But instead of being frozen in time, I want to show that “local” and “authentic” food are as much creations of modernity as survivors from before it. Authenticity is therefore a problem, not something we can ever depend on as some kind of naturally occurring category. Tradition is crafted, just as much as modernity is manufactured.
― Richard Wilk, Home Cooking in the Global Village: Caribbean Food from Buccaneers to Ecotourists
Cooking is an art and patience a virtue… Careful shopping, fresh ingredients and an unhurried approach are nearly all you need. There is one more thing – love. Love for food and love for those you invite to your table. With a combination of these things you can be an artist – not perhaps in the representational style of a Dutch master, but rather more like Gauguin, the naïve, or Van Gogh, the impressionist. Plates or pictures of sunshine taste of happiness and love.
It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.
Guerrilla gardening is the planting and tending of gardens on public land, usually without permission. You might think of it as the green thumb version of graffiti, using plants instead of spray paint. Here are two wonderful videos about this global phenomenon from two very different communities in Los Angeles.
Kenneth Rudnicki decided to guerrilla garden for his birthday. Instead of going out, he invited his friends to buy plants and help him set up a garden on the street. The joy of planting that garden by night and seeing the neighborhood’s curiosity and wonder the next morning was extremely addictive. People enjoyed it so much that he started a business with his girlfriend, Rebecca Pontius, called LA Guerrilla Gardening.
Video via Soul Pancake on YouTube
LA Guerrilla Gardening has brought together people from all walks of life who are interested in gardening, or at least in beautifying and taking ownership in their community. These are people who would never meet in any other situation. Unattractive and trashy spots in the city have been converted into beautiful plantings of succulents and drought resistant ornamentals.
Ron Finley, a successful fashion designer for professional athletes, is from South Central, or South Los Angeles, an area famous for fast food drive-throughs and drive-by shootings. He began to realize that the drive-throughs were taking more lives than the drive-bys and decided to do something about it. He and his volunteer group, LA Green Grounds, planted a garden of edible plants along the street. The city promptly issued a citation and demanded the removal of the garden, threatening to issue a warrant for his arrest. Finley refused. His spirit and his humor are infectious, as you will see.
Video via TED on YouTube
There are 26 square miles of vacant lots in Los Angeles. That’s enough land to build 20 parks the size of New York’s Central Park. Finley sees these lots and other neglected spaces as canvases, where he can paint with plants and give people the wonder of growing things. A generous artist, he plants the gardens where hungry people can get to them and harvest what they need. His work isn’t only beautiful and collaborative, it feeds people and trains people to eat well and become leaders in their communities. What inspiring resilience!
I wanted to share both videos with you so that you could see the universal nature of guerrilla gardening. It is therapeutic, nourishing and defiant. And, if you are interested, it is something that you can do.
California Proposition 37 would have been the first law in the United States requiring retailers and food companies to label products made with genetically modified ingredients had it passed in late 2012. China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the entire European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, India and Chile are among nations that already require such labels on food, but in the United States food is big business, and companies like Monsanto and Hershey poured money into defeating this legislation by arguing that labeling would cost money and disrupt the status quo. Much as the tobacco companies of the second half of the 20th century dreaded the education of the public as to the dangers of nicotine, these companies fear losing customers when science reveals the dangers behind the refining, hybridizing, and genetic modification of our food supply. Gluten, soy and corn intolerances, autism, celiac disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, and cancer might be hidden beneath the rug of ignorance, but unless someone investigates we will not know what connection exists between GMOs and these diseases.
As a person with gluten intolerance, I experience firsthand how devastating the effects of poor labeling can be. Just this week, the FDA has set a standard requiring gluten free labels on any food containing less than 20 parts gluten per million, but there are those of us who react below that level. Brain fog, joint pain, nausea and diarrhea are just some of the symptoms resulting from gluten intolerance. It takes days to get over the effects of one cookie, one piece of candy, or even crumbs left on a pat of butter, not to mention the long term consequences. Our laws also don’t require that gluten free foods produced in a facility that also produces foods containing gluten be labelled accordingly despite the very real dangers of cross contamination, nor do they require full disclosures of ingredients. This means that a company could get away with hiding gluten under different names or inside other ingredients. For example, yeast is gluten free unless it is made from beer, a variety known as brewer’s yeast. This distinction could mean a world of difference to someone sensitive but it is very easy to omit on a label. Many companies are labeling their products well, and I think those companies will see an increase in sales as people become more aware of gluten sensitivity.
What does this have to do with art? Well, creativity and art are a part of everyday life, from the music we hear on the radio to the advertising we see on the internet and television. The following is a film featuring Californian street artists and their works as they seek to raise awareness of the dangers of genetically modified food and build support for Proposition 37 and future legislation like it. Street art is a very provocative and communicative medium, despite its “criminal” connotations in our culture. I very much like the idea of having spaces in our communities where such thoughts can be explored in public.
Voice of Art is a documentary series produced on Pharrell Williams YouTube channel, iamOTHER. It gives artists a platform to advocate for transformation and justice in their communities by allowing their voices to reach a wider audience.
What happens where creativity, status, and practicality meet? In this case, lunch! Bento encourages you to play with your food.
Bento is a homemade or takeout meal common in Japan. Traditionally packed into boxes, some of which are very elegant, basic bento consists of rice with fish or meat and vegetables. The bento has been around for centuries, much longer than the western lunch box, but recently parents and artists in Japan and around the globe have elevated the art of bento food preparation to new heights. Using the natural texture, color and structure of food, along with modern accessories and food coloring, people are making pictures.
Video via Harley Anderegg on YouTube.
Some Bento are called kyaraben or character bento. They often depict popular characters, such as these from Miyazaki’s film My Neighbor, Totoro. Amusing and cute as they are, I would be torn between eating and admiring them. What’s it like to take a bite of your favorite cartoon personality or celebrity figure?
Bento began in the 12th Century out of practicality. Rice was cooked, dried, and placed in a bag for later. Brown bag lunch, anyone? By the end of the 16th century it became fashionable to place foodstuffs into beautiful lacquered boxes to be used at tea parties. Travelers carried bento boxes made from bamboo on the road, and bento was served between acts at theatrical performances of Noh and Kabuki plays as well as on holidays. Bento is entwined with Japanese culture and symbolism.
The offering below is more than gorgeous, but at some point you are cutting into a pretty neck. Sadistic? No. Just don’t think about it. No one complains when we cut up Oscar the Grouch for a birthday party.
During the 20th century the bento box fell into disfavor, especially in school, because it clearly revealed the status of the student and brought economic disparity into focus in the classroom. A child was judged by his peers for what was in the bento box, and would be envied or ridiculed accordingly. After World War II, with Japan’s economy in shambles, there were no longer the resources for such luxuries anyway. Children and teachers were provided simple and uniform school lunches by the public school. But who could resist something so beautiful for long?
In the 1980s, thanks to the microwave oven, the convenience store and ingenious marketing, bento made a comeback. It was seen as a clever way to get children interested in eating, and, sometimes, to encourage them to eat healthy food rather than processed goods. Many parents of Asian school children labor over these elaborate lunches, some of which take hours to prepare and mere minutes for a hungry child to devour. Once again bento is at the intersection of status, practicality, and creativity, and it is set to conquer the world.
Here’s some more pictures by some of the best bento artists on the web. Pi, anyone? Wait, something is wrong here…