Fermenting food in Scotland’s schools: A design-led dissertation project — Part 5: Design intervention

Once Scotland’s malnutrition problems were mapped and the food and health education systems analysed, and once the opportunities and challenges of these systems were identified, the final outcome of this work could be formulated. This chapter showcases a suggestion of intervention to the problem and discusses to what extent it can make Scotland’s food habits healthier and more sustainable.

Figure 5.2.: Summary of the SchoolKraut service

1. Presentation of the intervention

Although this intervention is above all a rearrangement of the current systems of food and health education and therefore can be described as a system itself, in practice, it takes the shape of a service, named SchoolKraut (referring to the intervention’s two main aspects: schools and fermentation, illustrated by the famous fermented food, sauerkraut). This service, funded by public and private funds (see figure 4.2.), provides the framework and the tools to make it very easy for primary schools in Scotland to make frequent fermentation workshops in P5 classes. It elaborates adapted contracts with the local stakeholders to deliver SchoolKraut boxes with ingredients and equipment to schools, prepares fermentation workshops guidance and recipes for teachers, and creates opportunities to continue eating and making fermented food at home through home recipes (figure 5.2). To explain the details of this service, its logistics will first be clarified, followed by its different assets: the workshops’ program, its identity and narrative, and its website. Because the intervention is meant to evolve and expand, the description below is to be considered as one of the first iterations of the service.

1.1. The service

As shown in the service’s blueprint (figure 5.3), the service’s activity can be devided in three: adoption, fermentation cycles (repeating over the year) and expansion. The service’s adoption consists in approaching a targeted local council in order to collaboratively approach schools and co-pitch the intervention with the council to a receptive school’s head teacher and catering manager (or cook-in-charge). Once the school is onboard, the pupils’ parents are required to fill in an “onboarding” form that welcomes them to the SchoolKraut experience in an ethical and transparent way, by informing them about the initiative’s objectives and implications, and asking for their consent and about children’s special diets. At the same time, the school’s wholesaler is also approached to design a contract together. In future iterations, this step can be achieved with the help of Scotland Excel’s procurement experts.

A fermentation cycle starts when the order of a SchoolKraut box is being made and ends when the fermented food is taken home. To determine what recipe can be achieved during a workshop, it is necessary to know about the school’s equipment and facilities, the wholesaler’s capacities, the producer’s available ingredients and the pupils’ special diets. Therefore, a collaborative online order form is also completed by the catering manager, the head teacher, the teachers, the council, the wholesaler, and the local producers. A general version of this form is completed once, before the school’s first workshop, and a more specific and quicker version of the form is then completed before each workshop, to make sure that the workshop’s program fits the available ingredients. The ordering process of the SchoolKraut box is divided into three types of orders: (1) the fermentation equipment which is delivered once in the beginning (but can be completed if further equipment is needed in the future) is ordered by the service on a national scale; (2) the spices, herbs and sea salt which are delivered before every fermentation workshop are also ordered on a national scale; (3) the fresh vegetables and fruits which are also delivered for each workshop, are ordered on a local scale. In other words, the SchoolKraut organisation first arranges the delivery to the wholesaler of the jars and other equipment that the school does not already have, as well as the spices, herbs and sea salt, while the wholesaler orders the fruits and vegetables to the producers. Once the three components of the SchoolKraut box are received by the wholesaler, the wholesaler delivers the whole box to the school.

Figure 5.3.: The service blueprint of the intervention

The workshop can then proceed. Because the fermentation process can take from 24 hours to over a month, a fermentation phase of two weeks is planned between two workshops during the winter semester. This timeframe was also determined depending on the fermentation time of easy but varied recipes like sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables using the same technique, which is around two weeks or less. During the summer semester’s warmer days, the fermentation process is more unstable and difficult to control, and workshops therefore only happen every four weeks. As fermentation is a preservation method allowing to store fresh food for cold times of the year, autumn is furthermore a perfect time to ferment. During the fermentation phase, a ritual is carried out by the pupils to learn to evaluate when the food is ready. When it is, the children taste the food during lunch, as part of their meal, as the workshop’s recipe is meant to make the result easy to implement in their meals. The food is then brought home by the children with clear instructions on how to store it and to eat it. Independently from the fermentation cycles, “home recipes” can be assigned to pupils by teachers.

After a year, to measure the impact of the intervention, qualitative data like user feedback and quantitative data like pupils’ grades and weight are collected. This can be done through online or printed surveys that are completed by the different participants, or through individual interviews and focus groups that can collect insights about the challenges that were faced and the ways participants tried to overcome them. These findings can then help the service to be iterated, and better expand to other schools and councils.

