Miss Behavin’

How can we use the playfulness that food affords, to experiment with misbehaviour and ‘bad’ food? What is the impact of cooking workshops on the skills, aspirations, and confidence of participants?

Research and writing about healthy food often focus on bad choices and bad experiences.  Health researchers consider what is wrong with what we eat, and why peoples make bad choices.  But bad food is often delicious and desirable and being naughty is nice. Learning should and can come from positive experiences.

How can we use the playfulness that food affords, to experiment with misbehaviour and ‘bad’ food? Playfulness is a state, not a trait, and early education often make the boundary between education and play permeable to encourage exploration and learning.  This project sought to extend this practice to benefit a group of women who seldom have the resources or permission to mess around, and are frequently judged for their “bad” behaviour and “poor choices”.  A recent project for parents with young children at the Knowle West Media Centre found that many have very low self-worth, and are caught in a cycle of little self-belief, low economic aspiration, and harsh judgement by others.

What did the project involve? 

This project allowed misbehaviour with food to explore ideas about what is bad and why, and to unleash the creative and economic potential of a socially under-valued group of women.  The team sought to explore how conceptualising food choices as bad and unhealthy constrains our behaviour, and conflates food and morality in a way which impedes healthy choices and stops us from living well.  Their aim was to develop a new method, that will allow the growth of a collaborative, creative response redefining bad as good, and misbehaviour as exploration.

This involved an experimental research method in which the researchers collaborated with mothers with young children living in Knowle West, family support leaders, makers (Knowle West Media Centre, chefs, brand developers) and an artist curator to question:

  • How do we draw boundaries between good and bad food?
  • What counts as misbehaving with food?
  • Can playfulness change perceptions about good and bad food?
  • What is the impact of cooking workshops on the skills, aspirations, and confidence of participants?
  • What opportunities for learning and economic development emerge from a co-produced tea party?

Through this the team sought to change how we think about bad food, using artistry to re-imagine research for health. They also sought to allow the significant social and economic capital of these mothers to be realised. Using the catering and enterprise development skills of their maker partners, they explored enterprise opportunities (eg children’s party planning, pastry chef academies).

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Patricia Lucas (Policy Studies, University of Bristol) is an experienced child health researcher who uses mixed-methods research to understand health inequalities particularly in food and nutrition.
  • Penny Evans (Knowle West Media Centre) is director of Knowle West Media Centre. The Media Centre is an arts and media centre that delivers socially engaged media arts projects contributing to a wider understanding of the role of the arts in communities and cities.
  • Sabrina Shirazi (Pervasive Media Studio) is an artist and designer who produces visual art and textiles inspired by colour, unconventional behaviour and play. At the time of this project, Sabrina had produced high profile public food events for the past four years with Cuisine+Colour, an event which challenges the etiquette of dining through creativity and unconventional ways of eating.
  • Sarah Salmon & Jo Watts (Knowle West Childrens’ Centre) lead the children’s centre contribution. Knowle Children’s Centre provide family support services for communities in the Knowle, Inns Court, Filwood and Brislington West areas in the South of Bristol.
  • Laura Hart (Harts Bakery), Tamarind Galliford (Ah Toots), Elspeths Kitchen and Omar Abourgebah were the project’s chefs, and they worked with the women to cook and create.
  • Fi Case is a digital producer and brands developer with over 25 years experience of agency life, running global branding and integrated communication programmes.

What were the results?

The project held a series of workshop with mothers from Knowle West Children’s Centre, building to a party making and sharing ‘bad’ food.  KWCC recruited and hosted the group of women. The project ran six workshops beginning 4th October 2017 with their artist curator, chefs, learning manager, and digital producer.  These workshops built towards a co-produced Miss Behavin’ tea party.  The whole team met in a final workshop to learn and plan; discuss research questions and develop the next stage of the project.

The outputs were refined and produced through the workshops, including:

  • Party food, such as spray-painted cakes, cheese straws, brownies and treacle tarts.
  • Digital content. Social media content, documentation and images
  • Presence at Brigstow showcase, sharing food and visuals from our workshops and extending our questions to the public
  • A brand or marketing concept
  • An evaluation
  • A Miss Behavin’ party
  • A co-created plan for future events and/or applications

The Tea Party was held on the 31st of August 2017 with the following description: “Whip up a medley of mums and delicious Bristol chefs, add a sprinkling of artists, a dash of edible spray paint and a pinch of research. Mix the ingredients and taste the flavours from this collaboration. Mums from Knowle West Children’s Centre are learning the art of pastry making with some of the most imaginative chefs in Bristol, artists, University of Bristol and the Knowle West Media Centre team. By combining their expertise and playing with the idea of ‘bad’ food, they will be creating an extraordinary tea party that encourages fun and experimentation. Our project transcends the boundaries between social action, social research, economic development and arts practice, and help us think differently about the possibilities of good food.”