“Sitopia…is a way of recognizing the central role that food plays in our lives and of harnessing its potential to shape the world in a better way.”
This year third year studio, Communities and Contested Spaces, is working with the theme of sustainable food. Following an online visit from Carolyn Steel and having read an extract from her book, Sitopia: How Food Can Save the World (2020), students have considered ways of visually representing their ideas for a future where our relationship with food shapes the world in a positive way. Through examining precedent sustainable food projects and researching in depth the issues facing us in relation a variety of specific food stuffs. students were able to adopt an evidence-based position on how our relationship with food could be encouraged to change.
Students were asked to produce an abstract graphic representation based on the conclusions of their initial research into sustainable food, and write a short manifesto to explain their thinking. The results of this short protect are exhibited here.
This exercise forms the starting point for developing a more complex architectural design project which will be the final design project of their BA Architecture degree. Students will re-imagine part of the real proposed University of Liverpool Masterplan. Working with existing 20th century buildings this hypothetical project will explore the creative re-use of existing structures, making use of embodied carbon, whilst introducing exciting sustainable food projects to the university campus.
In a world where the city and countryside are so disconnected, the majority of people are unaware of where their food comes from or how far it has to travel. My idea of Sitopia is to bring farming closer to people and on a local, human scale where everybody can get involved in how their food is grown and cooked to help make people appreciate the food they eat. In the image food is grown on the roof of the building and moved down the building through markets selling different produce. At the bottom of the building food is either eaten in a communal space or distributed by bike. Any waste or left over food is taken back to the roof and made into compost to help fertilise the soil for the next crops. Having all processes in such close proximity helps create a closed loop system.
“…Yet by failing to value food—expecting it to be cheap—we create a “bad” sitopia: one so bad that it threatens our very future.” (Steel, Sitopia: How Food Can Save the World (2020)).
As a result of failing to value the true cost of food, the image shows a world in ruin, unforgiving rotten architecture and food dominates the remaining physical environment. Discarded low cost food and plastic packaging are widespread, a metaphor for humanity reduced to the brink of extinction. Fragile civilization is at risk. The person in tea ceremony’s cloth is praying the memory of “old way of life”…
Half the world is starving, and the other half is obese, yet both populations have a staggering number of malnourished residents. Fresh produce should be a staple in everyone’s diet, yet in many cases it is not.
Liverpool based company Farm Urban are trying to make sure the people of Liverpool have a nutritious diet through ‘green’ boxes. They grow vegetables sustainably using vertical farms and aquaponics systems, while educating school children and working adults alike.
My idea of Sitopia is that a redirection is required, away from multinational processed fast food chains and back to home grown, independent, and community inclusive markets.
In an increasingly online world it is easy for us to access all kinds of information but sometimes it can be hard to filter through fake news and scary statistics. In order to be fully aware of our climate crisis we need to be informed of the facts and what simple steps we can all take to better our environment. In my Sitopia everything you need to know about the food you eat and its true cost can be found at the swipe of a screen, in your hand. I imagine an environmentally driven supermarket where food is sustainably sourced and every item comes with a QR code that can be scanned on the smart phones we carry with us everyday. Using an informative app, everyone in the supermarket can find out exactly where their food comes from, how far it has travelled, what it cost to produce and many other facts and figures. With this information at our fingertips we will be able to know eactly what impact we are having on our world and make changes to our shopping and eating habits to help our world evolve into a positive Sitpia.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food.” — Hippocrates
Food, which people consume on a daily basis, actually has a much deeper impact on us than our perception, in addition to fulfilling basic human needs.
In a sense, food connects us with our ancestors. As a Chinese saying goes, “yi fang shui tu yang yi fang ren.” The literal translation is “The water and soil of the place nourish the people of the place”. Although we all live in the city now, each place still has its own special food. This is our connection to home, to the city.
