In this series, we're sitting down with the Swette Center-affiliated faculty to catch up on food systems, innovation, and what makes a good meal. See the rest of the series on our Food Systems Profiles page.
Read on for an interview with Isaac Joslin, Senior Global Futures Scholar and Assistant Professor of French in the School of International Letters and Culture.
1) How did you get interested in food systems issues?
I came to food systems through ecology. I'm primarily a humanist and a literature scholar, and my research focuses mainly on ecocriticism and indigenous cultural systems, so through that research, I began developing ideas about sustainable food systems as they relate to indigenous communities whose existence is firmly embedded within the environment. My training is in French and postcolonial theory. The ecological component of my research came about as I read texts and films by African authors and filmmakers. Their work has a common underlying theme: an understanding of two different kinds of relationships to the environment, one being colonialist and capitalist and exploitative, and the other being embedded and in symbiosis with the human and the non-human planetary cultural system.
2) Share a glimpse of your current research and how it applies to food systems transformation.
I just published a book out of Ohio University Press called Afrofuturisms, in which I have one chapter that focuses almost entirely on ecology. The idea that our world is finite and our activities have an impact on it is an underlying thread of my book. I am currently working on several contributions for edited volumes on ecocriticism. I'm investigating questions of religion or, more broadly speaking, community practices that give meaning to activities. So whether it's religion, spirituality, or customs rituals, how are these community practices inherently connected to ecology? I'm interested in questions of looking at animism as a religious practice and how that changes the human perspective. When looking at a tree, for example, and seeing that it is a sensitive life form rather than some raw material that can be repurposed, it's a more respectful relational understanding of the environment. Having a more developed relationship with our food can have psychological benefits. In the work that I'm doing, I frame it in spiritual terms as emotional well-being or mental health. An essential part of managing sustainable food systems is understanding that this food system is something that, if you invest in, will give returns on that investment. Awareness of where food comes from and being able to envision it from seed to food on the table is crucial to creating community alongside sustainable food production.
3) What's an innovation in the food systems world that you're excited about?
What I find most exciting is when I hear about local community projects that are developing independent and sustainable food systems because when I think again about my research on indigenous cultures, food systems are usually one of the top priorities for the community to make sure they have a sustainable source of nourishment for the present and the immediate future, and perhaps even the long term future. So, when I look at global society, our priorities often differ in that manufacturing or GDP are primary indications of societal well-being and the question of food systems drops. I'm excited to see, for example, the work that you're doing at the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems. That's a piece of the project, but I guess, more generally speaking, I like to see when small-scale food production can be done on a sustainable level.
4) What's your favorite weeknight meal?
Having now lived in Arizona for a number of years, tacos and burritos of assorted varieties have become the default just because they’re such simple products. I don't pretend to be authentic in my constructions, but you can literally put anything in a tortilla! I like to consider where the foods are coming from, but yeah, tacos and burritos are definitely a staple in our home.