What can you learn about your city by mapping its food?

I should be the size of a beached whale, but thankfully I’m not, because I Iive across the road from the most amazing modern-take-on-an old-fashioned-grocers store.

The thing that I love most about the Sourced Grocer however is not actually the food – though it’s all very yummy – it’s that the owners, Louis and Jerome, are deeply passionate and infectiously enthusiastic about everything they sell. They know the farmers, they can tell you stories about the growers and they have a connection with every item of seasonal, local and organic food in their store. They care about food and that’s what I love the most.

Today, the hottest day of the year thus far, Carlo Ratti introduced the topic: Edible Geographies, because ‘food deserts’; areas with insufficient access to healthy, diverse and affordable food, can be found in both affluent neighbourhoods and areas of lower socioeconomic status in our cities. We examined the edible geography of Berlin, reflected on how the culture of food defines a place and learned a lot about the neighbourhood around the Lab by mapping it’s food… and I ate two ice-creams during the duration of one workshop!

Nicola Twilley is a freelance writer and the author behind the widely known blog Edible Geography, an investigation into how our food and its making influence the shape of our cities and vice versa. She is a regular contributor to journals and magazines worldwide, including Dwell, Wired UK and Volume among others. In addition to being a frequent lecturer at universities, she is co-founder and co-curator of the Foodprint Project, a “contextual exploration of food and cities, … a look beyond the plate to the spatial, political, cultural and economic forces that shape the way we eat”.

Nicola and Berlin-based artist and urban ecologist Alexandra Regan Toland took us on a food-mapping expedition to identify:

  1. Temporality and trends – we mapped new trends; cupcake stores and bubble tea, lost and forgotten; old restaurant signs and former breweries, atemporal; coffee shops in beauty salons and diurnal fluxs; early morning and late night food
  2. The price is right – we recorded the different prices for beer, bread and coffee
  3. Plates – we asked people what they last ate, where they bought it and where they recommended eating
  4. Edible bingo – we photographed food landmarks of the five major food groups
  5. Smell and city – we mapped where and what we smelt

Our data was limited, as we only had a couple of hours and a heatwave to contend with, but it was clear that where beer is plentiful beer is highly-priced, that coffee prices are higher closer to Metro stations and cheaper closer to tram stations and that neighbourhood boundary lines change the price of almost everything.

What I learnt about the neighbourhood which I’ve called ‘home’ for the last two months, by mapping its food, is that I’ve been buying my morning coffee at the nicest, but most expensive café on the street and that from a food perspective my street is not at all what I thought it looked and tasted like.