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2017 & 2018

Sustainable Meal Hackathon

This is a continually developing project (or perhaps process) for groups to use in exploring the meaning of "sustainability". The goal is to enlist participants in a thoughtful, playful analysis of the concept that focuses on how components of specific meals are more or less sustainable. Groups put forward ideas for meal planning in specific contexts, and are then encouraged to explore new angles by which the question can be taken up. Variously conceived as a "hackathon", a simulation game, or a collaborative research jam, these activities reveal sustainability to be not a static target but a set of values, or even an ongoing social process, connected to a web or personal, social, economic, environmental, and political decisions and structures.



We staged our second “hackathon” at the 2018 joint conference of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society and the Association for the Study of Food and Society, in Madison Wisconsin. We explored the conference theme, “Agro Eco Prospect: The Politics of Integrating Values, Food, and Farming” in a day-long pre-conference workshop that we developed in collaboration with Michelle Miller (Associate Director of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Studies) and Kay Jensen (farm owner of JehEhr).

Twenty registered participants formed four teams who worked throughout the day to cook, eat, play, and think together. On arrival, we compiled our personal food histories in shared timelines that illustrated our personal early food memories, the first event of our politicization around food issues, and key moments in the history of food from the ancient world to the present day.

We began our work together making introductions through self-portraits and evaluating the sustainability issues at play in the breakfast we were eating: coffee, ”Foodways” sourdough kernza pancakes, and local maple syrup.

Teams (vegan, vegetarian, chicken, and lamb) used a range of ingredients from hyperlocal strawberries to industrial mango and from familiar garlic to exotic insects to create savory and provocative dishes while diagramming an analysis of the sustainability factors of our food.

After lunch, teams developed frameworks for games that could be played with a group to inspire conversation about difficult facets of sustainability (such as unequal economies or access to resources) that could not be thoroughly revealed through exercises like that morning’s culinary investigations. All activities were documented in drawings, diagrams, and texts that remained on view throughout the conference.

The day-long project took place in a gallery playground that Spatula&Barcode constructed with the help of Alex Donnelly and Cate Richards. Grant Gustafson provided handmade ceramic bowls that allowed us to discuss the hidden labor of eating utensils and cooking implements. Josh Wampole rescued us when we placed too heavy a demand on our available electricity, providing a further reality check on the hidden resources that are imbricated in the challenge of eating sustainably.

Also for this conference, Spatula&Barcode staged two additional interventions. For the opening reception, we printed napkins that prompted conference attendees to discuss the affective, culinary, cultural, economic, environmental, ethical, nutritional and political properties of a sustainable meals. We also printed other conversation questions onto re-purposed paper bags that were used to distribute lunch on the third day of the conference. You can contribute your own thoughts about these questions at

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