A Story of Food

In Ottawa, where I spend most of my time, you’ll find many community gardens. To the contrary of other cities, community gardening is a relatively new concept here as the Community Gardening Network just celebrated 20 years of existence.

My recent article as part of my “What’s on your plate?” series actually talked about the benefits of community gardening and how it evolved for us folks in Ottawa. In other parts of the world such as in the UK, allotment gardens really took off during the Second World War when the government chose to encourage people to grow food within city limits through its “Dig for Victory” campaign, at a time when urbanization, economic instability and the war were leading to much food insecurity.

This is not to say that Ottawa didn’t have community gardens before the nineties. Residents of European backgrounds and other community groups were already doing it in an informal manner but it’s only lately that the local government started directing funds to Just Food to redistribute to groups wanting to start or maintain a garden.

Problem is, if you can’t start your own garden for whatever reason, good luck finding an available plot at an existing one. It’s certainly a good problem to have as it shows just how much people are interested and how valuable the program is but at the same time, we want more people to grow their food, don’t we?

This is certainly what we advocate for at the Ottawa Food Policy Council, where I lend my expertise. Our positions are based on data and while we are no activists, we try to raise awareness about Good Food and how decisions affecting residents should be made with “food systems” in mind – in an encompassing manner rather than in silos. Whether it’s container, community or front yard gardening, beekeeping or chicken raising, eating what we produce ourselves can only be beneficial, whether it’s from a health, an environmental, a food security or a food literacy perspective.

From a personal standpoint, my hubby and I have been growing food for a few years now. First, on our apartment balcony, then in our backyard’s raised beds and nowadays, on what we consider to be a small plot that is part of a private “community” garden that a local farmer decided to create on his own farm. Although I admit I don’t always have the patience, I have to say that the experience has been incredible. Learning about seeds, what they look like and what varieties are native to our region, watching the veggies grow (and sometimes not!), testing different arrangements and even better, eating some of the most flavorful produce we’ve ever had, nothing can beat that! And, have you ever seen a Brussels sprouts plant?!

Once upon a time…we grew our food!

If I’m telling you about this, it’s that for me, the process of growing food is a story of its own. We usually think about the consumption (e.g. eating!) side of it, and at best, the cooking portion. But we rarely think of how it all began, how it got to our plate. Doesn’t knowing where you food comes from and how it was grown part of the pleasure of eating it? For me, the answer is a resounding yes. Knowing things like where and how it was harvested and under what condition and by whom, makes it both interesting and educational. When you buy at the grocery store, the country of origin and a fair trade label tell you part of the story. Imagine how much you’d find out if it all started… in your own garden!  

Gardening is not only a hobby but an opportunity to reconnect with nature, to learn, to share and to eat delicious food. And while food literacy has never been so present in the public discourse, it all starts at home. Think about it for a minute. Can you portray yourself as a kid observing grandpa attend to his tomatoes or helping mom make a nice apple pie from the fruit you had just picked in the orchard? That’s what it’s all about. Knowing where the food comes from, how it’s grown, how to use it. And at the end of the day, it’s about the connections and the relationships, and the delicious meal you get to eat around the same table as your loved ones.

At The Storyteller, we support our community by getting involved in different projects we feel are raising awareness of such issues and we’re happy to be able to work with restaurateurs and not-for-profits who share that same passion.

What the hell is storytelling anyways?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We’re seeing this expansion of what non-fiction can be in storytelling, I think they’re more thrilling than a lot of fiction films.” These are not our words but the ones of Laura Poitras, an Oscar-winning American documentary film director and producer. You think your story is boring, or worse, that you don’t have any? Think again. Everyone has a story, it’s just a matter of asking the right questions and finding the right way to present it to do it justice. Real life stories of “ordinary” people are often the best.

But what is storytelling and why should you care? In marketing, storytelling is the art of using your story to engage with your audience and build your brand. It’s telling who you are as an organization, where you come from and what you aspire to. This way, your audience can gain a better understanding of your DNA, relate to your experience and connect with your brand. Some organizations rely heavily on their leader’s story and vision, using their persona to brand themselves, while others prefer to let the brand shine on its own.

As the founder of his business, a visionary and a great communicator, Steve Jobs was an excellent example of what a charismatic persona can do for a brand. But not all leaders can do that and sometimes, it’s best to have them work behind the scenes in favour of the brand. The example below is interesting in that although it’s certainly not Steve Job’s most memorable speech, when compared to Bill Gates, it’s clear that telling a story is much more natural to him than it is to his Microsoft colleague.

Note: our objective is certainly not to make fun of Bill Gates but you may find yourself smirking while watching this video!

Like it or not, consumers have never been so solicited and they have the luxury of choosing where they spend their dollars. Globalization has flattened the offer and although this can be comforting to some, it’s harder than ever to stand out in the crowd. The result is that consumers are somewhat “blasé” and good customer service is no longer the norm. But when faced with it, people notice and acknowledge it. While we can argue that traditions are still valued by some, novelty – or at least the capacity to reinvent oneself – gets a lot of traction. Ultimately, you don’t want your business to be a trend that will soon be forgotten but you don’t want it to be an antique either; you want to show people that you value where you come from while being able to evolve and adapt. At the end of the day, telling your story can help you keep your existing clientele AND tap into a younger demographic.

How to tell a story right

Ever read a book that you can’t seem to put down or watched a movie a 1,000 times? Well that’s probably the result of good storytelling. Those stories may have been fictional but there’s no reason why the same formula can’t be applied to your own story.

Think about it. What are the ingredients to a good story? First, the plot. It has to be consistent so that it makes sense but it also needs to have a few punch lines to surprise you and pike your interest. Second, the characters themselves. Perhaps you feel a connection or perhaps you’re intrigued by the fact that they are total opposites of you. And there’s always some sort of villain, that you just love to hate. Lastly, there’s the way the story is told. In the case of books, some like the narrative to be extremely detailed so they can picture exactly how things would look like in reality. On screen, there may be a narrator but things like music, costumes, lighting, decor and the actors themselves all have an influence on what the final product will look like and how you react to it.

All of this to say that whether you are literally writing your story, creating a video, recording a podcast or assembling images for a presentation, you have to think about all the elements that will make your story a memorable one.

The power of storytelling

What you have to know is that length is not necessarily a gage of quality, nor will it guarantee that people engage with your brand. In fact, in some instances, it could well be the contrary.

Remember the picture of the Napalm girl? If the name doesn’t ring a bell, then you will probably remember that internationally renowned picture of a young Vietnamese girl running naked surrounded by a scene of horror. Although some truths behind this picture have lately been questioned, if you had never seen it, it would be fairly easy to put the pieces together. Perhaps your version of the story would be slightly different than the real one but the fact of a matter is that there would be a common thread between your story and others’ as the sense of desperation emanating from that little girl can’t leave anyone indifferent. A picture worth a thousand words; these are the keepers in all of their glory and their horror.

Minus the emotional aspect of it, infographics can have a similar powerful impact. The good ones in particular can relay information of a more practical nature efficiently and quickly while adopting a more playful tone that will help position your brand.

And while short written stories often don’t allow to describe something as much as we’d like them to in order to set the tone, the reality is that people’s attention span is nowadays extremely short. In order to grab their attention, the best is often to combine imagery, written words and video for maximum impact, and to divide your story in multiple short stories so to benefit from a repeat exposure and ensure that people heard and now understand what is your story.