The OKFestival, which is bound to be a success, with its 800 tickets per day sold out, opened last weekend with a tasty “satellite event”, the Open Data Cooking Workshop. An idea of Pixelache and Berlin Prozessagenten, the workshop has drawn together a varied bunch of people: we were asked to bring a favourite, meaningful ingredient, with some cultural or affective importance.
And to choose a field of open data interest, among the many options collected by our open data magician, Miska Knapek: from environmental data, such as the levels of radioactivity still present in Finland after Chernobyl (1986), to energy consumption; crime statistics, social housing, elections and so on, from the 15 topics of the Statistical Yearbook of Helsinki 2011, and many more. Mostly local data, from Helsinki and its region, but also from Finland at large, with wide possibilities to put them in comparison and/or in contrast with similar/different situations in the world. Something Moritz Stefaner (one of our hosts, with Susanne Jaschko) considers the main point: find out something unexpected from the initial hypothesis. Something which makes us reflect about aspects of reality we didn´t know or considered much less crucial.
What does this all to do with food culture? The local approach is one of the keys. What is the relation between what we eat and our habitat, food and society? Here some reference projects.
All this was yet even more about visualizing data with food: exploiting the coulours, textures, temperatures and so on to refer to sets of data, ranging from suicide rates in Finland to the quantity of city rabbits populating green areas in the centre of Helsinki.
The brainstorming continued during the lunch pause, which saw us sit around an old wooden table, with a countryside touch: making concrete the ideas of togetherness and “open collaborative society in a global village” of which spoke Miska during the introduction. The global village was well represented, with people from Russia, U.S.A., Hungary, Italy, France, Greek, Denmark, Finland… hope not to forget anybody!
After lunch we continued in a playful way, we were asked to draw lots from a bunch of subjects and ingredients and put them in connection to get more ideas about the project to realize.
Here we got fundamental help from Antti Nurkka, our culinary expert, and Miska and Moritz, in quality of data wranglers. It was fun to learn something about both subjects, cuisine and data! Quite a surprise to discover, beyond the classical four basic tastes (sweet, sour, acid and salt), a fifth one, umami, the new magic word of nowadays cuisine (actually about one century old but coming known at large much more recently).
Looking for a sense through the hazardous, sometimes pretty absurd combinations we got, was quite a compositional game (not far from an artist´s path during the realization of a project): this mostly drew us to consider totally different subjects from what we initially were interested in. From the nuclear pollution start idea, I began to work about deindustrialization in certain areas of Finland, where the closure of traditional factories, such as the paper productions, has caused large unemployment, with subsequent empoverishment and possible rise of crime rates and sense of insecurity. And it didn´t end here: I was asked to consider also the number of saunas! Quite impredictable data, I bet they are countless and most of the owners wouldn´t be keen to reveal their locations (a quite private and “sacred” affair for a Finn).
This made me think about the possible diminution in energy consumption in these areas: while having dramatic consequences when it happens, deindustrialization may also be an opportunity to reconsider the virtually endless productivity growth we live in. Making us remember that limits exist, enhance us to take more individual responsability on our environmental impact (from having less learning to need less, consume less and so on).