Gripping read of the week: I Can’t Understand What Anyone Is Saying Anymore by Dan Pallotta for Harvard Business Review. What’s it got to do with food? Plenty.
For those of us craving a quiet supper of accuracy with a side of objective truth, the food system looks like Chuck E Cheese’s at peak load. Terms are flying, attitudes are flying, food is flying.
Perhaps more than anything, we need a vocabulary revolution. We must rigorously begin checking our jargon at the door and selecting universal words and images that everyone can understand.
Yesterday, this Examiner was invited to serve as a guest judge for final projects at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Department of Architecture. Senior Critic Enrique Martinez challenged his students to design for the Sankofa project on Providence’s South Side, in a neighborhood abutting a USDA stamped food desert.
Enrique’s panel consisted of a philosopher, an architect, an MBA, and a farmer.
The students had to consider community engagement, growing, education, retail, food storage, light, and traffic flows. It was a steep task.
“Architecture can’t sustain as a ivory-tower profession,” Enrique said. “It must evolve to include its users.”
As the students explained their work, I suffered varying degrees of disorientation.
“What are building forces? What is the program? What do all those folded French fries of paper mean?”
It gave me a headache, but it was a terrific learning experience. As a recently minted MBA, I am the pot calling the kettle black. I belch business jargon daily – typically to audiences who’ve been similarly brainwashed.
Being with the designers reminded me of a crucial truth: If you can’t communicate your idea, it’s dead.
Julius Kolawole of the African Alliance of Rhode Island – guest judge and client – told the students: “You need to understand farming if you are going to design for farmers. I invite you to go to a farm. It’s not what you think. You cannot contain it the way you are designing for it.”
Later, he added, “To wrestle with design and urban settings and farming all together is something brand new – you are pioneering. There are big tensions. But now you are ambassadors for this kind of work.”
Food doesn’t have time for us to cower in the shadows of each other’s lexicon. We need to be brave enough to say “I don’t understand” and ask the speaker to make it clear – if we are really committed to designing for change.