1.2. The workshops’ program

Each workshop lasts between 1 hour and 3 hours, and follows a different recipe, which is designed by the service’s organisation collaborating with nutrition experts, chefs, and other experts. The recipes are designed to be easy and quick, demand as little equipment as possible, be fun, and give freedom to express pupils’ creativity through experimentation and personal initiative. The recipes’ outcome must be balanced and diverse, provide enough probiotics but not too much, be easily implementable in mainstream meals and be inspired by multicultural recipes. Some examples are: variations of sauerkraut, fruit kefir soda, kimchi sides, rainbow-coloured fermented vegetables (by arranging the ingredients according to their colour in a jar), fermented sauces, and raw snacks… As the possibilities are almost infinite, once the process is understood by the pupils, some workshops also give pupils the freedom to create their own recipe.

Figure 5.4.: Program of the first workshop’s introduction

The first workshop starts with an introduction to fermentation (figure 5.4). First, after the teacher has engaged in a conversation about what fermentation is with the pupils, the pupils watch a short video provided by the service’s organisation. Through animated illustration and a voice-over, this video starts by explaining the past fermentation practices, like the daily routine of alewives. It is then expressed how it became what it is today, mentioning why modern medicine fears bad bacteria, but also informing about the gut and brain benefits of good bacteria. The video ends by suggesting what fermentation can be in the future: a healthy, sustainable, and fun practice to experiment with others (figure 5.5).

The workshop’s introduction then continues with the Tasting game. Groups of four pupils receive a fermented food sample (sent with the first SchoolKraut box and ordered from Scottish fermented food small businesses) and taste it. The group that identifies the most ingredients in the sample wins the game and can bring the rest of the samples home. This activity, therefore, introduces fermented food to the children in a sensory and playful way.

Figure 5.5.: Main parts of the introduction video

The program of a regular workshop can then begin. Before starting, the teacher introduces the fermentation cycle by telling a story that will lead the whole cycle through a fictive mission (see the section below). The cooking activity always starts and ends with a cleaning session (of the classroom’s tables, the equipment, and the pupils’ hands…) and the tasks are divided into groups of pupils to make it faster. Depending on the recipe, the cooking activity can be followed in small groups or individually. Ideally, everyone should be able to handle the ingredients, by massaging cabbage for example, or filling the jars and removing air bubbles by squeezing the cabbage inside it. At the end of a workshop, the outside of the jars is cleaned and jars are put out of the way on a table or shelf in a dark cool place of the classroom with the lids on. To close the workshop, the teacher continues telling the fictive story to explain the Caring ritual that will punctuate the fermentation phase.

This Caring ritual consists in observing the fermenting food every two days and verify that there is no decoloration or mold and that the ingredients are still under the surface of the brine (in the case of sauerkraut), and smelling and tasting it every four days to evaluate how much fermented it is. The jars can also be shaken regularly and opened to “burp” it and liberate the gas. This trains the children’s senses to learn the language of fermentation and how to keep the food safe from rotting or from turning to vinegar. The observations are written down by the pupils in their notebook: evolution of the food’s colour, how acid or sour it is, how much bubbles there are in the jar… Of course this ritual’s activities and length depends on the food that is fermenting, as, unlike fermenting vegetables, kefir would only take 24 hours and the ritual can only be done once when the fermenting fruits are floating at the surface.

Because starters like kefir grains or a kombucha scoby need to be stored in the fridge when not used, they can either be kept in the fridges in the teachers’ room, or be taken home by children to store them in their own fridge and use them to cook between the workshops. It is then the children’s responsibility to keep the starters alive, like caring for a pet.

Figure 5.6.: Example of a regular workshop program, following a sauerkraut recipe

1.3. The identity and narrative

Figure 5.7.: Portrait of Eilidh, the main character of the narrative

To bring fermentation back into the norm of Scotland’s food behaviours, this intervention suggests a new imagery and narrative of what fermentation can be: a gender-fluid balance between science and witchcraft. This is first attempted by framing the workshops around the stories of Eilidh (figure 5.7), a Scotland-based woman who helps her friends and their environment to stay healthy despite the pollution and other threats caused by humans, thanks to fermented potions. Each workshop and story start with a new mission to achieve and continues by following a traditional narrative structure, the climax being the cooking activity which is guided by Eilidh’s recipe, and the resolution being the moment when children taste the fermented food, and when Eilidh’s friend’s problem is solved by eating the fermented food (see an example in figure 5.8). In order to provide a safe and reliable learning environment, the story told by the teacher as a narrator has a cheerful tone while dealing with serious issues like climate change and health, and Eilidh’s personality is light-hearted but still rigorous. Moreover, it is voluntarily unclear if Eilidh is a witch, a healer or a regular person who knows the secrets of healthy food, in order to make it easier for children to identify to her.