When we are out alone, we may be eating more ultra-processed foods than cooking a meal by our own. Although now we can easily buy food ingredients from the supermarket, we may not be able to cook for various reasons. What we miss at this time most is always the food cooked by our mother. We call it the taste of mom, the taste of home. It’s also the most healing flavour. This is the sense of belonging that food gives us.
Fantasy of Artificial Food
Higher nutritional value, less energy consumption, positive effects on the environment, improved animal welfare… Artificial food is trying to tell a wonderful story about the future of food. However, nobody knows whether it is going to be a solution or another problem.
“Cattle are not suited to eating grain: it gives them a permanent case of indigestion and sends toxins into their bloodstream that antibiotics are used to quell. Their fast-food diet also means that instead of producing loss of omega 3 rich muscle, they instead produce omega 6 fats, enough to threaten our mental and physical health. – “The lack of omega-3s in our diet is going to change the human brain in ways they are as serious as climate change.””
(Steel, Sitopia: How Food Can Save the World (2020))
The recklessly industrialised livestock business sickens our healthcare and marginalises our society, but cultured meat can potentially bring all the health requirements of meat and also enrich the welfare of our society and support biodiversity.
Coffee is becoming more and more important in people’s lives. Many professions need the help of coffee, such as designers, doctors, artists and so on. Compared with the time when coffee was used as a casual drink, it has gradually become an indispensable food in people’s lives. My philosophy is that since people rely so heavily on coffee, I cited the drip coffee practice and exaggerated it into a shower, but instead of water, it’s coffee.
Food is central to our lives and the city. Our lives are shaped by food and eating. Food is a fuel to our body. We cannot exist without it. But in the past years we seem to have forgotten about our relationship with it and about the importance of what we consume.
We live in times where food has become highly processed and no longer valued, we eat anything, usually in a rush. My artwork represents the highly industrial diet we have nowadays. Big machines in big factories are producing plastic-like food. The food is of a beautiful shape, texture and size but is lacking all the vitamins and nutrients which are the most important. The storm and rain are stressing the seriousness of the situation. We have to start valuing food again. We have to start eating well again. We have to make it a priority again as we are what we eat.
I researched the food production of honey, and well, humans don’t produce much when it comes to honey. Bees making honey is co-production at its finest; all the worker bees coming together to produce food for the colony over the winter when there are no flowers to collect nectar from. This same principle can be applied to any culture or community where traditionally they would make use of seasonal crops and store them well. For example, in Italy they sun dry and jar tomatoes to make them useful year-round, in Denmark they tin new potatoes with dill as an all year-round speciality. Producing and storing food is one of nature’s way of surviving.
To preserve the honey as food in the beehive, bees store the nectar in the honeycomb, making wax to seal it in and constantly eating and regurgitating the nectar to reduce its water content and preserve it in the hive.
So, my image of sitopia came from a quite literal approach from my research, as colonies of people living as a community in the hive, growing and cultivating vegetables with the help of hydroponics all year round, whilst cultivating native seasonal species from land surrounding. The hive contains living and working environments, shops, cafes, storage etc.
When I first heard the term sitopia, my brain jumped to a dystopian image of a utopian metropolis, which is why I have the city shadowing in the background of the image.
“Sitopianism is based on the simple premise that by valuing food we value life.” (Steel, Sitopia: How Food Can Save the World (2020)).
Energy can only flow from low trophic level to high trophic level along the food chain. Because of the energy input to a certain trophic level, only 10% to 20% of the energy can be transferred to the next trophic level, so the higher the trophic level, the less energy the creature will eventually obtain.
In this hypothetical Sitopia, there is a nutrient reflux. In this environment, the trophic level is reversed. After all, we humans are all travelers on this earth, but we have so much influence on the ecology of the earth. If human beings do not change, they will be swallowed by the self-regulation of the earth and become “FOOD” for other species.
I’ve been looking at how to remove farming from the countryside and introduce it into the city using space we already occupy to reduce farm land usage and create self-sufficient standalone eco systems within the city.
