An Overview of the Food Archaeology Project.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog post, I am currently involved in the running of a research project based in the Bridgeton and Calton area of Glasgow. I have recently drafted an application for funding to the Spirit of Calton fund, and what follows is a more detailed plan of the project.

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“The ‘Food Archaeology’ project, operating within The East Ate, aims to pass on food skills, knowledge and memories between generations. Those who attend the research workshops we will offer will benefit from a wide range of learning opportunities tailored to suit people of all ages and abilities. As a new organisation, we can expect to engage up to 10 people, twice per week in our series of eight research workshops at the Bridgeton Library. In addition, we will be running two cookery workshops at the Calton Heritage and Learning Centre. These will be able to accommodate between 5 – 30 participants. In total, our ‘Food Archaeology’ project has the potential to directly engage and benefit up to 220 members of the community.

“The ‘Food Archaeology’ project will create a collective memory database around food in Bridgeton and Calton through engaging residents in opportunities to share and explore details of the area’s past. The project will pass on food skills, knowledge and memories between generations, inspiring people within the community to connect with each other through a shared heritage. By looking to the past, the ‘Food Archaeology’ project will assess our present food habits and plan for the future with an overall aim to improving individuals’ well-being. 

“The project will achieve this through the running of twice weekly workshops at the Olympia library in Bridgeton. The workshops will be open to people of all ages and residents of both Calton and Bridgeton. These 16 workshops will run on Thursday and Saturday evenings 4.306.30 pm from Thursday 5th May 2016 to Saturday 25th of June 2016. 

“Through the workshops we will begin to engage participants in researching the history of the Bridgeton and Calton area with a focus on food, providing them with access to relevant literature, web pages, archival documents and footage. Through this stimulus, we will create a communal ‘collage’ with the participants, visually mapping the history of the area. We will also encourage residents to divulge a more personal history of the area, facilitating an open conversation to exchange ‘oral histories’ and share artefacts such as family photographs and recipes. Although these workshops will be open to participants of all ages, we hope that those who benefit most from these workshops in particular will be the elderly members of the community as reminiscence can be an important therapeutic mechanism. Many older people find joy in talking about events in their past, therefore through this we hope to increase their individual well-being.

“Collaborating with archaeologist Catriona Lennie, participants will have the opportunity to learn about the food archaeology of Bridgeton and Calton through handling actual artefacts and replicas. The artefacts will not necessarily be from the area but will be artefacts that are common, and similar artefacts will have probably been used in the area. These artefacts are good representations of life in prehistory and beyond, and will hopefully catch people’s imaginations. These can be gained from Archaeology Scotland in Musselburgh for free providing they can be collected from the office and are booked out in advance. Through two (or more, depending on demand) cookery workshops running during May and June, we will enable participants to share, and learn new, food skills. These workshops will take place at the Calton Heritage and Learning Centre and will run for two hours. Catriona Lennie will give participants the chance to work with Saddle and Rotary querns to make flour by grinding grains; and together with Philippa MacGregor (local chef, baker and ceramicist) give participants the chance to make their own bread from scratch. Another food workshop will focus on the making of one or more recipes discovered during our Olympia library research sessions, the aim of this would be to encourage participants from within the community to connect with each other through working together on a practical, positive and engaging task. We hope to engage with disadvantaged members of the community through these workshops as cooking or baking has been recognised to help soothe stress, build self-esteem and curb negative thinking by focusing the mind on following a recipe. 

“A further workshop will see Catriona and Philippa provide an experimental archaeology activity in which participants will be given the opportunity to replicate how pots and vessels could have been made in Prehistory. This will be a fun, hands-on workshop that is suitable for adults and children. The purpose of this workshop will be to further explore the food habits of the past, and compare them to our present food habits. This will take place in the Calton Heritage and Learning centre hall or, weather permitting, outdoors. Through the creating a finished product, we hope to offer both children and adults an opportunity for learning, self-expression, building of self-esteem and stress reduction.

“Through our workshops on the history of food in the Bridgeton and Calton area, we hope to help participants to become informed about the origins and history of food. Knowledge of this sort will increase the likelihood of an individual to eat healthily and, in turn, may help improve their mental health and well-being. There is growing recognition that choosing a high-quality diet plays an important role in keeping the brain healthy. In fact, depression has been heavily linked to dietary intake, in one epidemiological study it was found that levels of depression were rising at the same time that traditional diets were being abandoned for more processed foods. (Stanley, Jonathan. 2006. “Diet And The Effects On Emotional Wellbeing And Mental Health”. National Children’s Bureau.)  

