Eating our way to a brighter future?

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Eating our way to a brighter future?

The use of participatory photography to communicate the values and priorities of future food systems.

Kerry Ann Brown – London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Nikhil Srinivasapura Venkateshmurthy – Centre for Chronic Disease Control, India

Cecile Knai – London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 

Sailesh Mohan – Centre for Chronic Disease Control, India 

What do we value most about our food? If you had to choose what would you prioritise: does it need to be safe, ethical, locally sourced, tasty, convenient, cheap, or healthy? Would you pay more if you knew the food was a higher quality? Would you travel further to buy directly from a farmer? Would you eat seasonally to be more sustainable? How concerned are you about food security, environmental security, diet-related diseases, agriculture-related livelihoods? Dr Kerry Ann Brown and Dr Nikhil Srinivasapura Venkateshmurthy reflect on the use of participatory photography to engage residents of Visakhapatnam with the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems project (SHEFS).


Training the trainers: opening our eyes to the power of photography

Our participatory photograph journey began with an introduction to photovoice from the UK charity PhotoVoice. Drs Brown, Knai, Mohan and Srinivasapura Venkateshmurthy attended training events conducted by PhotoVoice January to May 2019. These were excellent at opening our eyes to how photography can be used to communicate ideas and stories in an accessible and informal way. In addition, how the process of taking and discussing photographs allows a safe space to reflect on complex issues. We were inspired by these training sessions and knew we had to find a way to incorporate photovoice into the SHEFS programme of work.

Re-balancing power: empowering women’s self-help groups

Photovoice empowers individuals and groups. This is particularly relevant to food in India, where the Right to Food is established as part of the National Food Security Act, 2013. Photovoice will be used to engage communities with their food system; identify visions for the future; and communicate values and priorities to those that govern the Visakhapatnam food system.  

First, Drs Brown, Mohan and Srinivasapura Venkateshmurthy held a workshop in January 2019 to hear from key Visakhapatnam food system actors. This resulted in engagement with the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, who were keen to take part in a pilot food smart city initiative developed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and Ministry of Urban Development. 

Second, Drs Brown and Srinivasapura Venkateshmurthy visited women’s self-help groups in Visakhapatnam to see if they would be willing to take part in a photovoice exercise about food. Lively discussions ensued, as everyone relayed interesting food experiences, from how preferences have changed over time, to why they may or may not shop at the Rythu Bazaars (farmers’ markets). These Visakhapatnam residents were up for the challenge!

The importance of piloting: how to frame multi-dimensional problems

We are currently piloting the framing of the photovoice activities, with each workshop representing different parts of the food system (e.g., food production or food retail) and considering particular foods (e.g., animal sourced foods such as milk; processed foods such as noodles; fruits and vegetables, such as mango and brinjal) or particular policies (e.g., what would make a city food smart, direct farmer to consumer markets, natural farming initiatives). This is to allow participants the freedom to explore any positive and/or negative experiences with food, as well as reflect on the complexity of a food system and which compromises would be acceptable to make food systems equitable (fair), healthy and sustainable. 



SHEFS is supported by the Wellcome Trust, Our Planet, Our Health programme (grant number: 205200/Z/16/Z). This work does not necessarily reflect the Wellcome Trust’s views or its future policy in this area. We would also like to acknowledge PhotoVoice, London, UK and Courtney Scott (FF, UK), as well as the wider SHEFS consortium for their contributions to this work.