Figure 5.8.: Fermentation cycle’s structure in relation to the narrative

What is key to the new image of fermentation shared by this intervention, is its ambiguous balance between two worlds that are usually perceived as contradictory: the subjective, mysterious, and natural world of witchcraft, and the objective, controlled and sterile world of occidental science. By creating this disruptive ambivalence, the service’s identity blurs the lines between the rational and the sensorial, uniting the two opposites of the woman-nature and man-culture dualism. With the objective of being as gender-fluid as possible, this service makes it clear that fermentation is meant to be practiced by all genders.

The visual identity plays a major role in this mission (figure 5.9). First, the two main colours are a red-magenta that refers to the vibrant warm colour of fermented red cabbage, and a blue which invokes the colour of science but with a subtle touch of purple, an eccentric colour that can refer to the world of magic. The lively red and the calmer blue create a balanced contrast that sets the service’s tone as an educational game. The logo, a hand-drawn cabbage lief with mysterious bubbles also adds to a magical-scientifical iconography. The soft edges of the lineal Tisa Sans Pro font, as well as the rounded buttons and icons, confirm the service’s spontaneity.

Figure 5.9.: Visual identity of the service

1.4. The website

To coordinate the intervention among the different actors, and to expand it to new schools and councils, the SchoolKraut service needs a website (figure 5.10).

Figure 5.10.: The SchoolKraut website’s main pages

This website first acts like an information hub (figure 5.11). By explaining the service objectives and features, and by sharing the knowledge about fermentation, it reassures the participants, like parents who could otherwise be skeptical towards its relevance. Therefore, the “Home” page presents informative and concrete content about how a fermentation cycle is organised, and its health and education benefits for the children, the parents, the teachers, the producers, and society in general. By showing user feedback, and the strong relationships with public organisations like councils, Scotland Excel, or the Scottish Food Coalition, the website can show the intervention’s achievements and prove its impact. The “About” page answers the potential questions about the service’s organisation and why it chose to focus on fermentation, the links with the Curriculum for Excellence, as well as the introduction video about fermentation that is watched by the pupils during their first workshop.

Figure 5.11.: The website’s informative role

The website also acts like a community platform. It holds a “Blog” page which contains articles about fermentation, health and education, and news about the different schools’ participation. A “Forum” page also enables participants to ask questions to other participants or answer them, for example about guidance on recipes’ practicalities. The service’s organisation can also participate in the discussion and regulate it. This collaborative way to handle issues is also key to another feature, the “My Space” page (figure 5.12), where a participant can have an overview of their SchoolKraut team and finds its members’ contact details. This team is composed of all the stakeholders of a SchoolKraut intervention in a school: teachers, the head teacher, the catering manager, the wholesaler, a local council member, sometimes local producers, and a SchoolKraut referent. This page also shows the team’s activity, to alert the user if an action is required (completing the cycle’s order form for example). On this page, teachers planning their next workshop can find the instructions and recipes that are provided by the service. The different online forms (collaborative order, parents’ consent, feedback…) are available on the “Form” page, under “Community”.

Figure 5.12.: A user’s personal space

A last feature of the website is found on the “Recipes” page (figure 5.13). While the workshops’ recipes are private and only available for participating teachers, these fermentation recipes are public and users do not need to create an account to access them so that children and families can continue fermenting at home.

Figure 5.13.: The website’s fermentation recipes

These recipes are inspired by both Scottish traditional cuisine and other cultures’ specialties. Their vocabulary and pictures are meant to reflect the magic of fermentation, with names like “Wicked Cranachan”, “Enchanted Curry”, “Sunshine Elixir”… The recipes’ health benefits are always explained, and every step is illustrated by clear images, complemented with special “secret” advice. To provide user-friendly offline experiences, recipes and workshop instructions are also printable (figure 5.14).

Figure 5.14.: Example of a printed recipe

2. Discussion about the intervention

The main objective of this work is to promote healthier and more sustainable food habits through the practice of fermentation. To evaluate the extent to which this intervention achieves this mission, its theoretical and practical impact will be discussed, as well as its potential to expand.

