04 Dec 2017
Barcelona, Spain
Sustainable Food and Agriculture

“Don’t play with your food” is a common childhood reprimand — but with her food sustainability initiative, Foodisms, that is exactly what Mayya Papaya wants consumers to do: play, question, and learn.

For Mayya, food has always been more than a hobby, sustenance, or something academic to sit back and study. Her Barcelona-based project, Foodisms, challenges individuals to think differently about what they are eating, where that food is sourced, and how much of it is wasted.

These are questions Mayya has been asking for as long as she remembers. Interested in food from a young age, that passion led Mayya — then 15-years-old — to a week-long cooking course in Paris.

A few years later, she was looking at food again, only this time, in the classroom. Studying nutrition at King’s College in London, Mayya says her studies really clicked when she completed her public health and nutrition master’s degree at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “That school helped me see food as a political, social, and economic game — it was a universal pawn that crosses everything in life,” Mayya says.

After her master’s degree and a rocky stint at her first real office job, Mayya says she was shoved out of a conventional job and fell into entrepreneurship. “The food industry is very complex and a lot happens behind closed doors. I realized I wanted to help people open these doors and understand how broken our food system was,” she describes.

So Mayya decided to get her hands dirty and created Foodisms, a project where she could see the results and make important changes.

Educational moments through food and fun:

Simply put, Foodisms are learning opportunities, but not in a traditional classroom sense. They are experiences where people have the freedom and space to explore new ideas, whether that is in their neighborhood, their kitchen, or on a local farm. Another key element? Fun.

“When you’re having fun you’re more open to listening to things, even if they’re not in alignment with what you believe,” Mayya explains. “I personally hate it when people tell me what I’m doing wrong, and I made it core to Foodisms that we never tell people they’re wrong. People’s relationship with food is complex, and calling them out on something pushes them further away.”

Mayya’s first experiential food event happened nowhere near the kitchen or a dining room table. “I was interested in setting up different ways of communicating with people around food,” Mayya begins. What came next was a semi-spontaneous dumpster dive where Mayya and her friends scrounged Barcelona’s garbage dumpsters to inspect the quality of food that was thrown out in order to start a conversation around food waste. Dialogues around that topic have never been so necessary — one-third of the food produced in the world is trashed, the equivalent of 222 million tons. That is nearly the net production of food in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Everyone was shocked by the good condition of the food — and the quantity in the trash,” Mayya says. “We ended up taking everything we had and turned it into a massive vegetarian feast. Nobody left anything untouched. I was so happy to see the impact the experience had on everyone.”

The growth of Foodisms:

Having sparked a conversation, Mayya knew she was onto something. That was 2012, and Mayya founded Foodisms three years later to include various events that include a characteristic amount of thought-provoking conversation and fun.

One is Urban Food Challenge, an interactive treasure hunt that tours people around a neighborhood to meet local sustainable food businesses and initiatives. “Our point is to get people involved in the practical part of sustainability, to understand what it means to be a consumer and what actions we should take to become conscious,” Mayya says.

Foodisms has already hosted successful Urban Food Challenges in Barcelona and London, and Mayya’s next goal is to turn the challenge into a smartphone app so neighborhood wanderers can follow in Foodisms’ footsteps.

In January, Mayya will also host the fifth Feasts on a Farm event, where a trainload of foodies journey 40 minutes out of Barcelona to pick, prepare, and chow down on a fresh harvest feast. The event is deliberately being hosted year-round as a way to have people understand that, while a farm may produce less in the winter, it is still a living, breathing thing.

While Feast on a Farm is exclusive to Barcelona for now, Mayya says she is talking to people in Canada, India, and the United Kingdom to see if they would be interested in hosting their own event. “With globalization, we are no longer just a local community,” she says.

Making sustainable shifts sustainable:

For Mayya, one of the most rewarding parts of Foodisms has been seeing event attendees introduce sustainable food changes into their own lives. “People message me and say they’ve just made their first order from a farm and ask for the recipe of something we cooked during Feasts on a Farm,” she says.

She ultimately envisions Foodisms serving as the meeting point between producers, retailers, and consumers, something which has already begun. For example, Espigoladors, the Barcelona-based social enterprise that was included in the Urban Food Challenge, occasionally collaborates with Aurora del Camp, the Feasts on a Farm location, to reduce food waste by turning surplus crops into social kitchen meals and preserves.

This is the new food cycle: individuals, providers, and producers working in tandem to make slow, sustainable shifts to their treatment of food.

Mayya is the first to admit that a purely sustainable lifestyle cannot happen overnight. “I’m not a 100% sustainable person, but I strive to be through the changes I’m layering. Change is a step-by-step process, and if you introduce it all at once you’re at a higher risk of failing,” she explains.

Everyone will have their own process, but she says the first step is to self-reflect and ask what you could give up in order to be a more conscious consumer. This could be anything — a decision to only buy in-season fruits and vegetables; the choice to buy organic for produce where you’ll eat the skin; the switch to buying eggs from your local farmer’s market. For her latest personal shift, Mayya is in the midst of finding a place to bulk source her grains.

When it comes to connecting consumers with the producers behind their food, experts say Foodisms is onto something. “Educating yourself about the story behind the produce on the supermarket shelf is a first step,” says Dr. Ferne Edwards, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with SHARECITY, a project that considers what we eat a political act. “Food is more than a nutritional fix — it’s also about sharing a meal, bouncing ideas off each other, and […] understanding the effort, time, and value that goes into what we eat every day.”

Regardless of whether someone has participated in a Foodisms event, or just stopped to talk to her on the street, Mayya is trying to switch people’s mindsets from one of “I eat” and “I buy” to more proactive, responsible consumer behavior.

“I think a sustainable consumer is somebody who will do whatever is within their power to make better food choices, taking into account it’s not just them in the equation,” Mayya expands. “We are all part of the food chain and we need to understand what it means to actively be part of that puzzle.”



Website: http://foodisms.co

Facebook: www.facebook.com/foodisms

Instagram: www.instagram.com/foodisms.co

Photos: Courtesy of Samanta of WTF BCN

Story by: Hilary Duff and Kristin Hanes.

Foodisms Organic Food & Agriculture