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The purpose of this guide is to provide a framework for participating in cultural exchange. For the purposes of this framework, “cultural exchange” refers to the sharing of ideas, knowledge, customs and traditions between individuals or groups of people who come from different cultural backgrounds. Oftentimes, particularly in the Slow Food context, cultural exchange happens fruitfully during the sharing of a meal. But the table isn’t the only platform for this transformative act: when we travel to places we haven’t been, when we move beyond small talk with a neighbor, or when we approach creators and crafters with genuine curiosity, we are embracing cultural exchange and forming new bonds with our fellow humans.

Artwork by Suryadi Suryadi


The framework will be structured with three sections: knowledge, awareness, and skills. Knowledge will discuss what cultural exchange is and how it relates to the Slow Food movement; awareness will address why it is important to engage in cultural exchange, and skills will explore how we can apply cultural exchange to our work. At the end of this document, we will also provide a working list of tools and resources including case studies, a living language guide, and active listening exercises.  

This is a collaborative and working document that will be updated periodically with resources as they become available. The first iteration of this document went through a review process internally with the Slow Food Creative Collective and externally with our partner, Food Systems Leadership Network, and additional input from Food Culture Collective

While this framework started as a tool to support the art of storytelling, the awareness, knowledge, skills and tools presented here can be applied to a number of relationship-rooted acts. It is our intention to continue building upon this work, creating additional versions for other Roles in a Social Change Ecosystem.

Calls to Action

Each section of this guide is peppered with calls to action. The first is to slow down, to give ourselves the space to reflect on social identity and intercultural interactions. The second, and maybe more obvious, is to utilize the tools, resources and questions provided in your own storytelling and relationship building processes. The third, though not final, is to continue building on and adding to this living, evolving framework.

At its core, this framework is meant to serve as a tool for helping us actively challenge white supremacy culture.

How Change Happens

Hopefully you are reading this because you want to change something: change the way you build relationships, change how your community is talked about, change your organization’s approach to storytelling. It is important to remember that there are three critical levels at which change can be worked toward and realized: micro (personal/interpersonal), mezzo (groups, organizations and communities) and macro (systems, states, countries etc. – for more information, check out our Slow Food Live on social permaculture with Adam Brock and Abrah Dresdale). Cultivating awareness, knowledge and skills around the dynamics of power, harm and solidarity and our experiences within them is a critical first step. This framework for cultural exchange aims to present ways we can change how storytelling is used as a tool for shaping lives, culture, society and history for the better.


Building Cultural Capacity

Cultural exchange is a journey, not a destination. We do not simply arrive at a place of cultural exchange, but rather, we continuously devote ourselves to its practice. In fact, the principles of cultural exchange are often themselves what help us move along the continuum of cultural capacity (from eCALD) with curiosity and compassion. Let’s explore some points along the journey to building cultural capacity.

Cultural destructiveness

Genocide or ethnocide; exclusion laws; cultural / racial oppression; forced assimilation.

Cultural incapacity

Disproportionate allocation of resources to certain groups; lowered expectations; discriminatory practices, unchallenged stereotypical beliefs.

Cultural blindness

Discomfort in noting difference; beliefs / actions that assume the world is fair and achievement is based on merit; we treat everyone the same: this approach ignores cultural strengths.

Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation tends to take place when we are operating from a place of cultural incapacity or blindness and is usually among the prolonged effects of cultural destruction such as genocide or racial oppression. “Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture… it refers to taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, and religious symbols.” (Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Exchange – What’s the Difference? Uddeshya Delhi)

Cultural pre-competence

Practitioners are sensitive to issues affecting people of the global majority but these are not an identified priority.

Cultural competence

Advocacy: on-going education of self and others; support, modeling, and risk-taking behaviors; a vision that reflects multiculturalism.

Cultural proficiency

Interdependence; personal change and transformation; alliance for groups other than one’s own; follow-through social responsibility to fight social discrimination and advocate for social diversity.

Cultural exchange

Cultural exchange comes to life when we step into a place of cultural competence; it can also be the very process that helps us move closer to our own cultural proficiency. 

