Making a Meal of It: Appending ‘Reporting’ to Research-Creation

David Szanto, PhD

Concordia University, Montreal (QC), Director, Master in Representation, Meaning, and Media, University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo (Italy)


“[As] representational conventions and boundaries are loosened and crossed, both performance and nature are unsettled, re-created, re-defined.” [1]

“I don’t know whether I agree with the proverb that repeated things give pleasure, but I do know that at least they signify.” [2]


By 5 p.m. on November 6, 2012, the seats laid out in the FOFA Gallery at Concordia University were already occupied; over the next minutes, the remaining space would fill up quickly with other bodies, some more vertical, some squatting low. About forty students, professors, and researchers from the faculties of Fine Arts, Engineering, and Arts & Sciences eventually assembled in the room, there to participate in a panel discussion about the evolving notion of research-creation. We had entitled the event “Contesting Research-Creation,” and it was an attempt to tackle questions about the risks and benefits of institutionalizing creativity within research practices. [3] After two hours of exchange, numerous tensions had arisen over definitions, methods, forms of representation, and legitimacy within research-creation. Undercurrents of anxiety about training and funding also swirled, and as the group dispersed my sense of things was a hybrid of hope, confusion, excitement, and dissatisfaction.

The panel typified for me what I had come to frame as ‘reporting’: a public, collaborative process of representation, reflection, and critical feedback on a preceding phase of research or knowledge development. In this case, the ‘research’ had been on research-creation itself, and the panel marked a passage point between much preceding ideation and many new research-creation projects that would emerge from those who were present. Yet what was discussed was neither the ‘results’ of a project nor an end-point in the evolution of research-creation; it was a snapshot, collectively enacted, that took no permanent form yet continues to inform an area of scholarship.

This article takes the position that reporting can help unify and diffuse research-creation practices, opening up new spaces of exploration and legitimacy. At once embedded in and distinct from the entanglements of thinking-and-doing that are implicit in research-creation, reporting acknowledges and valorizes the multiple sites, bodies, and agencies through which knowledge emerges. Reporting can thus decentralize knowledge-making from single individuals while destabilizing scholarly hierarchies – including those among representational forms such as text, image, object, and gesture. When enacted iteratively, sequences of reporting can also blur the framing of beginning and ending in a project, worrying the temporal and spatial boundaries that both support and exclude definitions of knowledge. Importantly, it also creates connectivity among the courses of research undertaken, forming a whole that is more than the sum of its parts – a ‘meal,’ in one sense, which fills us up, creates new appetites, and provides leftovers for the next day.

Research-Creation-Reporting and Food Scholarship

To support a rationale for the construct of ‘research-creation-reporting’ (RCR), I turn to food scholarship, drawing on a number of diverse examples. Recent growth in the study of food has meant that its scholarly practices are both rapidly emerging as well as competing for authority and legitimacy. Yet just as food methodologies are instituted, so do questions arise about how and whether food study requires such formalizations. For example, what is coming to be known as food studies generally examines food from a social sciences and humanities perspective, yet tends to focus on symbolic meaning and social dynamics, with less attention paid to the material aspects of food. [4, 5] In contrast, the domain of gastronomy brings together cultural significance with material practice, the senses, and food production/transformation processes. [6, 7, 8] As food scholarship evolves and structures itself, therefore, an RCR approach to food work may be beneficial, given that it privileges mutability in both an ontologic and epistemic sense.

The examples discussed here include food system visualizations, participatory food performances, and food-focused pedagogy. Each shares common elements of RCR, including collaborative thinking and doing, as well as cyclical, reflexive reporting. These practices engage with recent turns towards materiality, ecology, and performativity in food study [9, 10, 11, 12], usefully linking them with several existing interpretations of research-creation. [13, 14, 15, 16]

Research-creation with food can be understood as a process of “making multiple sense” attending to the interferences and resistances that emerge when both physical matter and abstract meaning are manipulated. [17] Through reflection on this material-processual dialectic – what Andrew Pickering has named “the mangle of practice” – food study also provides an opportunity to rationalize the tension between historical frameworks of knowledge and the day-to-day interactions that constantly renegotiate agricultural, culinary, socio-economic, and aesthetic practices. [18, 19, 20, 21]

