ASU team taps into expertise of food 'citizen-scientists' as way to engage community in gathering knowledge
Valley newcomer Stacey Kuznetsov recently discovered a rather unconventional way to meet new people: fermented salsa parties.
“All my friends brought whatever ingredients they had in their homes, and we just blended everything and made fermented salsa,” she said.
The idea came from a transdisciplinary research project Kuznetsov, an assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering at Arizona State University, conducted along with grad student Christina Santana and associate professor Elenore Long, both of ASU’s Department of English.
Their findings, which they wrote about in a paper titled “Mindful Persistence: Literacies for Taking up and Sustaining Fermented-Food Projects,” were published this month in Community Literacy Journal.
As the lead researcher for ASU’s Social and Digital Systems (SANDS) Group, Kuznetsov was interested in pursuing a project that looked at the phenomenon of so-called “citizen-scientists” or “DIY-biologists” — people who are not professional scientists but who experiment and gather knowledge based on their personal interests.
“I thought food was a really interesting domain for that,” she said, as nearly everyone can say they have played the role of “citizen-scientist” in the kitchen at least a few times.
“I think it’s a pushback against traditional top-down ways of disseminating scientific information.”
— assistant professor Stacey Kuznetsov
Santana saw Kuznetsov’s budding project as an opportunity to delve deeper into her area of interest in community literacy by engaging local community members in research that relied on their expertise.
“What drew me to Stacey’s project was that, here’s an opportunity to get outside of ASU and … be the bridge and bring people in and create opportunities for people to experience some of the things that only our students get,” said Santana.
Over the course of several months, they spent time recruiting, interviewing and workshopping with members of the local community who regularly engage in experimentation with edible materials.
They met people who make homemade beer, forage for grasses, ferment fruit and vegetables and even one woman who practices human placenta encapsulation as a dietary supplement for new mothers. And they were invited to participate in a group workshop where they would demonstrate and speak about their methods.