“Cultural exchange implies a mutual and beneficial sharing of cultures and beliefs. It is viewed as inevitable and contributing to diversity and free expression. It is seen as something which is usually done out of admiration of the cultures being imitated, with no intent to harm them.” (Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Exchange – What’s the Difference? Uddeshya Delhi)

Principles of Cultural Exchange

Listed below (in no particular order) are some of the principles of cultural exchange and how they relate to the practices of storytelling and relationship-building. These principles are community guidelines for entering into any challenging or cross-cultural conversation where social identities are salient or topics are particularly complex.  We hope you identify your own and add to this list as you move through your own processes of telling stories and building relationships. Exploring cultural exchange requires us to:

  • Aspire to deep empathy and prioritize practicing empathy in every interaction.
  • Seek consent early on and frequently throughout your relationship-building. Set boundaries collectively and individually.
  • Embody vulnerability. Create space for your own vulnerability so others can feel comfortable being vulnerable, too. 
  • Embrace curiosity. “We are really only one question away from being connected; from learning about one another’s journey. And that one question only comes about when we are willing to be open to hearing another truth outside our own.” –Lee Mun Wah
  • Be teachable by continuously checking in with yourself, your team and your counterparts and by being open to feedback and new ideas.
  • Center compassion. Exercising empathy, listening actively, and remaining present with the impacts of our intentions are just a few ways we can be compassionate in a process of cultural exchange.
  • Make room for accountability by being willing to admit to mistakes, by unpacking and addressing harm, and by course-correcting whenever necessary.
  • Discern intent from impact. Aim for positive alignment between the two and be present with the actual outcomes of what you hope to achieve.
  • Practice cultural humility. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines cultural humility as “a lifelong process of self-reflection and self-critique whereby the individual not only learns about another’s culture, but one starts with an examination of her/his own beliefs and cultural identities.” Learn more here.
  • Dare to be bold in challenging biases and stereotypes and in leveraging your privilege to shake up the status quo.


The Power of Storytelling 

Storytelling is a powerful tool. It is considered the oldest form of teaching. From ancient oral traditions and the earliest written words to  modern visual and performing arts of today, stories have served as carriers of culture and vessels for visions of the future. The tool of storytelling is one that can be yielded to create, to destroy, to change, and to transform. Though history is said to be written by the victors, there are plenty of efforts today working to center equity, inclusion and justice in the storytelling space. The movement for ethical storytelling is one that allows us to explore that which is often ignored or suppressed by mainstream media.

In a fast-paced world, we are rarely given the tools to identify the systems at work, much less the opportunity to examine the forces responsible for silencing and erasing the stories of peoples past and present. The culture of white supremacy in which we find ourselves frequently leads us to over-analyze and get defensive when presented with critical feedback or an opportunity to reframe. It is easy to fixate on words alone — to focus on what is being said and what our intentions are in sharing. What is more difficult and requires more time and energy is reflection on the process itself and staying present with the impacts of our communication(s). Working to center cultural exchange gives us the space and tools to study this process in an effort to help us build deep and lasting relationships, mitigate harm, uplift the voices of our communities and know when to pass the mic.

Power, Harm, Necessity & Solidarity

There are four key considerations one must take into account when stepping into an experience of Cultural Exchange: power, harm, necessity and solidarity.

Everyone has power! Though within a system set up to favor an elite few, realized power is another story. There are four primary “expressions of power.” 

  • Power over is how power is most commonly understood. This type of power is built on force, coercion, domination and control, and motivates largely through fear” 
  • “Power with is shared power that grows out of collaboration and relationships. It is built on respect, mutual support, shared power, solidarity, influence, empowerment and collaborative decision making”
  • “Power to refers to the ‘productive or generative potential of power and the new possibilities or actions that can be created without using relationships of domination’”
  • “Power within is related to a person’s ‘sense of self-worth and self-knowledge; it includes an ability to recognize individual differences while respecting others.’” (“4 Types of Power: What Are Power over; Power with; Power to and Power within?” via Sustaining Community adapted from A New Weave of Power, People & Politics)

A process of cultural exchange requires us to examine how power might be showing up in the relationships we build and how those power dynamics might inform our processes and shape the stories we tell.

Another important piece, and perhaps the most complex, is harm. We tend to perceive harm in the physical sense, but there are myriad ways that harm can be enacted unto others. Harm can happen between people. Harm can be perpetuated against a group of people by a system. Harm can happen once or be recurring. The effects of harm can linger for a lifetime and be passed on intergenerationally. For the purposes of cultural exchange, some questions we can ask ourselves are: What harm has been done to whom by whom, interpersonally, systemically, historically and otherwise? How can we mitigate harm in the present and in moving forward? Can we work to understand that unpacking and continuing to mitigate harm will be an ongoing process that requires careful attention and energy? Becoming aware of how harm shows up in our relationships is the first step to becoming actionable in minimizing harm (because it will happen) and remaining accountable to each other and to learning along the way (when it does happen).