Sitopia calls our attention to consider the relation between humans and food. Food became more convenient to access in the modern city. People could get a variety of food with the help of the capitalism. But capitalism essentially polluted our food. Most of the food is produced by cold machines from the ingredient to the finished products. The shop assistants are not willing to say a word to you. The gap between people is becoming wider and deeper.
Tea is a great drink for people to relax and talk to the others. It could help to pull the distance between people. Most tea houses today charges you some money, offer you a cup of tea and most people face to their laptops or phones. I imagined a new type of tea house where people serve themselves. They bring only a bag of tea and some ingredients and they share their own recipe with others. The tea is no longer served by the waiters but yourself. Everyone could get an opportunity to compete to find the best tea recipes.
Feeding the City with Pipelines
Humans are increasingly underestimating the value of food. When there is a food crisis, food factories transport food to cities through pipelines, just like oil and gas. Every family has a food faucet to get the daily necessary food.
“Home is a response to landscape formed by an idea of how to live. It always shaped by food.” (Steel, Sitopia: How Food Can Save the World (2020)).
Carolyn Steel suggests that food shapes what our home looks like, and if we can eat more together, the relationship between us will be better. So in my imagination the Sitopia is a community where people can farm together, work together and live in the community.
The centre of this collage is the l’ultima cena of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, which was later redrawn. The intention here is not to hope that humans don’t have to have The Last Supper, and that the food we eat won’t ultimately be the end of us. Food is closely related to human life and human social activities. But there are still many people in the world suffering from hunger. In fact, this is mainly caused by the uneven distribution of food in the world, at macro scale. In developed areas, people use food that could feed many people, to feed animals for the development of animal husbandry and breeding. The result of this is that some people become obese because of eating a lot of meat products, and some people become malnourished because of food shortages. My position on sitopia ispires my idea to build a smart and sustainable dairy farming factory in the university community in the city with the energy cycle of breeding and planting as the core. Let students, faculty, and residents come in to observe the entire automated production process, and even directly participate in it.
This is a collage about sitopia. From left to right follows a timeline from the 17th century to now. The drawing shows the change of human’s attitude towards food especially to chicken and eggs. Before the 17th century, chickens lay eggs in the special season, people show their reverent gratitude to food. However with technological developments, chickens were artificially divided into broilers and hens. Chickens and eggs came from battery cages without any animal welfare. Humans no longer care about the animals because they are only food. Even though there are cage-free eggs, many people still choose the caged eggs because of the low price. The contrast between waste and famine is another comparison.
In my imagination, Sitopia is to connect the entertainment and communication spaces where people spend their leisure time with farms which produce our food. As is shown in the picture, green crops are planted in the centre of a community or business centre, around shops and food outlets. Planting is integrated into our lives as a recreational activity, like playing cards, playing football or keeping pets.
It seems to me that a pasture in the Netherlands is an early example of such a space. The organic farm near Zoetermeer, ‘t Geertje’ has a public function. It is a production-based urban farm that has often become a place to meet and to share common activities.
Buddhism in Sitopia
“What might an economy that valued land and labour look like? For example, Buddhist beliefs? … A Buddhist economy would thus lead to a life lived more in harmony with nature.” (Steel, Sitopia: How Food Can Save the World (2020)).
Sitopia calls our attention to the relationship between food and human. Millennia ago, the processes of planting, harvesting, cooking and consuming were a form of human combination with nature. By sharing and making a sacrifice before enjoying meals together, food had a ritual power for our forebears to live in time. Which is essentially similar to the values of Buddhism: respect for nature, social justice, good work, mindfulness and the avoidance of needless violence. Contrary to nowadays capitalism, which has deliberately led us to unhealthy food and does harm to the ecology. Food is basic but powerful, the way we comsume food is unconsciously changing the form of home in contemporary context, and home affects our mindset and psychological expectation of society. Consequently, our community and lifestyle are changed.
Food is so important but we almost forget its relation to the society. It connects and is able to affect every individual. A new form needs to be considered for a healthier world.