2.1. Behavioural change

As mentioned in chapter 2, behavioural design can challenge normalised behaviours in different ways. First, the “psychologically embedded” behavioural design approach (Kaufman and Flanagan, 2015) encourages to obscure a product’s true persuasive intention to avoid reactance, by using fictionalisation and metaphor, as well as game genres’ methods. The use of the workshops’ storytelling methods, which tell the stories of a relatable fictional character, can thus be particularly impactful, according to the National Storytelling Association: “stories are the building blocks of knowledge, the foundation of memory and learning” (in Manzini, 2015). Moreover, while it is not recommended to introduce fictions to children under 6 years old as it can be confusing (as reported by the Montessori expert interviewee), “fantasy is very interesting to the older child” (Montanaro, 2007). Indeed, helping Eilidh in her missions can make the children feeling empowered during their practice of fermentation while strengthening their bond to the food thanks to the work of their own imagination.

Another strategy that this intervention adopts to initiate behavioural change, is the “seductive interaction design” approach (Anderson, 2011). It consists in integrating an intervention in gameplay, by using the following game mechanics: levels that give a sense of progression (each fermentation cycle is a level, with its own narrative, recipe, learning), reward (the food that is taken home, and the collected knowledge), the appointment mechanic, which asks to do a task at certain regular times (the workshops and the Caring ritual are scheduled on regular bases), limited duration (pupils have a limited timeframe to proceed with each activity), teamwork and group competition… But challenges can arise from this gamification. As Anderson puts it, to make sure that the designed game stays fun, the initial activity should not just be “sugarcoated” with superficial game assets and one should “find the game that’s already in [the] design”. As fermenting is the very purpose of both the workshop and the game, this gameplay is assured to stay fun in long term. Thereafter, the difficulty of the game’s challenge must evolve with the acquired skills of pupils, to maintain a “flow” (Le Breton, 2017), a state of mind of great engagement on a task, inspired by the Fogg Behavior Model (Fogg, 2009). Therefore, each workshop must present a more challenging recipe, to avoid boredom or frustration. In that respect, the intervention’s narrative and gameplay can be powerful drivers of behavioural change.

2.2. Resilient education

SchoolKraut opens the way to a new education discipline: care education. Indeed, this intervention is about learning to understand the gifts of Mother Earth (healthy food), and how to be grateful and return the gift (caring for the environment). This interspecies reciprocity works the same between the pupils and the bacteria that ferment their food. As a tribute to fermentation as a science and as a magic (both being intrinsically linked), this care education is based on the understanding of the fermentation chemical transformation, and on the learning of empathy towards the non-human. The intervention can thus create healthier and more sustainable relationships between humans and their environment by teaching how to care for food.

The intervention also disrupts the traditional pedagogies’ ways of dealing with the pressure of the imposed curriculum. Because pupils train their numeracy while measuring the quantities of ingredients and calculating the needed amount of salt during the workshops, and train their literacy when taking notes for the Caring ritual and when they invent their own recipes, SchoolKraut presents many opportunities to fill the curriculum’s requirements. Other topics of the curriculum that are included in the workshops are science, history, and geography (as fermentation recipes come from all over the world), home economics, hygiene, and food safety… But the intervention shares knowledge that goes even beyond the curriculum, as it opens safe in-class conversations about health, gender, culture, and other topics which can usually be sensible and avoided. This care education will eventually be shared by the pupils to the parents.

2.3. Towards visibility and replication

The main challenge of this service remains the fact that, despite its user-friendliness and guidance, it still asks more work and time from the different participants. But the more the service spreads, the easier and quicker it will be to participate. To avoid SchoolKraut to stay “below the radar of the general public”, it needs “to be acknowledged and […] ‘normalized’ to be accepted as valid and desirable” (Penin et al, 2013). For this purpose, Manzini suggests using the “Amplification method” (Manzini, 2015, p125), which aims to expand particular practices. To do this, this practice first needs to be made largely visible, through for example collaborative mapping of the participant schools on the website, which will stimulate strategic conversations and create awareness among a wider public. Then, to enable the intervention’s spread to be even quicker and diverse, it can be encouraged to be non-expert-driven, independent from the initial SchoolKraut service. This strategy might ask for a toolkit that can guide anyone to start fermentation workshops in a school, inspired by the SchoolKraut system. Consequently, food habits would become healthier and more sustainable even faster throughout Scotland.

Read next part here: Part 6: Conclusion

The entire bibliography is in the last story

Interaction Design Student www.emilie-schaefer.com