As several theorists have noted, the results produced during a piece of research are closely related to the tools that have been used. [22, 23, 24] Research-creation with food, therefore, requires attention to the apparatus of research, the “organizational premises” with which we frame our subject – whether food culture, justice and security, agriculture, or cuisine. [25] The practices of anthropology, nutrition, art, ethnobotany, marketing, medicine, and agroecology, for example, all view and engage with food in highly diverse ways. Attention to these frameworks, including assumptions, theories, methods, and representational tools applies during both headwork and handwork, as well as the public, collective processes of reporting. It is an ongoing process of “making visible the length of the project.” [26]

Each of the forms of food study I note below does these things in various ways, deploying heterogeneity, attending to polyvocality (of both humans and food), and enabling reflexivity about assumptions, practices, and outputs. The examples cited demonstrate a diverse range of representational moments, while also acknowledging the benefit of occasionally leaving reports somewhat ambiguous in form and content.

Cycles of Making and Showing

Ideally, when reporting takes place frequently during the course of an RCR engagement, the sequence of snapshots that is generated can demonstrate the fluidity and variability of what is ‘known’ when multiple knowers are implicated. Systems visualization is one example of this, comprising a continuum of making, showing, and remediation. [27, 28, 29] That is, the graphic object produced in a visualization project is not considered the endpoint to the process, but rather a ‘residue’ of it, as well as a thing around which ongoing interaction can take place.

A visualization of the boul. St-Laurent foodscape (Montreal) , 2014, David Szanto, multimedia visualization, (cc) 2014, David Szanto. Used with permission.

A visualization of the boul. St-Laurent foodscape (Montreal) , 2014, David Szanto, multimedia visualization, (cc) 2014, David Szanto. Used with permission.

Unlike conventional visual forms such as tables, graphs, charts, and illustrations, which are aimed at representing knowledge definitively, a visualization is intended to signify the processes by which the graphic comes about, is deployed, and is negotiated. A visualization does not stand on its own – it always implicates perception and re-interpretation, the past of its production, and the future of its re-making. As such, it distinguishes itself as an effective tool for portraying both small- and large-scale food systems, which are inherently structures that undergo constant change and which vary according to one’s role within them. [30, 31] Visualizations bring forward many individual, often contradictory perspectives, which is key when trying to portray complexity. As Valentine Cadieux and her colleagues have stated, “collaborative visualizations . . . have the potential to resist takeover by the loudest voices, the best-funded public relations campaigns, or the catchiest logo or story.” [32]

For each participant involved in making a visualization, knowledge comes about through doing (also one of the tenets of research-creation). Yet visualizations may also serve as part of a larger project, alongside games, political events, or other gatherings that are both convivial and collaborative. [33] The graphic element is thus only one part of the visualization that is ‘done.’ Once produced, a visualization becomes part of a continuing sequence of responses – a historical reference point that is reinterpreted and potentially remade in the present tense. Through discussion and debate about what the visualization communicates, how it was made, and where it is unclear, discussants continue to be sites of emergent knowledge themselves. This outcome, and the subsequent cycles of revision and redevelopment that produce the next iteration of the visualization (or game, event, etc.), is the objective of many such projects.

In a similar mode that uses more explicitly time-based media, food-and-performance scholar Natalie Doonan has used the documentation of one event as the starting point for others. Her multi-year project, Le SensoriuM, deals with touring and tasting as a means of drawing attention to contested spaces, as well as the divide between official narratives and improvisational practices. [34] In one iteration of her work, the audio recordings from a series of food performances were used, months later, to produce remixed music tracks – a type of ‘documentation mashup’ that was both a re-making and re-showing of previous reports. [35] Like the visualization process described above, what was shown through performance in one cycle became known anew during a cycle that involved making audio recordings. This next iteration then became available to Doonan for showing/knowing in further cycles of RCR.

Lady Cheese Shop Remix, 2012, Satoshi Ikeda and David Szanto © 2012, Natalie Doonan, Satoshi Ikeda, David Szanto. Used with permission.


Clearly, when perceived in isolation from the processes that make it, a visualization, performance record, or audio track might easily be understood as an attempt to simplify a complex system. As John Law warns, “simple clear descriptions don’t work if what they are describing is not itself very coherent. The very attempt to be clear simply increases the mess.” [36] Similarly, because food study succeeds best when it embraces multiplicity, resisting singular paradigms is advisable. [37, 38] For RCR, therefore, the implication is that a report not be framed in simplistic terms, nor be presented in such a way as to suggest that it is a standalone endpoint of work. Additionally, ambiguity and messiness in a report can be valuable and, moreover, ongoing facilitation of the report must take place in order to invite critical response and feedback from its ‘audience’ members.

