Reviving Food Culture through Games

Sometimes I - like most people working in undefined and undefinable industries - become disillusioned with my work. I know the end goal: revive forgotten food skills; make real food accessible; and create excitement about doing things from scratch as part of a sustainable lifestyle.  In my heart I know that these are huge cultural shifts that require personal 'ah-ha' moments to have any sticking power. In my head I know that the broad definitions and intangible objectives are what cause my personal struggle for meaning. Frustration mounts. My hands start involuntarily raising themselves, threatening to reach for the sky in the universal sign for 'I give up'.

Am I being melodramatic? Yeah, maybe a little. But it's not an exaggeration to say that I often wonder what the heck I've gotten myself into. And on days like that the most refreshing thing in the world is the perspective of a stranger. 

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

I had one of those stop-you-in-your-tracks conversations a few days ago. And it was with a man I'd never met before who lives in Sydney, Australia. Krister Gustafsson is doing very cool things.

Not knowing what to expect from a conversation we had planned over email, I blocked off an hour of my day and made a big cup of tea before our scheduled meeting time (you know, just in case it was boring or awkward and I needed some distraction to sip on). Perched on a stool in my well-lit kitchen I was ready for whatever was about to come. But then the Skype ring sounded, I answered, and the connection was so bad all I saw was a distorted, frozen face. Not successful. Realizing it was my weak internet connection at fault, I tried to make a smooth first impression while picking up my computer and power cord and relocating to the living room. Unfortunately, my attempts to plug the cord into a poorly located power bar behind the couch resulted in flicking the power switch and turning off the house WiFi completely. So, not a good first impression after all. Also, I'd left my tea in the other room. I was fairly certain this wasn't going to go well.

But then we got to chatting. And three hours later there were still a million things to say. Krister has the kind of inquisitive mind that works in riddles; a banal comment on my part would lead him to five more questions, each taking the comment and looking at it from a different angle. He's the kind of person who makes you feel smart because despite his intuitive understanding of concepts he humbly asks for others' opinions to hear another perspective. It's this openness to learning that I think has gotten him to this point.

We talked about psychology, medieval festivals, movies, restaurants, markets, and games all through the lens of interactive learning. Both of us are intrigued by lost food cultures and inter-generational engagement; but acknowledge that these things need a little re-imagining before they become sexy. The question: what excites people? Why does anyone care about food anyways and what do they want to learn? How will an interaction with food positively impact people's lives?

My journey, my experiments, and my fun are in finding a respect for the huge role that food plays in our lives. To others, that may sound like a dry textbook or university lecture. I acknowledge that it's different for everyone and there's no set formula for sparking enthusiasm. Krister's insights made me think critically about many of my own assumptions on engagement and really hammered home the need to not take things so seriously (something I should have figured out earlier as I'm not a very serious person). Humans enjoy games. We thrive on learning through play and exploration; in his words: 'it's so important to throw flour around'.

So I'd love to hear from you about your definition of fun. What got you into food and cooking? What's the coolest food experience you've ever had? What's the kitchen skill that's been handed down through generations in your family? What motivates your eating decisions? I'm curious and I want to chat with anyone who's willing.