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StreetSauce: Taste Interaction and Empathy with Homeless People

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Food is an attractive communication tool, which can draw public attention to various social issues. In our project we try to explore such an issue over taste interactions and empathy inscribed in food. We have designed 'StreetSauce', an interactive service with edible interface that conveys public engagement in the problem of female homelessness. Within this paper, we present preliminary results of our research related to the StreetSauce project. The data sampled so far come from interviews, participant observation at design probes, and online questionnaire. We aim to examine the applicability of food and human-computer interaction (HCI) convergence for the support of social engagement.
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StreetSauce: Taste Interaction and
Empathy with Homeless People
Abstract
Food is an attractive communication tool, which can draw
public attention to various social issues. In our project we try
to explore such an issue over taste interactions and empathy
inscribed in food. We have designed 'StreetSauce', an
interactive service with edible interface that conveys public
engagement in the problem of female homelessness. Within
this paper, we present preliminary results of our research
related to the StreetSauce project. The data sampled so far
come from interviews, participant observation at design
probes, and online questionnaire. We aim to examine the
applicability of food and human-computer interaction (HCI)
convergence for the support of social engagement.
Author Keywords
food; eating; interaction design; HCI; HCI4D; data cuisine;
edible interfaces; social engagement; female homelessness
ACM Classification Keywords
H.5.m. Information interfaces and presentation (HCI):
Miscellaneous
Markéta Dolejšová
Communication and New Media Department
National University of Singapore
Blk AS6, #03-41
11 Computing Drive
Singapore 117416
marketa@u.nus.edu
Tereza Lišková
New Media Studies
Institute of Information Studies and Librarianship
Charles University in Prague
U Kříže 8, Praha-Jinonice
Czech Republic 158 00
tereza.liskova@hotkarot.cz
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CHI'15 Extended Abstracts, Apr 18-23, 2015, Seoul, Republic of
Korea. ACM 978-1-4503-3146-3/15/04.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2702613.2732777
Introduction
StreetSauce1 is a collaborative project between a food
design collective HotKarot, and a non-profit
organization Homelike, which focuses on the social
support of homeless women. In summer 2013,
Homelike published their idea to establish a street-food
bistro that would be operated by female homeless
chefs. The HotKarot group joined Homelike in this effort
and brought in a new food design perspective.
At that point, the StreetSauce project, featuring a
menu made of carrot hotdog and data-based sauces
created out of the life stories of homeless chefs, was
born. The technologically mediated sauces that
visualize those stories in an edible form are created
through a software that runs a network text analysis.
StreetSauce data “visualizations” thus create a type of
an edible HCI platform designed to support public
engagement in the issue of female homelessness.
HotKarot & OpenSauce
We started the HotKarot & OpenSauce2 project in 2011,
led by the desire to create new forms of jovial
interaction in the streets of the city of Prague (CZ).
Inspired by the dissident culture forms of resistance
[8], but also by Fluxus and Dada, we aimed to revive
the rather dull and sleepy public space of our
hometown. We have noticed that locals often interact
around the street-food stalls. Naturally, food has
always been a communication trigger that makes
people come together and talk. However, within the
1 http://www.streetsauce.cz
2 http://www.hotkarot.cz
busy streets of the city, it was necessary to improve
the attractiveness of the street-food as a
communication trigger. Hence we have created the first
prototype of HotKarot & OpenSauce: a vegan carrot hot
dog served with open source data-based sauces (see
Table 1).
HotKarot & OpenSauce as a techno-emotional food design
conveys a new kind of edible online-offline interaction.
People can create their own recipes in the online
cookbook3 and then taste and discuss their (or someone
else's) sauces at the street stall. The idea of the project is
to utilize food to communicate playful, but also valuable
and meaningful messages. Along with the StreetSauce
project, this idea began to get clearer contours.
StreetSauce
StreetSauce is the latest chapter of the OpenSauce
cookbook. This edition of sauces is made out of the life
stories of female homeless chefs, which we have
collected through the initial interviews. We asked each
of the chefs what their likes and dislikes were, how
they became homeless, where they live etc. Those
narratives were then turned into sauce recipes (see
Figure 1). With each StreetSauce served, each woman
offers a chance to taste her life. Each woman has a
different sauce. Each sauce is based on a different
story. Each story has a different flavor (see example in
Table 2). Taste is one of the closest and most “visceral”
human senses and the sensory stimulation by food is
3 http://www.opensauce.cz
Table 1: OpenSauce
OpenSauce is an interactive
cookbook. Each ingredient in the
cookbook is inscribed with a
unique color, each color has its
unique RGB number (e.g. tomato
= red = #f05c2b).
The story-based recipes are
generated via a network text
analysis that extracts a given
number of keywords from the
source text. The keywords are
visualised in a network graph,
which is then mapped onto a
color spectrum wheel. Each node
of the graph is thus defined by
unique color, and then translated
into a OpenSauce ingredient.