When we begin to move away from harm, we can step into a place of care. How can your experiences in cultural exchange affirm a person’s agency? How can creating space for people to share their lived experiences, their histories, their joys and sorrows power up our communities? How can you hold space with care and compassion for a storyteller and do so in a trauma-informed way? Rooting your story facilitation work in care can help ease harm and trauma, affirm a person’s agency and power, and help a person feel witnessed and seen.

It is crucial to evaluate necessity. It has become commonplace for corporations and organizations to make public statements on current events—especially the particularly impactful ones. At their best, these declarations demonstrate accountability by admitting to their part in the problem and by outlining concrete actions these groups have already taken or will take in the immediate future. At their worst, these announcements are purely performative and lack any substantial awareness and knowledge of the issues at hand. The latter, more unfortunate of the two circumstances, queues up some challenging questions: which current events are demanding our time (locally, globally or otherwise), what stories NEED to be told and by whom? How can we  steer clear of appropriation—or telling stories that are not ours to tell? To which stories, perspectives and issues are we giving concern and recognition? In the instances when remaining silent is not an option, investing in cultural exchange and relying on our relationships is one way we can shift the spotlight more directly onto the issues that affect humanity.

Let us briefly revisit intent and impact. If the intention of embarking on a journey of cultural exchange is to build reciprocal relationships, then the cultivation of solidarity is the ideal outcome. Professor Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández says there are three critical aspects of solidarity:

  • Solidarity is always about relationships. We cannot be in solidarity alone. Who are we in solidarity with and what defines that relationship?
  • Solidarity always requires us to be intentional about our commitments. What is the aim of our solidarity and where do those commitments come from?
  • Solidarity requires actions that also change us, perhaps even a sacrifice. What am I willing to do and give up in order to ensure the well-being of others, whether they are like or unlike me?

Cultural exchange itself is an act(ion) of solidarity and in turn, solidarity is embodied within an active practice of cultural exchange. Storytellers need to contemplate what it means to show solidarity today… How can we be creative, intentional and strategic in showing solidarity? What are culturally appropriate and sensitive ways to show solidarity? Can we get really good at identifying when we feel, personally or organizationally, called to be in solidarity?

“Solidarity is part of the struggles and stories of freedom, resistance, joy, and power…”  -Solidarity Stories


Key Questions for A Story Creation Process

There can be many kinds of collaborators in the process of story creation. The two we focus on in this guide are storytellers–those with stories to share–and story facilitators–those who assist storytellers in the sharing of their stories in a number of different ways. For further exploration, check out our Leadership Summit session on centering relationships in storytelling and community interactions

    Is this my story to tell?
    • If not, what’s a better way to facilitate the telling of this story? Who can I bring into this project to better foster cultural exchange? Do I need to step back from this story altogether?
    • If yes, who is the audience for this story? How can I share a compelling story that inspires the audience to experience empathy and take action toward food justice and racial equity? (See page 3 of this guide for more ideas on thoughtfully engaging your audience)
    What might be present during the story creation process, in addition to the content itself?
    • How might unconscious or conscious biases impact the story? How might lived experiences invigorate this story?
    • How is power showing up in this interaction?
    • How might white supremacy culture show up in the story creation process or in the content of the story itself?
    • How can we be trauma-informed in approaching story creation? How can we work toward a process that centers care and compassion?
    How are we rooting story creation work in exchange, rather than extraction?
    • How are we rooting story creation work in exchange, rather than extraction? What are we offering to each other throughout this experience that is beneficial to all involved? 
    • Where can our relationship go after the story is published? How will we intentionally maintain a connection to each other and our communities?
      • In what ways might collective experiences in story creation change our perceptions, beliefs, motivations and ideas about the world? Are we open to that change right now?

      If someone in the story creation process is racialized as white and connecting with someone who identifies as Black, Indigenous, and/or a Person of Color
      • What are the types of privilege I hold? How might my privilege affect or show up in this new relationship? How can I deepen this awareness and be accountable to leveraging my privilege and power to create an equitable exchange? 
      • How can I lessen harm, appropriation and work to bring a lens of decolonization in my interactions with the storyteller? How can I be aware of and work to lessen those impacts in the final product?
      • How might I use / leverage my white privilege to uplift / power up others through storytelling? 


