Food futuring in Timor-Leste
Recombinance, responsiveness, and relationality
Keywords:Timor-Leste, Foodways, Relationality, Localness, Improvisation, Decolonization, Culinary Innovation
The pluralistic nature of food culture and food systems produces complex and blended realities for research, often prompting approaches that embrace mixed methods and cross-sector partnerships. In parallel, calls for the decolonization of research methods have brought attention to the importance of relationality when working with local communities and traditional knowledge holders. This article presents the process and outcomes of the Timor-Leste Food Innovators Exchange (TLFIX), a multifaceted initiative centered on the contemporary and historic foodways of Timor-Leste, including current challenges to individual health, cultural identity, and economic-ecological sustainability brought about by centuries of colonial and transnational influence. Conceived within an international development context, TLFIX aimed at building local empowerment, economic development, and social change. Methods included quantitative, qualitative, and material-based approaches, including surveys, storytelling, and culinary innovation. As a “consulting academic” on the project, I contributed to the research design, coached team members on storytelling-as-method, and participated in a portion of the work. For the current text, I use the notions of recombinance, responsiveness, and relationality to interpret our collective experience and to frame an example of carrying out mixed-method and mixed-participant work in complex food contexts. As a whole, this example illustrates ways in which to leave space for improvisation and emergence within food practice and scholarship.
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