabriken in Stockholm.

– The day has been amazing. Pernilla Glaser has a remarkable talent for guiding us toward new perspectives and fostering a collective sense of well-being in the process of discovery. So many participants have said, ”I never thought of that before”, today, remarks Paula.

– At SLU Future Food, one of our primary objectives is to engage in interdisciplinary work, focusing on future perspectives at the crossroads of academia and society. That is exactly what we did at Ullbo! It was an incredibly stimulating day, during which we honed our skills, delved into entirely new realms, and discovered fresh points of intersection, concludes Annsofie Wahlström, program director at SLU Future Food.