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Where Art and Food Justice Meet

By June 22, 2015February 12th, 2021No Comments

The Food Justice Residency Program at Santa Fe Art Institute has been going on for nearly a year bringing “together nearly 40 artists from more than 25 countries as well as across the United States to work with local individuals and organizations dedicated to issues around Food, Food Security, and inequities in our food systems.” Food and justice are not mutually exclusive nor are art and food. Making food is an art in itself. Making food an art subject can be provocative. The projects I saw this past weekend at SFAI make for some very serious food for thought in our food and justice system.

Up until quite recently I never considered my localist food work to be in the category of “justice.” I considered it to be good economic business for communities and businesses, and farmers and chefs. It grows income for rural and urban farms, helps grow local food businesses, and keeps consumers asking “where does my food come from?” When my poet friend Hakim Bellamy asked to interview me on his food justice art project, I was intrigued. So, we sat together at my favorite local brew pub and talked about food justice. Hakim and I go way back and he even helped me rally other poets to perform at a food symposium celebrating the old and new traditions of New Mexico foods a few years ago. Those poems touched my heart deeply as they addressed the culture of food, the work of making food, and the flavors of our great state.

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Andrea Steves of FICTILIS and Hakim Bellamy discussing the true cost of food.

Hakim’s project is a multi-media survey of local people involved in food security and inequality in New Mexico. It consists of a short video clip, a photo, the interview transcript, and a poem written specifically for each of us interviewed. To have Albuquerque’s first ever poet laureate write a poem for you is an honor I cannot even begin to describe. Scroll down for the full poem below.

Tim Furstnau and Andrea Steves of Fictilis are visiting artists from Oakland, CA who have designed the True Cost Market, showing their audience the true cost of growing, making, packaging, and delivering food to our markets. In addition, their project includes “Labelscapes,” a photo montage of dozens of pictures of food packaging featuring pastoral idyllic farms and cartoon farmers in their packaging branding and marketing. Their point here is to show us that these package landscapes don’t give us the real information of the conditions of farming: the low wages most farmers make or the back-breaking work going into preparing your food to sit on a shelf for you till you bring it home to enjoy. The photos are in some ways humorous when you begin to look closely at what you are truly seeing: a glowing pinto bean, a row of perfectly green and straight snap peas with a brilliant sun shining down, a well dressed woman lounging on a tree branch with her farm in the background. Tim and Andrea focus on the experience of food, engaging their audience through sampling, looking at packaging, and understanding the costs behind everything we put in our mouth.

What I found most striking about these artists and so many others in the residency program was their ability to have us think differently about food in creative and engaging ways that are not so comfortable. That is what art should do – good art, anyway. It should make you think about an old subject in a new way. I am grateful to have been a part of the subject matter to engage communities in thoughtful, creative, and provocative ways that matter. We need to change the dialogue around food to one of consumption and pleasure to knowledge and education. Not that I don’t love food, I just love equity and justice more.

 

PUSH
The end of food is real
and near.
It is mirror
and blade
with a handle
Forklifting fingers
face down in a pile
of powder
masquerading as soil.
A plate of immediate gratification
pretending it’s patience.
Half baked.
Fake fried. Made
in China.
Weighed, bagged
and bought.
A barcode away
from a legal buzz.
No need to own the field hands
when you own the seeds.
No need to own the land,
when it is cheaper
to own the need.
Cultivate customers
instead of customer base.
But when your consumers
die young, you cultivate replacements.
Instead of selling us
what we need, they’d rather
our knees kneed
to what they are selling.
So we say,
let’s put mirrors at the bottom of every plate,
pounds that already have us in lines.
So at the end of every binge
we have to look ourselves
in the I.

-Hakim Bellamy