There is no semantic connection
between the generated keywords
and the names of the generated
ingredients. The whole process is
purposely arbitrary.
thus likely to enhance social bonds between the parties
involved in communication [10].
The sauce serves as a personalized storytelling
medium; however, it allows the face-to-face interaction
to be less direct at the same time. Each sauce works as
a more neutral representation of the message it carries.
It should make it more convenient for the chef to share
her life story with the public, who would find the story
easier to “digest”. The concept of StreetSauce develops
on the idea of arbitrary data-based cuisine, as there is
no semantic connection between the keywords and the
generated sauce ingredients. Food in general serves as
a familiar tool that is likely to convey social bonding. In
the case of StreetSauce the bonding is supposed to
occur among strangers, over a spectacular food with
unusual taste. Every food could carry different
meanings based on its color, texture, smell, and taste
[10]. The uncertain and random nature of computer
generated recipes that do not follow any existing
culinary recommendations (and let the source code to
“be the chef” instead) then symbolizes the uncertainty
and randomness of homeless life. The StreetSauce thus
conveys an empathy with unfamiliar subject (homeless
woman) over unusual taste of extravagant, yet
inexpensive and accessible food.
All the sauce recipes that are served at the bistro are
printed out on posters that contain both the
ingredients of the recipe and the story that was used as
a baseline. The visitors thus have a chance to
familiarize themselves with it even before they
approach the ordering counter. At the bistro, the
recipes are also accessible via StreetSauce website.
Visitors can browse through the existing recipes, but
also add their own ones and share their personal
stories in exchange.
Figure 1: StreetSauce recipe creation - the random nature of
computer generated recipes symbolizes the randomness of
homeless life.
Context: Food and HCI
The technological spectacularity behind the StreetSauce
is supposed to attract the attention of public audience
that might otherwise not be interested in the issue of
homelessness (e.g. foodies, geeks, hipsters). This new
audience, together with the visitors who are already
involved in the discussed issue, would then create new
fresh ideas and look at the issue from new perspective.
StreetSauce thus embodies a kind of edible HCI design
that works with food rather than for food. While many
existing food-oriented HCI platforms focus on the
improvement of food agenda and promotion of ethical
consumption [2, 4, 7] StreetSauce utilizes food as a
communication tool per se. While this strategy has
already been investigated by HCI scholars as well [1, 5,
10], the utilization of food as a medium to
communicate sensitive social issues has yet not been
widely researched. The aim of StreetSauce is to fill this
Table 2: Eva Sauce
Sauce made from the life story of
StreetSauce chef Eva.
Story's excerpt:
“My name is Eva and I’m from
North Bohemia. I left North
Bohemia because there were no
jobs. My boyfriend died and I
needed to get out of there...” (full
story: opensauce.cz/sauce/eva)
Keywords / Ingredients:
The network text analysis
algorithm extracts single text
units (words) from Eva's life
story. The extraction is based on
words’ mutual proximity (we work
with word doublets). The words
are mapped into a graph and the
process then continues in the
same manner as with other
OpenSauces (see Table 1).
Eva sa uce re c i pe:
gap and investigate the effectiveness of “food design
for social good”, or, in other words, the position of food
design within the field of HCI4D (Human Computer
Interaction for Development).
Context: Female homelessness
Homelessness is an extreme form of social exclusion
that falls out from the metabolism of the social
ecosystem. Homeless people are largely neglected both
by the major society and governing bodies. They are
not of a great interest to politicians, nor to the
'philanthropic care' of business corporations and
celebrities [9]. As such, they are usually not able to
effectively articulate and promote their interests and
needs.
Female homelessness represents a specific case and is
sometimes referred to as “hidden homelessness” [6].
The term refers to the fact that many homeless women
are not rough sleepers, i.e. they do not sleep directly
on the street without a shelter of any kind [3]. More
often, they have a temporary place to stay overnight,
such as an asylum house or a friend's sofa, or they
would deliberately stay in an abusive relationship to
retain a place to live in.
With the StreetSauce visualization, we aim to make this
hidden social issue more visible for the general public.
The study conducted by Homelike [6] suggests that the
re-socialization of homeless women should be done
through their involvement in collective leisure activities
and volunteering. As the report states: “Those women
are often open for collaboration and sharing. The
collaborative activities should include common tasks
that are familiar to them and that allow them to
express their creativity.”
The StreetSauce design follows this suggestion, while
featuring a platform where the women cook together
and share their stories. They are also invited to be
creative and make new iterations of their own story-
based recipes. Thereby, they can experiment with the
flavors, and also organize their own thoughts about
their life.
Methodology
The StreetSauce research is led by following question:
How can food-HCI design support public engagement in
sensitive social issues?
To find the answer, we began with our research that
has so far consisted of qualitative interviews with 3
partaking female chefs, participant observation at the
single StreetSauce events (carried out as design
probes) and an online questionnaire sent to the visitors
of our bistro. To date, we have conducted 9 design
probes, 8 in Prague (CZ) and 1 in Bratislava (SK). The
settings of the probes ranged from the city street, to
the pop-up design market, street-food festival and a
gallery exhibition.
