Briefing

Project Bridging TIME Theory & Practice ESRC (R000222946):
A pilot to a large Europe-wide project that explores processes and barriers involved in translating into practice academic knowledge about pertinent TIME issues in the food system. The aim is to enlist the help of key players in the food system in order to make transparent what at present is an implicit and taken-for-granted dimension of the food system, that is, TIME in its multiple functions, dimensions and uses. Project Leader: Barbara Adam
School of Social Science, Cardiff University,
50 Park Place, Cardiff CF1 3AT
Tel: 01222-875565 FAX 01222-874436
E-mail: Adamtime@Cardiff.AC.UK

FOOD TIMES IN THE MEDIA

Time tends to be taken-for-granted. It is an implicit and unquestioned dimension of our lives. As measure it gives answers to the question 'what is the TIME?' Clock-time however tells us little about the quality of time.
The media are concerned to give answers to the five Ws: who, what, where, when and why. Only the question 'WHEN', however, is concerned with TIME. This 'when' can refer equally to a date or to when we were young, food had taste, the first Kiwi fruits appeared on the superrmarket shelves...

TIME for Food Media - Why Now?
Food is a hot issue. It is both fashionable & scary, fascinating & alarming. Its media re/presentation engenders nostalgic desires & fears.
TIME underpins this ambivalence. It permeates the current contradictions in our approach to food.

  • Safety and quality
  • wholesomeness and taste
  • convenience and cost,
each of these public concerns has an inescapable TIME dimensions which tends to be implicit rather than explicit and taken-for-granted rather than publicly debated.
In the media in general and TV cooking programmes in particular the conflicts over economic and natural TIME are not addressed. The link to quality and safety is not spelled out explicitly. Food TIME is simply not on the public agenda (see Briefing 3 Time Politics of Food).
Yet, TIME is of the essence for making sense of the ambivalences, giving expression to consumer fears and for re/building public confidence in the food we eat and competence in its preparation.

Just-in-TIME & Fast Food
Today's fast food, a-seasonal, just-in-time approach to food has its earliest history in the conquering of food TIME through various forms of preservation and conservation which ranged from burying to drying, smoking and pickling.




These methods made foods available outside their growing season. They thus severed the link between harvesting and consumption and thereby helped to bridge the lean periods in the annual cycle of production.
Industrialisation further advanced this trend through bottling, freezing, the production of concentrates and, during this century, the creation of chemical food substitutes, aids and enhancers, each with its own means of time control and compression.
When time is money then 'ever more in ever faster time spans' becomes the motto for production, 'ever less time spent to achieve the same outcome', the rational goal of food preparation and consumption.
Fast food, however, comes with a price tag attached. There is a substantial difference in taste, wholesomeness and food experience between, for example,
  • mashed potato from a packet and puree prepared from freshly harvested potatoes;
  • the mass-produced, sliced loaf and freshly baked, home-made bread;
  • a micro-waved meal served in a restaurant and a meal where the ingredients have been freshly cooked on the premises;
  • the speedy consumption of food during the lunch-time break at work and a leisurely Sunday dinner.
Everything at all TIMES means jet-setting and jet-lagged foods, counterfeit freshness, reduced taste and wholesomeness, increased hazard potential, a decline in consumer knowledge about seasonal foods and a rise in unease that is difficult to articulate.
There is, however, a deeply embedded public knowledge, expressed in the saying 'We are what we eat'. It acknowledges that our health and well-being are intricately webbed with that of the plants and animals we eat. It recognises that their stress and artificiality does not leave them before they are ingested by us, that it matters, therefore, what happens to them before they get eaten.
Today's popularity of cooking programmes and food magazines is an expression of nostalgia for a PAST when MONEY-TIME was not the uniform taste and primary experience of our daily food (see page 2, Briefing 3 Time Politics of Food).
To close the gap between experience and desire, practicality and nostalgia requires an effort in public re/education about the price and prize of TIME. Food TIME needs to be lifted from the invisible deep structure of economic action and become an issue for public debate.
The media have a crucial role to play in this process of public re/education. Before the media are ready to rise to this challenge, however, their own standard of TIME literacy needs to be raised, its own implicit TIME assumptions need to come under scrutiny. The questioning approach needs to be turned unto the Self.
It is time for the media to put TIME on the agenda.
Index
Cardiff School of Social Sciences