          1. Gathering story ideas

          Get to know your community. Consider creating a foodways asset map for your city or region. Starting with your own connections, start to diagram organizations, producers, and other members of your local food community. Lean into your relationships across your regional foodways. Who do you know who may like to tell a story with you? Who do you know who may like to share their story with a new audience, or who has a story that could be told in a new or different way? Who do they know who has a story to share? How can those involved use this opportunity to challenge biases or stereotypes? Eventually, this foodways asset map can serve as a resource to revisit, update and use as a source for story pitches.

          2. Outreach to your storyteller

          Create time and space to reach out to the person whose story you want to help facilitate. Here are some things to think about in your first several interactions with them. 

          • Describe who you are and what your connection is to who they are and their work (share your pronouns and where you live and contact info)
          • Share that you are interested in learning more about them and what they do, and perhaps turn that into a story of a mutually agreed upon platform
          • Explain how and where the story will be featured 
          • Clarify that the storyteller will be able to review drafts of the story and has the ultimate power to accept and reject any components or edits to the story 
          • Note that, in digital mediums, the story can be edited later and that you can reach out to you or someone else in your team to make a change later on 
          • Outline your availability for follow up questions and conversations and name your preferred methods of communication (and what methods you are open to but aren’t your preferred methods)
          • Share an example or two of work that you have created that’s similar to this work

          If all goes well and the storyteller seems like a good storytelling candidate, you can either schedule time to have a conversation in the future or continue the conversation into a conversation at that time. It’s nice to be able to create space for folx to think through their decision before actually embarking on the conversation in the moment.

          3. The first conversation

          Rather than thinking about this first longer interaction as an interview, which is a more extractive form of engagement, think of it as a conversation that’s helping you both learn more about one another, find points of intersection and conviviality, and uncover the magic morsels of the future story. Do some research beforehand to help you understand the history of this person’s work as well as the larger historical context of an issue. Consider what your offering will be to the storyteller: what can be exchanged here? You may not know up front, but keep this lens at your fingertips throughout the conversation.

            • In-person meetings are great, since so much of how we communicate is through body language, but phone calls and video calls work just fine, too. Lean into a balance of comfort zones between you and the storyteller.
            • Think of some questions that you want to make sure you ask during the conversation. Consider sending them to the storyteller before the meeting so they can think through them a bit.
            • When you meet, think about warming the meeting up with some broad conversation before diving right into the questions at hand. That’ll help you start to build intimacy and rapport
            • Ask your storyteller if you can record the conversation and take some notes. Let them know that, if desired, you can destroy the recording after the story has been produced, and that they may ask for personal details they share in the conversation to be left out of the story.
            • Don’t feel like you have to only focus on the storyteller! This first meeting is one of many, and rather than an extractor, you are a person who’s a new connection in your storyteller’s life. Create opportunities for them to get to know you, too (while making sure to let them occupy the majority of spotlight time).
            • Follow-up questions are almost more important than the primary questions you developed. What new curiosities emerge for you when you’re hearing the person talk about their experience?
          • Overall, center the experience of the storyteller in the conversation, rather than only focusing on the practical, logical narrative of the practice/process/hard facts. How did this make the person feel? What was their experience like of doing the thing they did? What inspired them? What did they learn about themselves in the process? What did they learn about others? 
          • Thank them profusely for their time and energy.

          Give them an honorarium if possible; their time and the weight of their story is so critically valuable.

          4. After the conversation, before publication
          • Check in with the questions in “Key questions for a story facilitator.” How did these lenses help you more mindfully create cultural exchange in your interaction? What areas were harder to engage with than others? Do you need to check in with the storyteller to mitigate any harm or follow up on anything related to your relationship?
          • Think about bringing the storyteller into the process early into your drafting of the final content; they may help steer you in a fruitful direction before you invest a ton of time into the piece. Be sure to share the final draft with the storyteller before publication.
          • Does the storyteller have some visual assets that might help you develop the story, like photos or items that can be photographed?
          • Check in with our Food Justice Language Guide to help guide your word selection process.
          • Revisit your motivation for creating this story. Has it changed since connecting with your storyteller? How does your motive intersect, support, or perhaps contradict the motive of the storyteller? This is a good time to pivot your story so that it’s centering the priority of your storyteller, not you.
          • Make sure to include the literal words of your storyteller as much as possible. As the facilitator, you’re here to help their story come to life, not to tell your own.
          5. After publication
          • Be sure to share the link/print piece featuring the story with your storyteller. Ask them what they think of the piece! Be open to feedback since storytelling is such an organic, iterative process. 
          • Are there any new connections that emerged from this project that might be a good next project for you and/or the storyteller to embark upon? 
          • Maintain contact with the storyteller and think of other ways that this relationship can be rooted in exchange, rather than rooted in extraction. Think of your storyteller as another star in your constellation of a network.
          • Storytellers sometimes outgrow the stories they have told in the past. What mechanisms can you create to allow a person to refresh or retire their story down the road?

