Panel Discussion at Storytelling and Food

Organization
Change Food

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, art can “raise the voice of the food movement.”

Diane:

How do you think the art and food worlds can work closer together?

Lee:

I’m happy to chime in I think. I came from the advertising world. I was always with music but I was doing music for advertising. The big word that’s always going on in advertising is ‘engagement.’ It’s so important to get everybody engaged and to feel like they have a stake in the brand. When you think of food awareness as a brand, I think it’s important for art to get people involved, to feel like it’s interactive. To bring it from a nebulous state, the same way as the climate crisis, it’s this thing that may happen in decades or it will happen in decades. And may affect me or may not affect me and bring it down to the level where someone feels personally responsible for it. I think art has the ability to do that because it connects with people so personally. So I think that’s one of the best ways that art can connect for good.

Henry:

Yeah. I mean I guess that’s something that I’m trying to push. As a lot of my work is based on things I enjoy and what I know, and as I do more research I just want to create more imagery that tells these stories. It’s going to become a bit more explicit and literal as time goes on.

Ava:

I think in literature, food is not just about food. It gets translated into other things. The connections that we have with it are connected with culture and with family, right, sometimes with love and with loss and with longing. So there’s some way that in writing anyway, that it mirrors the same thing, that personal connection with the food is key. With my own writing, one of the challenges has been how do I write about these plants that are all around us but everybody just either tramples on or walks past and beyond? I think this is maybe the same thing, that challenge that you guys had which is, how do you write about your food or plants that are edible and give them a voice? For me it was all about the personal connection with the plants and knowing where they came from, where they were growing. What the seasonality of the plants were. For me seasonal foods is not just a concept that you see in a supermarket or something. For me it really is about what’s peaking and what’s about to leave and anticipation of what’s coming up next. So that personal connection to the food I think is really key.

Lee:

And you mentioned that it was important to name, I remember.

Ava:

Yeah, absolutely.

Lee:

Like the Latin name and the…

Ava:

We have to have a language in which to talk about food. I think that’s where artists and people who are interested in art are more viewing your artwork, are able to engage in a dialog that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. If you don’t have a language to talk about any of these plants which are edible and which are food, you just think about them as weeds and you think that they have absolutely no use. But when you finally learn that there’s a history and there are also mythologies around particular plants then I think as human beings there’s something about storytelling that helps to transmit ideas and helps to create a space where a dialog maybe wouldn’t have existed before.

Sean:

I’d also like to add something on maybe a seemingly mundane level, but very important one. I’ve been to a lot of art events with a lot of really crappy food. And I mean here tonight is a perfect example of how it should be done. I think that if the art world would spend as much time creating rather than catering their food and really paying attention to where their food comes from then those small steps actually are really big. You can’t say, “Oh, we’re trying to do this great event that helps raise awareness about art and food.” and then serve genetically modified pigs in a blanket and be taken seriously. So it will be great to see more events that really have artisanal local food like this as well.

Ava:

I’m sorry, I didn’t bring anything foraged. I ate all of it.

Diane:

Okay so we have a question for Sean and Lee: How did you find financing for the film? Did interest in food help?

Sean:

My biggest amount of funding came through Kickstarter. So I think it was a general awareness of this is an issue we really need to focus on. It was challenging, but without that mass crowd then it would have been even more challenging.

Henry:

Another thing about the food and the art world. I think at the moment there’s also a bit of a feeling that it gets talked down upon. It gets seen as a fad a lot of the time and I think that now it’s started to become a proper issue that has enough gravitas to get discussed in the art world that it can’t be ignored to the same extent it had been in the past. So I think it’s a really exciting time for the two to be merging.

Lee:

Taking it beyond my own personal interests, I think I feel a certain background obligation to leave the world in a better place than I found it. To that point anything that I can do to improve it, whether it’s through something like music or something more proactive. I think I’ve been partially awakened by this film into being more responsible about my garden. I’ve always been interested in gardening and it was a matter of continuing what I was doing before but just doing it in a more thoughtful way. So tracing where things come from and also tracing not only from the abuses that we’ve talked about in the film, but also just healthier things, focusing on what’s going into your body.

Sean:

I do think that we can always do more and tonight having seen the presentations here. These are all people I probably would have loved to have interviewed for my film. So I mean I think as a documentary filmmaker, I’m looking to celebrate a movement or to bring awareness to a movement. Then the film is done and I realized there’s still so much out there. That’s one thing I’ve found is that there is a huge movement and I just think that we really can’t promote it enough. I mean I think that the more awareness we raise the more that someone else says, “Oh, your work inspires me so I want to have my own little take on it.” and it just keeps on getting bigger and bigger and bigger. So I think that’s what art is about, is we borrow from one artist and we take a little piece that resonates within us and each seed that gets planted from your art, or from your art, or from your art, it’s going to grow for me and express itself differently. And that’s one of the really amazing things about art.

Diane:
How do you feel about the city’s attempt to address the sugar in soda issue with graphic images in the subway? How would you have done it differently? Just jump in.

Lee:

I mean I was saying that I come from advertising. So I think that the fact that it’s a conversation piece and the fact that it was gory and ugly looking was exactly what they intended. I think it was very effective and I guess it started people talking so it did what it was supposed to do.

Diane:

Henry, Sean, Tattfoo, Ava, Lee, thank you so much. These guys were amazing.

Organizations

Change Food
  • Ava Chin

    Author, Journalist, Poet The New York Times

    Writer Ava Chin is the former “Urban Forager” columnist for the New York Times, … Read More

  • Henry Hargreaves

    Photographer, Artist

    Henry Hargreaves is a New York City based photographer and artist whose work has regularly been covered by the media and represented at the Venice … Read More

  • Sean Kaminsky and Lee Brooks

    Filmmakers

    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 … Read More

  • Tattfoo Tan

    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 … Read More