Decentering Authority

In reporting, collaborating with food matter itself can help distribute agency across non-human bodies while also lending legitimacy to non-discursive forms of representation. Marije Vogelzang, a self-named “eating designer” and director of the Food Non Food bachelor program at Food Academy Eindhoven (Netherlands), builds environments in which food, people, space, memory, and action all produce cycles of experience that combine knowledge, emotion, and affect. [39] During her “Eat Love Budapest” installation, for example, Hungarian citizens were individually cocooned in fabric tents, the insides of which were decorated with the personal belongings, photographs, and letters of a Roma woman sitting outside. She would then reach through the fabric and feed the participant inside, all the while narrating her personal history. After each of these interactions, the Hungarian participant was interviewed on camera about his or her experience. A video of the event was then made available online. [40]

What emerges from this performance is that neither the food nor the stories, gestures, photos, or built environment ‘carries’ the knowledge transmitted. The Roma feeders and the Hungarian eaters do not define the outcome authoritatively, nor does Vogelzang herself. And when the participants discuss the experience, and the camera operator records them, and a teacher then uses the video in a classroom to discuss European history and performance design, reporting takes place in multiple ways and over multiple times. As in Doonan’s work, performance-centered reporting reiterates and modifies what is ‘known’ about its ostensible subject.

In my own work, I have taken an RCR approach as a means of decentering both text and myself from a position of academic authority, in an effort to invite other individuals to engage and self-empower with food-related themes. (As noted above, not establishing singular, authoritative practices in food scholarship may ultimately be beneficial to the still-evolving field.) This work has involved designing performative meal events as environments that offer up questions and absences to participants, while also providing the resources with which to respond to these unknowns. Like a visualization, audio remix, or video-documented art installation, a meal event is an RCR report that links previous practices of knowing and doing.

My October 2014 “Dissertation Dinner” was one such event, a meal for twenty-six people that was a report on my doctoral work. It represented a number of questions about gastronomy and ecosophy, and also enabled improvisational and exploratory participation in milieu by the eaters who were present. [41] While I had a number of intentions for the meal – including delivering a necessary part of my PhD program – I also knew I could not fully anticipate what would transpire. In this way, the report incorporated uncertainty, and a readiness to observe and later analyze whatever emerged. It represented a convergence of key themes from nearly five years of research-creation in gastronomy, while simultaneously triggering the emergence of new directions and opportunities for future work.

A video perspective on the Dissertation Dinner, 2014, Adrian Gorea © 2014, Adrian Gorea. Used with permission.


A similar tension between the power of a convener and the emergence of distributed agency is present in the classroom: a teacher designs the context, but students participate in what is produced. Although pedagogy is not generally framed as research-creation, when both food matter and meaning are present, such moments often follow an RCR pattern. Cadieux names this as a cycle of exploration, negotiation, and institutionalization of knowledge, the residues of which are student learning. [42] Similarly, Gustolab director Sonia Massari constructs experience-centred design courses to enable students to become moderators, users, and designers simultaneously. [43] At the University of Gastronomic Sciences, I have leveraged the apparent misalignment of food theory, artisanal-and-industrial practices, and students’ own food urgencies as a means to resituate knowledge generation – often taking place outside of class or even years later. [44] In parallel, though outside of a formal classroom setting, Doonan has named this as a “productive antagonism,” one that emerges when different perspectives on a subject come together. [45]

Whether in the context of an artistic, theatrical, or pedagogic performance, attending to reporting shows how authority can be – and generally is – decentered from single individuals. It also demonstrates that RCR reports are not documents of knowledge transmission but situated processes of knowledge induction. That is, knowing emerges in the showing and doing (and re-doing) of a report, a collaboration that implicates multiple bodies, both human and foodish.

Inconclusive and Unpredictable

Why, ultimately, set off reporting in this way? And why argue for yet another indefinite construct like research-creation-reporting?

