Many of the 65,000 visitors to The Big Bang Fair got a taste for network science recently as the Institute of Food Research and travelling arts emporium ME AND ER presented a representation of the global food network.
Together, the scientists and artists put together a representation of the way different ingredients come together during the production of a pizza. The network gave visitors a chance to explore the complexity of food networks, and how tis impacts on global food security.
“Using the basic recipe for a pizza we built a 3D network showing the journeys of a number of ingredients,” said Doo Spalding, who with Alison Atkins make up ME AND ER. “The public were asked to become our suppliers and in doing so, were asked to complete a passport for their chosen ingredient. Once the passport was completed, checked and stamped, if, and only if they reached the necessary high standards we required, their passport was added to the network.”
This presented many opportunities to think about the food supply network, not least what happens when things enter it that aren’t supposed to be there. This was represented by “Mr Ecoli”, whose appearance would cause the whole network to be shut down. “Network Security”, in their orange boiler suits, represented the constant vigilance needed to monitor and maintain the safety of the network, and ultimately the food we eat.
IFR’s scientists were on hand to carry on conversations about networks, including physical networks like the transport system, and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. “My favourite quote was from a parent talking to their son about the multitude of nationalities at the Fair – they described London as being like a pizza of languages” said Prof. József Baranyi.
A number of teachers were interested in exploring ways in which the same issues could be brought into the classroom. “Learning outcomes were wide and vast,” commented Doo. “Conversations included the ongoing discussions about horse meat, salmonella, and of course our baddy, E.Coli, where pineapples come from, the shape of a tuna, where is Rotterdam, and the most regular – “I never thought about a pizza like that!”
“Presenting network science using an evolving piece of art was a gamble that paid off,” said Dee Rawsthorne, outreach coordinator at IFR. “Would it appeal to a wide age range, would they engage, would they get it? Yes, yes and yes!”
“We connected on so many levels with so many people and hopefully everyone went away with something to think about when looking at the food on their plate, not just where it came from but how it got there. Next time there is a food poisoning outbreak then just maybe the people we spoke to will understand why it is so difficult to track the origin. We also hope it might trigger a few conversations at meal times!”