Fermenting food in Scotland’s schools: A design-led dissertation project — Part 1: Introduction

Emilie Schaefer
3 min readSep 9, 2021

« The ceremonies that persist […] focus only on ourselves, marking rites of personal transition. […] But imagine standing by the river, flooded with those same feelings as the Salmon march into the auditorium of their estuary. Rise in their honor, thank them for all the ways they have enriched our lives, sing to honor their hard work and accomplishments against all odds, tell them they are our hope for the future […]. » (Kimmerer, 2013)

The SchoolKraut service is the outcome of this work (see Part 5)

This series of Medium stories in 6 parts displays my Master’s dissertation which I led for 3 months during a MA at the University of Edinburgh, called Design for Change. I chose to share it on Medium in order to spread ideas, trigger conversations and receive feedback on this project, so feel free to comment!

Like many other countries, Scotland suffers from unhealthy and unsustainable food behaviours, which cause severe physical and mental health issues, environmentally devastative food production systems, and strengthens social inequalities. With a systemic design methodology, this work tries to map this problem’s systems to suggest an intervention that can promote food and health education in Scotland. This intervention takes the shape of an organisation and education service called SchoolKraut, which offers a framework to primary schools across the country to lead fermentation workshops with children. Although this intervention asks for further prototyping and testing, it greatly challenges norms about education, gender, health, and the environment. It, therefore, offers a holistic more-than-human approach to the problem of Scotland’s food behaviours.

1. Introduction

While undernutrition is still an important issue in many parts of the world, overnutrition is a major cause of the obesity epidemic that touches mainly high-income countries. In 2015, 19.5% of the adult population across the OECD countries was obese, and “nearly one in six children was overweight or obese” (OECD, 2017). Scotland has some of the highest incidences of obesity among OECD countries (Health Scotland, 2016), with the United Kingdom being the 6th on the OECD’s 2015 ranking (OECD, 2017). In addition to its environmental and social cost, obesity favours the development of diseases like cancer, as well as mental health issues, and is, therefore, an important cause of mortality in these countries (Martin-Jiménez, 2017). While curing these diet-related diseases relies on the mass-production of medicine and dietary supplements, that often initially come from natural ingredients and processes, people continue to eat and produce unhealthy food. This “food-health paradox” can be addressed through this question: what if healthy food was eaten in the first place as a resilient preventative medicine?

Because Scotland’s food behaviours are tightly anchored to social norms, tradition, political and economic factors, the country’s food and health issues form a very challenging wicked problem, which can never be entirely solved, only re-solved (Rittel and Webber, 1973). This work tries to address this problem through systemic and holistic Behavioural Design, guided by this first research question: how to make Scotland’s food habits healthier and more sustainable? These targeted behaviours follow the Food and Agriculture Organization’s definition of sustainable diets: “diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations” (FAO, 2012).

This work will first try to map the causes and consequences of Scotland’s unhealthy and unsustainable food behaviours through a literature review, will then explore the opportunities to re-solve this problem, and will finally suggest a possible intervention to it.

Read next part here: Part 2: Background

The entire bibliography is in the last story (Part 6: Conclusion)