Research-creation appears to be gaining traction while usefully opening up new directions, practices, and frameworks of making knowledge. Material practices and attention to the unions of thinking and doing are part of this, as is the cyclic, non-delimited nature of research-creation projects. Yet when we produce written accounts of such work (including the current text), it can tend to situate too much authority in one entity – in the writer, in words, and in the moment in which the account was produced. Bringing to reporting the same characteristics that make research-creation so valuable may help undo that finality and extend experimentality into its outputs.

As demonstrated by the visualization and performance examples, incorporating cyclicality in reporting sets it apart from more conventional forms of academic knowledge diffusion. RCR helps figure ‘publication’ not as one author producing one set of definitive results, but as the making public of a collective and continual process. Reporting explicitly states that knowing in the world is unfixed, and that the transformations that take place around us demand equally mutable forms of representation.

Similarly, within performances in urban foodscapes and performances in university classrooms, what emerges should not be predicted or controlled. While this runs counter to many teaching and learning models, allowing for confusion, ambiguity, and non-expertise may allow such settings to produce new ways for individuals to understand and act in the world. This is critical for emerging fields such as food scholarship, and perhaps also useful in producing future generations of self-empowered RCR practitioners.

Like so many food practices, reporting simultaneously makes and shows; it is both a construction and a demonstration of meaning. It is not a definitive endpoint, but a collective milieu of interpretation and reflection, blurring the divide between ‘researcher’ and ‘audience.’ And when reporting involves physical material, it demonstrates the agency of non-human things, legitimizing not only the head but also the heart and gut as sites of knowledge production.

Despite the satisfaction that comes from sharing the outputs of our work, reporting is not simply a dessert that ends the research repast. Instead, it threads its way through the bits and bites that have come before, while also whetting our appetite for more. The November 2012 panel discussion in the FOFA Gallery marked a moment when we all sat down together at the research-creation table, sharing and arguing over ideas, testifying individually and reporting collectively. Although that event is long past, it helped trace out research-creation-reporting as a framework for ongoing exploration, while entwining itself with diverse forms of experimentation in the production of multiple knowledges, both food-related and not.


Work leading to the production of this text was funded by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Fonds québécois de recherche – Société et culture.


