This guest blog post is written by Rob Holtom, a narrative coach and writer.
“The story is not about the brand, and it’s not about the broccoli,” says Tom Barritt in a great piece on the importance of storytelling to the local food movement. And he’s right. Stories about logos and vegetables just aren’t as exciting as stories about people, especially real people, facing adversity and taking on challenges in order to triumph. Yes, brands and broccoli are still vital to the movement but here’s a brief piece on how to harness the best of storytelling to bolster the movement.
Character: all great stories need characters and unless you’re going to anthropomorphise fruit and veg then those characters need to be humans. A quick review of the food production line reveals a huge range of characters – the consumer, the seller, the transporter and the farmer – all play a vital role in the local food network and all have their own stories to tell.
Conflict: the story of a woman who wakes up one day with the desire to buy a loaf of bread, who gets out of bed, gets dressed, goes to the shop and buys a loaf is a very boring story. Put some obstacles in there like a lost wallet, a sudden moratorium on bread selling or getting side-lined into a high speed car chase and the story suddenly becomes more interesting. That’s because placing an obstacle between a character’s desire and their ability to get it creates conflict and stories thrive off conflict. And, given that the local food movement is up against a resource hungry, polluting status quo, then there’s going to be a lot of conflict involved. The consumer who wants to support his or her local community but is just too used to shopping at her or his nearby supermarket (that’s a conflict), the seller who needs to create a sustainable business that challenges the mainstream economy (that’s a conflict), the transporter who runs out of petrol on their way to market (yup, another conflict) and the farmer who is strapped for cash but knows organic and local is the way forward (conflict). As Barritt notes a food story loses a vital element when it loses its human characters. If the brand or the broccoli is front-staged at the expense of humans then there’s less for an audience (of humans, not florets of broccoli) to relate to.
I’d care much more about the brand of honey I buy if I knew that I’m supporting a friendly beekeeper in the process rather than a faceless, corporate brand. A further advantage locality has over globalism is the likelihood of a face-to-face meeting – actually getting to know a farmer or a seller can foster an emotional connection which heightens the importance you might give to a certain food product or buying process.
Through these conversations people will be able to get to know one another – at first-hand a consumer will learn of the conflicts a farmer faces as they try and bring their produce to market and, crucially, they’ll be able to find out why they do the things they do, what motivates and inspires them to work in the local food sector. These stories might not contain all the facts about GM or the data on climate change or the geopolitics of consumer capitalism but they’re important stories nevertheless. Farmer and customer might even discover they having something in common and that’s the start of a relationship, even if it revolves around a brief meeting once a week. And relationships build trust and the best of communities are based on trust.
Local Food: The Movement. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows or The Hunger Games but there’s blockbuster action and Hollywood drama to be found in all walks of life. So put your movie sunglasses on, maybe even pop a clapperboard in your hands, and start looking at the world as if it’s full of stories, rife with human drama and intrigue that will excite, entertain and inspire. And this isn’t just about getting fans and followers, it’s about food, really good food, and Good Food Oxford already has that in abundance, so now the taste of the stories need to match.
If you would like to learn more about Rob and his work then please visit his website: https://robertholtom.co.uk/