Food for Thought: Exhibit at Ann Arbor's Gallery Project sheds new light on all things edible
If you're hungry for new perspectives on the edible, a mind-expanding (and calorie-free) Food for Thought multimedia exhibit is opening this week at the Gallery Project at 215 S. Fourth Ave. on Wednesday, Nov. 2. It runs through Dec. 11. (Full disclosure: Slow Food Huron Valley, of which I am a member and officer, is among the featured exhibitors).
Food for Thought exhibit curators write: "How food is defined, produced, processed and delivered is highly intertwined with basic cultural values around money, power, politics, even religion. Food defines our past, our present, and our future... At an individual level, what we eat goes a long way to determining who we are, our health status, and even our sense of spiritual well-being. The exhibit attempts to shed light on peoples' complex relationships with food, both how they evolved and how they are changing."
Sculptor Amy Feigley-Lee delivered two collaged pieces for the show the Sunday before Halloween. Her work "questions constructs of feminine aesthetics by contrasting signifiers of feminine beauty and innocence with images that represent both the corporeal reality of the body as well as harsh realities of the social world...Transparency, scale, and light are devices I use to compress and re-contextualize images and objects of disparate physical and conceptual properties."
Emphasizing community food security, Slow Food Huron Valley will display photographs from our Great Lakes Heirloom Seed Trial, in addition to other materials highlighting food biodiversity and endangered foods from our region and around the world.
The exhibit, curated by by Kevin Ewing, Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet, includes
contributions by Cayla Skillin-Brauchle, Jason Demarte, DePietro, Lauren Duffy, Sandra Dupret, Ewing, Jamie Fales, Temple Grandin, Katie Halton, Heather Anne Leavett, Andrezej Maciejewski, Melanie Manos, Thomas Nighswander, Tom McMillan-Oakley, Brenda Oelbaum, Erin Garber-Pearson, Teresa Petersen, Pritschet, Julie Renfro, James Reynolds, Rebecca Sittler, Slow Food Huron Valley, Joshua Smith, Sara Smith, Rob Todd and Hilary Williams.
Famous for his articulation of the relationship between eating and being, Chef Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in The Physiology of Taste wrote: "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es." (Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are).
These days, I feel like 50 percent root vegetables, and 30 percent kale with a remaining 20 percent that is probably toast. From the news I hear, I would guess most Americans are something like 50 percent McDonalds, 30 percent Hot Pockets, and 20 percent Doritos.
Charles Bryant writes in TLC Cooking that McDonald's "transcends the mundaneness of a mere fast-food chain to become something else altogether — the symbol of a country, the face of an industry... If you're American, the name itself conjures up an embarrassingly high number of familiar images and memories." Is that the symbol and the face of the America that we want?
In addition to defining us as individuals, Carolyn Steel in Hungry City observes that what we eat has always mandated the entire structuring of our civilization: "However much we look the other way, our rural hinterlands will always mirror the way we live. Ancient cities were run on slave labour; so were the farms that fed them. Medieval cities thrived on trade; so did their hinterlands. Modern cities, like their industrialized hinterlands, have little respect for nature. If we don't like what's happening out there in the landscape, we had better rethink how we eat, because one will never change without the other."
Michigan has more than 56,000 farms, and, in 2009, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, those farms produced $1,614,375,000 in revenue from corn, soy and wheat, and $623,097,000 from greenhouse and bedding plants. By contrast, revenue from vegetables was only $347,305,000, although we eaters spent $23,186,200,000 on our food overall that year.
In today's Grist magazine, Tom Laskawy writes that while we're currently failing at How to feed 7 billion of us without ruining the planet, it's not because we don't have enough food.
Referencing a map that shows the corn, soy and wheat that predominate here in the Great Lakes, Laskawy says, "Well, the map shows that the vast majority of food grown there is not destined for people's stomachs. That's something that will need to change if we are to have any hope of making food available to those who need it."
Regardless of how fat and unhealthy we are, or that one in six Americans is "food insecure" (according to Feeding America), Laskawy observes: "The fact is that the people and corporations who run things at the moment don't want to change."
As a new omnibus bill comes to the table that will outline the country's food and farm priorities for the next five years, Food Democracy says that Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow is among those who have already re-written those rules in secret with industrial special interests. That food for thought sounds like a call to action to me.
Regardless of whether you're interested in action, art, philosophy, gluttony, demography or beauty, the Food For Thought exhibit will offer a feast of perspectives — over a dozen courses that should make for a memorable meal of ideas.
The Gallery Project
Where: 215 S. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday noon-9 p.m.; Sunday noon-4 p.m.; closed Monday
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. She would love any news about interesting local food and agriculture efforts. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.