  1. Bronislaw Szerszynski, Wallace Heim, and Claire Waterton, “Introduction,” in Nature Performed: Environment, Culture and Performance, ed. Bronislaw Szerszynski, Wallace Heim, and Claire Waterton (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub./Sociological Review, 2003), 12.
  2. Roland Barthes, Mythologies (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1970), xii.
  3. The panel was chaired by Concordia doctoral student Florencia Marchetti; the panelists included Concordia professor and researcher Lynn Hughes, photographer Louis Perreault, curator Shauna Janssen, and David Szanto.
  4. Warren Belasco, Food: The Key Concepts (New York: Berg, 2008).
  5. Jeff Miller and Jonathan Deutsch, Food Studies: An Introduction to Research Methods (New York: Berg, 2009).
  6. Alberto Capatti, “UNISG Student Guide – Introduction” (University of Gastronomic Sciences, 2008).
  7. Nicola Perullo, “Towards the Pollenzo Manifesto” (University of Gastronomic Sciences, 2014).
  8. David Szanto, “Performing Gastronomy: An Ecosophic Engagement with the Liveliness of Food” (Montreal: Concordia University, 2015).
  9. Peter Atkins, Liquid Materialities: A History of Milk, Science and the Law (London: Ashgate, 2010).
  10. Marianne Elisabeth Lien and John Law, “‘Emergent Aliens’: On Salmon, Nature, and Their Enactment,” Ethnos 76, no. 1 (2011): 65–87.
  11. Becky Mansfield, “Fish, Factory Trawlers, and Imitation Crab: The Nature of Quality in the Seafood Industry,” Journal of Rural Studies 19, no. 1 (2003): 9–21.
  12. Heather Paxson, The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).
  13. Hexagram website, “About Hexagram,” accessed December 31, 2014,
  14. Erin Manning, “Creative Propositions for Thought in Motion,” INFLeXions 1, no. 1 (2008),
  15. Chris Salter, “Research-Creation,” presented at the Bright Collisions: TodaysArt Symposium, The Hague, September 22, 2012,
  16. SSHRC, Industry Canada website, “Research-Creation,” accessed May 21, 2010,
  17. Manning, “Creative Propositions for Thought in Motion,” np.
  18. Andrew Pickering, “The Mangle of Practice: Agency and Emergence in the Sociology of Science,” American Journal of Sociology 99, no. 3 (1993): 559–89.
  19. Jennifer Brady, “Cooking as Inquiry: A Method to Stir Up Prevailing Ways of Knowing Food, Body, and Identity,” International Journal of Qualitative Methods 10 (2011), 321–34.
  20. Deane W. Curtin, “Food/Body/Person,” in Cooking, Eating, Thinking: Transformative Philosophies of Food, ed. Lisa Maree Heldke and Deane W. Curtin (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 3–22.
  21. Ben Highmore, The Design Culture Reader (New York: Routledge, 2009).
  22. Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).
  23. Gaston Bachelard, The New Scientific Spirit, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984).
  24. Ian Hacking, Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
  25. Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986).
  26. Louis Perreault, “Adventures in Research-Creation” (Montreal: Concordia University, 2012).v
  27. Phil Mount and Peter Andrée, “Visualising Community-Based Food Projects in Ontario,” Local Environment 18, no. 5 (2013): 578–91.
  28. Edward R. Tufte, Beautiful Evidence (Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, 2006).
  29. Tara Zepel, “Visualization as a Digital Humanities ________ ?” HASTAC (2013), accessed March 10, 2015,
  30. Alison Blay-Palmer, ed. Imagining Sustainable Food Systems: Theory and Practice (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010).
  31. Jennifer Clapp, Food (London: Polity, 2012).
  32. Kirsten Valentine Cadieux, Charles Z. Levkoe, Phil Mount, and David Szanto, “Visual Methods for Collaborative Food System Work,” in Conversations in Food Studies: Transgressing Boundaries Through Critical Inquiry, ed. Charles Z. Levkoe, Jennifer Brady, and Colin Anderson (Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press, forthcoming).
  33. Kirsten Valentine Cadieux, “A Field Guide to Making Food Good: An Interactive Tool for Participatory Research Supporting Difficult Conversations,” Public 1 no. 1 (2013), accessed March 10, 2015,
  34. Natalie Doonan, “Le/the Sensorium: About,” accessed March 10, 2015,
  35. Natalie Doonan, “Le/the Sensorium: Season 1 Remix Challenge, ” 2012,
  36. John Law, After Method: Mess in Social Science Research (New York: Routledge, 2004), 2.
  37. Warren Belasco, Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).
  38. Lisa Maree Heldke, “Foodmaking as a Thoughtful Practice,” in Cooking, Eating, Thinking: Transformative Philosophies of Food, ed. Lisa Maree Heldke and Deane W. Curtin (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 203–29.
  39. Marije Vogelzang, Eating Design with Marije Vogelzang, 2011, accessed March 8, 2015,
  40. Milán Gajdos, Eat Love Budapest – Magyar Felirattal, 2011, accessed March 8, 2015,
  41. In this case, I engage with Guattari’s interpretation of ecosophy: a call for ethical and political attention to the choices that we humans make and effects of such acts on the multiple “ecological registers” in which we operate. For more, see Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (London: Continuum, 2008).
  42. Cadieux, “A Field Guide to Making Food Good.”
  43. Sonia Massari, “Introducing Food Experience Design in the Food Studies Curriculum,” Glide Proceedings 2, no. 1 (2012), accessed March 9, 2015,
  44. David Szanto, “Performing Gastronomy: An Ecosophic Engagement with the Liveliness of Food” (Montreal: Concordia University, 2015).
  45. Natalie Doonan, “Techniques of Making Public,” Theatre Research in Canada 36, no. 1 (2015): 59.


David Szanto is a researcher, artist, and teacher, taking an experimental approach to gastronomy through design, ecology, and performance. Past projects include: The ‘Main’ Dish and A Tranche of Berlin, meal performances focusing on the representation of urban foodscapes; Displace (Mediations of Sensation) , an immersive sensory environment co-led by Chris Salter, TeZ, and David Howes; and Orchestrer la perte/Perpetual Demotion, a food-and-robotics installation developed in collaboration with Simon Laroche. Having previously taught at Concordia University and l’Université du Québec à Montréal, he is currently director of the master program in Representation, Meaning & Media at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. David is a Vice President of the Canadian Association for Food Studies and an Associate Editor of its peer-reviewed journal, Canadian Food Studies/La Revue canadienne des études sur l’alimentation.