What are barriers for you to make time for reading during your regular work day? What distracts you when you are reading? How do you ensure retention after reading a relevant piece? Those where questions we started answering for ourselves during the reading retreat of the foodscapes cluster. Now you may wonder: a reading retreat – what is a reading retreat, why a reading retreat?
Assigned time for reading, to keep up with and get inspired by current debates concerning foodscapes – that is what we envisioned when we conceived the idea for this reading retreat. Frequently, we have papers and/or books on our desk (or in a folder on our computer) we want to read – but don’t – because our days are easily occupied with meetings, urgent to-dos and casual chats with colleagues. While writing retreats are a familiar phenomenon among academics longing for allocated time to write without distractions, we had never heard of a reading retreat. Therefore, the foodscapes cluster decided to organize a reading retreat, to keep up with major works of other academics writing about food and its social, political, environmental and economic meanings, and get new inspiration for our own critical food studies.
For two days (May 2nd and 3rd) we booked a room at the amazing location Landhuis in de Stad in Utrecht. We started both days with barista coffee and a check-in on the struggles concerning reading and how to address those. Anna Roodhof (one of our foodscapes members, as well as co-coordinator of this cluster) shared some very helpful tips and tricks to improve our reading. One tip was for example not to aim for immediate understanding of the text while reading, but to maintain a certain reading flow and merely reflect on the text afterwards. Hereby it is recommended not to make side notes and not to highlight sentences while reading the text for the first time (you can do this afterwards, when you have an overview of the most important arguments). Concerning the issue of time, a tip was to make reading a habit, such as starting every day with one hour of reading (before opening your mailbox!).
After the check-in it was time to read! We used the pomodoro style to dedicate our attention to the readings. This meant 25 minutes reading, a 5 minutes break (to chat, get coffee/tea), followed up by 25 minutes of reading again, etc. Because of the nice weather, many of us went outside to enjoy the sun and singing birds while reading. Around noon the people from Landhuis in de Stad served a delicious lunch for us and we had some time to reflect on our readings.
There was one text we all read and scheduled to discuss on Wednesday. We chose the book chapter ‘“If Only They Knew”: The Unbearable Whiteness of Alternative Food’ (from the book ‘Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability’ by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman, 2011) to discuss issues of (in)justice and (in)equality in foodscapes and in relation to our own research. One issue that for example came up was the delicate inquiry to stay away from patronizing interventions to address access to (healthy, local) food while acknowledging how disadvantaged/vulnerable positions can impact people’s capability to eat healthy and sustainable food.
All in all, it was a very successful reading retreat. We definitely managed to find our flow. A change of scenery, working with the pomodoro method, and having few distractions resulted in a very conducive environment for productive reading. The reading retreat was a welcome reminder of how fun reading can actually be! Having such a positive experience with reading re-energized us to keep it up and actively carve out time for reading. And you, will you start tomorrow with a reading hour?