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Shining a light on the food system through storytelling

In October 2021, Global Food Security held their ‘Speak Up for Food Security’ Research Storytelling competition online. The competition aimed to equip early career researchers (ECRs) with the knowledge and skills to inform climate action in the food system, as well as to inspire action. The competition was also timely ahead of the UK hosting this year’s COP26.

Any ECR who is funded by a UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) council was eligible to apply, so this was perfectly aligned with our work at FixOurFood. The angle I chose to base my story around was the potential of school food to have a positive impact on our current food system, highlighting the importance of listening to and working with children and young people.

The 2-day storytelling masterclass brought together 12 semi-finalists from across the UK, with the common research interest of discovering ways we could tackle the climate crisis through the food system, and to gain a deeper understanding of the role our food system plays in addressing the climate emergency. The goal was to step away from traditional scientific presentations, so we received training in communicating our research through narrative, inspiring action, and presenting live on camera. We learned how to develop our storytelling technique and utilise our voice and presence to confidently present on camera, and received constructive feedback on our research-inspired stories throughout. This was really useful and improved our skills for future public engagement activities.

The masterclass was a great way to meet new people with similar interests, in an environment where we could share ideas, take ourselves out of our comfort zones and learn how to present stories in a new and engaging ways. Each day, we started off by loosening up, moving around and getting comfortable in our working space. We took regular ‘screen-free’ breaks to allow ourselves to focus on the task at hand. Clare Murphy (Twitter: @StoryClare) was a brilliant and inspiring workshop facilitator. As a professional storyteller, she imparted her wisdom and top tips, and ensured none of us felt silly for trying out new ways to present our research.

After the masterclass, I was lucky enough to be picked as one of five finalists to present our stories live to the public in GFS’s competition final. There was a great turn out at the event, and the public were able to ask us questions about our stories and research, before voting for their favourite story. You can read about the winning story here.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate and learn about the usefulness of incorporating the universal and persuasive language of storytelling to inform climate action and inspire food system stakeholders to better understand, engage and take action on various current issues.

Here is a link to my research-inspired story on regenerative healthy eating in young children:

Dr Grace Gardner, Research Associate, Sustainable and healthy food for children