Figure 2: chef Eva serving her sauce
Figure 3: carrot hotdog with
StreetSauce
Research carried out and findings so far
Interviews
All the interviewed women, Helča, Zuzka and Eva,
mentioned that communication with the public is much
easier for them when they can offer food. As Helča
stated, food is a “simple and common topic for
everyone”.
Judging by the chefs' answers, the extravagance of the
technologically mediated food was found to have raised
the curiosity of the general public. Zuzka claimed that
people often ask about the idea behind the StreetSauce
and they also want to try out the online app, which is
accessible over the laptop located at the bistro. Eva
said that the unusual ingredients of her sauce raised
many questions: “People are curious about the flavor,
and if they find out that the recipe is made out of my
life, they usually become very interested.” Eva also
mentioned that she feels "empowered" when she can
present the idea behind her sauce. Zuzka said that
some visitors who tasted her sauce started to share
their perception of its flavor and asked, if her life really
was like that. A few visitors even started to share their
own stories with her.
Participant observation
Our observation at the design probes was focused
mainly on the interaction between the visitors and the
chefs. Most of the visitors ordered the food first and
only after that did they start to interact with the
environment. The food thus seemed to be a good
attention trigger, as the visitors usually stayed until
they finished eating, which gave them enough time to
talk and interact with the chefs. Many visitors were
willing to browse through the app opened at the laptop;
however, only a few of them added their own recipe
and shared their story. The majority took a sticker with
the url, and promised to do that at home (from the site
traffic, we can assume that some of them really did).
Almost all the visitors also took a leaflet with
information about the Homelike organization.
Questionnaire
The online questionnaire consisted of 14 questions and
was sent out through our social media and mailing lists.
So far, we have gathered 32 responses but we are still
receiving new ones. The majority of the respondents
stated they did become familiar with the story of the
woman from whom they ordered the food; however,
only 12 of them discussed the sauce flavor directly with
her. Most of the respondents only looked it up on the
posters or at the website. The main reason was their
“lack of courage” to begin the live conversation. This
suggests that the StreetSauce design is likely to
prompt an initial interaction; however, it would need a
longer time to really distort the existing social barriers.
28 respondents said that they were only marginally
familiar with the issue of female homelessness when
they first came to the bistro, and the visit had
somehow elevated their knowledge. Many respondents
were surprised at how “casual” the homeless chefs look
and how capable they are in running a bistro.
Figure 4: StreetSauce bistro in
Prague
A critical perspective and future research
The data we have sampled so far show that food as an
interaction design tool has a potential to attract
attention. The familiarity of food makes the design
comprehensible, while the spectacularity of the
technological element makes it attractive for a broader
audience.
The StreetSauce as a food-HCI design has proven to be
a useful tool for the communication of a sensitive social
issue, as it involves public in empathetic engagement
and encourages a face-to-face experience with the
issue. However, this engagement would need to be
further nurtured to cause a deeper long-term
involvement. The lack of follow-up activities is still a
considerable limitation of the StreetSauce concept and
we hope to develop new collaborations with relevant
social initiatives, which would be able to build on the
initial public interest that we have managed to
establish. For further research by other HCI designers,
we recommend to test the usability of food-HCI
interfaces in the context of other social issues and
geographical settings.
References
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Contribution to the CHI
community
The research we have carried out
so far shows the potential
usability of food-HCI interfaces in
drawing public interest and
sentiment not only to food and
issues of food agenda, but also to
other social problems. The
StreetSauce project broadens the
discursive field of HCI or HCI4D
practice.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the
Homelike organization that helped
us with the administration of the
research. We also thank all the
StreetSauce chefs that were willing
to share their opinions and
experiences with us.
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Akční umění. Votobia
  • P Morganová
Morganová, P. Akční umění. Votobia, 1999.
Bezdomovci zasluhují naši pozornost Food messaging
  • M Stanoev
  • J Wei
  • X Ma
  • S Zhao
Stanoev, M. Bezdomovci zasluhují naši pozornost. In A2larm, 2014. [10] Wei, J., Ma, X., & Zhao, S. (2014). Food messaging. 2873-2882.
Zpátky ze dna: Zaostřeno na ženy
  • R Hetmánková
Hetmánková, R. Zpátky ze dna: Zaostřeno na ženy. Jako doma, Praha, 2013.
HCI for City Farms: Design Challenges and Opportunities Bezdomovci zasluhují naši pozornost Food messaging
  • P Lyle
  • J H Choi
  • M Foth
Lyle, P., Choi, J. H.-j., Foth, M. HCI for City Farms: Design Challenges and Opportunities. In HCI– INTERACT 2013, Springer (2013), 109-116. [8] Morganová, P. Akční umění. Votobia, 1999. [9] Stanoev, M. Bezdomovci zasluhují naši pozornost. In A2larm, 2014. [10] Wei, J., Ma, X., & Zhao, S. (2014). Food messaging. 2873-2882.