“Through encouraging older members of the community to share memories, photographs and recipes with workshop groups we hope that they might benefit from reminiscing the past. There is evidence that life story and reminiscence work can improve mood, well-being and some mental abilities such as memory. (“The Dementia Guide: Treatments - Alzheimer’s Society”. 2016. www.alzheimers.org.uk)

“Through our cooking workshops, we hope to nourish an individual’s psychological well-being. Cooking can encourage mindfulness through the process of nourishment, encouraging the participant to slow down and focus on a recipe and the process of preparing food. Mindfulness helps to reduce stress, curb negative thinking and promotes a greater enthusiasm for life. Cooking encourages creativity and self-expression, and the sense of accomplishment an individual feels afterward can be a boost to their self-esteem. The act of cooking builds a connection to those you cook with, creating a catalyst for communication and cooperation, which is essential to overcoming feelings of isolation. 

“Our art-based workshops (workshops creating a communal collage to visually map the history of Bridgeton and Calton and the making of clay pots and vessels as they would have been created in Prehistory) will offer participants an opportunity for learning, self-expression, building of self-esteem and stress reduction. Participating in art offers ways to communicate and discover thoughts and feelings, boost learning while stimulating communication and interaction. Art is an integral part of the human experience, and it can help people to get involved in their community, find new ways to communicate, and increase their self-confidence. Involvement in the arts can help an individual with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) to develop social skills. Our art-based workshops will provide an opportunity to work in groups, encouraging the development of useful social skills, which form the basis of valuable and meaningful relationships. Through the inclusion of those who are less-abled in our workshop programs, we hope to make these individuals more visible within society, encouraging a change in the way people value those with high support needs. (Mencap,. 2008. “The Arts And People With Profound And Multiple Learning Disabilities” (PMLD). London.)

“By participating in workshops with other members of the community, we hope to provide a catalyst for connecting people of all ages and backgrounds within the community. A strong community benefits the individual, the community and society as a whole. People of all ages who feel a sense of belonging tend to lead happier and healthier lives, and strong communities create a more stable and supportive society. Through meeting, talking to, working with and listening to other members of the community we hope to help individuals nurture a sense of connection to those in their community. This sense of connection will be further strengthened through learning and sharing memories of a common heritage. Through bringing the community together we hope to lessen the detachment people feel from others. We hope that developing a sense of community will act as a support system to those within it, and therefore working towards overcoming feelings of isolation.  

“For the purpose of identifying expected outcomes of this project, I will split our target audience into the following groups: children (ages 5 – 16), young adults (ages 16 – 25), adults (25 – 64), elderly (65 +) and those with a disability or impairment. All of the aforementioned groups who take part in the Food Archaeology workshops are expected to: learn valuable life skills around food and food preparation, feel more connected to their community, become more knowledgeable about the origins of food especially local food, and work creatively with art materials and food to learn a new valuable skill. 

“More specifically to children, participating in the workshops will take the form of play, they will be tremendously enjoyable and a fun way to spend time. For children, play is an important mechanism for understanding their surroundings and developing new skills. For young people, participants will have the opportunity to learn from older generations about the history of food and culture in their community. For adults, participants will have the opportunity to be more mindful of the food they and their families consume, as well as taking time out of the day to soothe stress, build self-esteem and curb negative thinking through cookery and art workshops. For the elderly, participants will have the important opportunity to pass on food skills, knowledge and memories to younger generations, will have the opportunity to reminisce on their past and recall joyful life stories, and will have the opportunity to get involved with members of the community of all ages and overcome isolation. For those who have a disability or impairment, participants will have the opportunity to be included in community activity, express themselves non-verbally through taking part in hands-on practical activities, increase their self-confidence and nurture a sense of valuable self and work alongside other members of the community to develop social skills. 

“In wider society, we expect that through helping to develop a positive, well-bonded community this will lessen the detachment people feel from others and in turn decrease violence, substance abuse and the prevalence of mental illness. A well-functioning community acts as a support system to those within it: offering care, friendship and solidarity where needed. Through helping to create a better communal knowledge of food and food skills, this will benefit the health of the community in general, increasing the consumption of healthy, balanced diets and the demand for access to fresh and local produce.”  


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