Young researchers’ perspective: Project meeting during a pandemic

On October 22nd and 23rd, we organized our annual FOOD2GATHER meeting. These two days were the opportunity for us to meet up, share our ideas, to discuss our research advances, and to plan our future activities. However, this time, we were not able to enjoy sunny Italy or its delicious cuisine between our two intensive exchanges on the project. Due to the pandemic situation, our meeting took place exclusively in virtual form. This did not prevent the Italian team from welcoming us warmly and organizing a meeting program rich in exchanges and learning.  

The main interest for all of us was in the part dedicated to fieldwork and the round table with the Associate Partners. In particular, we noted as, despite the distinctiveness of each context, many linkages between the case studies emerged: we are really interested in deepening this point, asking if at this stage of the research common lines can be found – including theoretical and methodological links – in the nodes that are arising from our fieldwork. Our opinion is that several benefits could derive from a more intensive networking between the European partners and between the younger researchers in particular, so we invite each group to strengthen contacts with other European partners. 

At the same time, the meeting emphasized how the various work packages are linked, feeding into and building on each other. For instance, the concepts for the glossary book were reflected upon in the presentations of the fieldwork and further brought up as possible topics for hybrid forums. It must also be noted the importance of considering the variability of the contexts and issues specific to each fieldwork, at local and national scales, in order to achieve a better mutual understanding of the work carried out by each team, as well as to think carefully about comparisons.  

This makes it easier to view the project as a whole rather than separate tasks and work packages.  

Another relevant point that came out is the impact of the COVID 19 in the field research and in the overall contexts of the research: as Rick Dolphin pointed out, it is clear that our traditional conceptualisation of public space is changing and that we are living in a time of transition. The pandemic has shown us how much of our activities depends on meeting people and being in contact with others – and our inability to do that now. So, crucial questions are at stake, such as: how we manage the necessity of social distancing with the building of trust required between locals and researcher in the field? Plus, public spaces are becoming inaccessible to the researchers due to the lockdown measures that are spreading throughout Europe: could we move in the digital dimension, looking at it as a feasible domain for ethnographic research? In extreme synthesis: could the digital space be investigated as a dimension of the concept of foodscape we’re working on? On the other hand, this peculiar context we are experiencing reveals adaptations, resistances, renewal of practices around food aid for example, which we can follow and continue to study by taking part in grassroots initiatives, still depending on various contexts (i.e., political, social, individual). 

Moreover, each of us has been deeply interested in the round table with the Associate Partners, that are the pillars of the general project. It was very interesting to hear them talk about their experiences and their reflections on how Covid-19 affected their work and the people they help. However, we suggest that the panel was too short. More time for the discussion would be useful to know each other better. In this case, the digital setting could be of help: our proposal is to set up periodical round tables possibly with larger presence from our Associate Partners that could prove fruitful in the development of the knowledge exchange process. 

As the project meeting was online this time, it is difficult not to notice some of the qualities of an online meeting, both upsides and downsides. For example, the conversation does not flow as easily online. Wi-Fi or internet connections are sometimes lost, some people may experience delays making it harder to follow the discussions, and the audio may be of varying quality due to different equipment and background noises. More importantly, the small talk we would usually engage with in breaks and during dinner together in the evening, is absent. In this way, we lose a lot of the valuable social aspect of the meeting. On the other hand, to have the meeting online enables those who would otherwise not be able to travel to join as well. 

Finally, this meeting confirmed our desire to be creative in the way we conduct research and make it accessible to all. Using audio-visual media and creating a podcast, we also intend to renew our approaches at the crossroads of different disciplines.  

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