Change Food recently teamed up with Foodstand, a project of Purpose, to present “Storytelling and Food,” an event that asked the question, “What power do stories have in creating a better food system?”
We heard from five artists working in a variety of media, each of whom shared their work and how they are using it to make people think, question, learn, or, in the words of one presenter, “re-engage with food.” After the presentations, a panel discussion explored the role of art in the food movement.
Artist Tattfoo Tan uses a variety of media and platforms to develop “projects that are ephemeral and conceptual in nature.” The projects he shared grew out of his desire to learn how to eat better. “Everything I do is for my own good,” he told the audience.
His projects include:
Nature Matching System – inspired by research into phytonutrients, Tattfoo developed a range of specialized paint colors matched to the colors of fruits and vegetables. He’s used these to create (among other things) a placemat, which has been sold at the MOMA Design Store, and large murals displayed in the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the DUMBO section of Brooklyn.
Sustainable. Organic. Stewardship. (SOS) – a range of projects designed to educate people about sustainability. One example: the mobile garden, a discarded shopping cart retrofit into a mobile edible garden meant to spark conversation and ideas.
Writer Ava Chin is the former “Urban Forager” columnist for the New York Times, as well as a slam poet. She has written a book about her adventures foraging for wild plants in New York City, “Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal.” She took the audience on a photographic tour of some of the wild plants available to New Yorkers, including amaranth, mulberries, morel mushrooms and lamb’s quarters, a highly nutritious plant which, in her words, tastes like “spinach turned up to 11.”
Many of these plants have been eaten since ancient times, she noted, and are used routinely by cooks in other countries. Finding and using them can help connect us to our past. She read a poem, “Wun Yee. Muk Yee. Does It Grow on Land or in the Sea?” about her grandfather’s cooking, and about finding ingredients that he cooked with growing across the city. “In literature, food represents something else, like culture, family, even love and loss,” Ava said.
Filmmaker Sean Kaminsky’s new documentary, “Open Sesame,” documents the threats to our seed supply, as well as showing the beauty and mystery of seeds. Seeds are “at the same time larger than life and so intimate,” said Lee Brooks, the film’s composer, who joined Sean on the panel.
The film started off as a short, Sean said, but he “fell down the seed hole” when he began learning about what’s happening to seeds, including ever-increasing corporate ownership and the threat of extinction leading to an unprecedented lack of diversity. The film documents these threats, and also talks to those working to combat these changes, such as the Hudson Valley Seed Library. Sean ended by urging the audience to take action of their own. “Planting a seed can be an act of art,” he noted.
Photographer Henry Hargreaves uses food in surprising ways in his work, with the goal of “trying to get people to re-connect with food in a fun way.” Some of the work he showed included:
Jello Presidents – portraits of each U.S. president created out of gelatin, color coded based on the elements of the US flag – red, white, blue and stars. The colors reflect their political party, how many terms they served and if they died in office.
Food Maps – maps of countries and continents created using foods native to or associated with each place.
Burning Calories – iconic fast food items (re-created as cakes), literally set on fire.
The work of these artists demonstrates the role that art can play in inspiring conversation and thought and perhaps even motivating people to make changes when it comes to their relationship with food. A picture of a doughnut set ablaze, film of seeds sprouting set to music, a poem about family and cooking and a placemat with colored squares inspired by produce and reminding you to “get your daily dose of color” may tap into emotions unlikely to be engaged by, for example, a newspaper article about nutrition. Clearly, as Change Food’s Founder & Executive Director Diane Hatz put it while moderating the panel, art can “raise the voice of the food movement.”