          tools and resources

          CASE STUDIES

          sharing the story of rematriated corn

          2021 Slow Food USA Communications intern Malia Guyer-Stevens wanted to explore the process of rematriation, or returning of seeds to their ancestral Indigenous seedkeepers, that the King Phillip Corn experienced in 2021. 

          Danielle Hill, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, planted these seeds with the help of other members of the Tribe. Rather than interviewing Danielle about this process, Malia felt it would be better to build a relationship with her and that process eventually led to the mutually agreed-upon decision to share Danielle’s words directly, with light (and Danielle-approved) edits, with the Slow Food USA community. Danielle received a small honoraria for her time and the gift of her story. Story here.

          90 days, 90 voices

          From Why Should I Tell You? A Guide to Less Extractive Reporting | UW-Madison (Rule 4)

          When Alex V. Hernandez co-founded the website 90 Days, 90 Voices in the wake of President Trump’s initial travel ban, he wanted to create a place where readers could hear about the experiences of the immigrants and refugees whose lives were affected by these policy debates. But, Hernandez says, considering the life experiences of their sources, they wanted to give the sources as much editorial control as possible.

          “When you’re forced to migrate, when you’re not leaving your country because it’s something you want to do, you’re leaving because you have to, because there’s a danger in your country, that whole immigrant experience is one where you give up a lot of agency,” he says … “Because that process takes away so much agency from people, when we decided to do the 90 Days, 90 Voices project, we interviewed people in that Studs Terkel oral history manner, but the whole goal was to use a transformative storytelling technique to give just a little agency back to that person in how their story is told.”

          So in an effort to give sources some power over their own stories, the 90 Days team allows sources discretion at various steps. Sources decide whether to include their full names. Hernandez says that, in their day jobs, he and his colleagues avoided using anonymous sources whenever possible. But they knew that their immigrant and refugees sources had a lot to lose in that political moment, and they “didn’t want to throw gasoline on the fire.”

          At 90 Days, sources also decide if they would like to be depicted in a photo or if they would like one of a cadre of freelance artists to render them in a drawing instead. And before the story publishes, the journalist will read it back to them, allowing them to decide what to leave in or take out. Often, 90 Days reporters will use an “as told to” format in which the journalist edits an interview to create a first-person account using only the source’s own words.

          Slow Food BIPOC Farmer Oral History Project

          Slow Food BIPOC Farmer Oral History Project
          Slow Food Greater Olympia, in partnership with the Evergreen State College

          This project was based on oral history interviews completed by three college students for whom I was the field supervisor. The students earned some credits in courses on racial justice topics at The Evergreen State College. It was successful because of the work of the students at the college and the expertise of the faculty who taught a unit on methodologies of historical and qualitative research in the course. …

          “It was important to the faculty that students have the unit on methodology before they connect with the interviewees. My role was to teach basic protocols, tools, and ethics for oral history interviews. Students caught that the interview was a way to connect personally and required that they bring their authentic selves into the interaction. In the raw transcript I observed students identifying with the BIPOC farmer because of common experiences as BIPOC individuals. It is possible the students listened more deeply than I have the capacity to listen given their own lived experience. A speaker, even in the virtual world, can often tell when they are really being heard. The biggest challenge was getting busy farmers to even respond to requests and then to grant the interview opportunity. I knew only one of the farmers interviewed and used that connection to advantage. The rest of the work was similar to the typical process of producing a final document that students already understand.”


          — Loretta Seppanen, facilitator

          food justice language guide

          This flexible glossary is designed to help storytellers use language chosen by communities that are represented by those words. The terms included here are building blocks of telling the story of our collective, daily plight for food justice and racial equity on Turtle Island and around the world. 

          Michelle, Dan and Brian led a discussion on cultural exchange as part of the January 2022 Leader Summit for Slow Food USA. This session offered guidance on how to build non-extractive relationships with communities, how to extract dominant culture norms from your communications strategies and content, and how to effectively utilize cultural exchange for communication. 

          Funding for this project was provided in part by the Food Systems Leadership Network, an initiative of Winrock International.