After the first online interviews with students from Seikei University, we had the opportunity to conduct an interview about Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes offline. Due to the relaxed Covid-19 regulations we met outside for a picnic with Akiko. Because only members from a limited number of households were allowed to meet, I divided the class into two groups. Akiko brought vegan obentō, so students could enjoy food while interviewing her.
Akiko runs a catering business that is specialized in vegetarian and vegan food. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, her business was disrupted and she now receives support from the German employment agency to make a living. She offers lunchboxes, cookies and preservable food like miso and kimchi, for example and keeps in touch with her customers via a mailing list and social media. Students were eager to hear why she came to Berlin, how her business went before the pandemic and how she copes with the Covid-19 induced changes. We had interviewed Akiko a year ago and in June 2020 she was grateful for the German Soforthilfe (financial support) and rather optimistic. But the catering business has not recovered yet, since joint business lunches, private parties and gallery openings are impossible.
Students had prepared questions for the interview with Akiko by checking her website and took turns in asking questions. Outdoor interviewing posed some challenges for interview recording and eating, talking and taking notes at the same time was quite difficult. However, doing interviews face to face and eating the food the research participant had prepared offered more opportunities to ask questions students had not thought about before. While online interviews are a great option to overcome the limitations caused by the pandemic, by meeting in real life all participants created a much more relaxed atmosphere without technical problems. Our picnic also provided the first chance to meet for the students who have so far only met in online classes.