Just Food

A week ago, Friday night was the usual Art Murmur Festivities in Oakland and I attended. The opening for the group show "Food Justice" at Rock Paper Scissors was a particular draw, for me anyway, and judging from the usual horde-sized turnout I'd say the topic seems to crowd some other people's minds too.

Maybe it's just California, but the whole foodsystems-MichaelPollan-Urban-local-slowfood thing has started to infiltrate pretty much...everything. It seems that nothing is safe from the consideration of where and how your food is grown. Especially in the design world, people whose job it is to produce and promote aesthetics are now pulling on the ideas of locality and seasonality for the substance of their work. See also: Slow Food Nation. The boundaries between design and action are more blurred today than ever before, as innovation has become the battleground for the shaping of our society's future. Call me postmodern, but I see design, economics and science so intertwined at this historic juncture that it is sometimes difficult to tell the three apart. And I'm all aboard this smushsmash of issues. Of course the exhibit at RPS seemed only too timely and so I headed over for a closer look.
The show touched on all facets of our local East Bay alternative food production rockstars: People's Grocery, ForageOakland, the Secret Cafe and CitySlicker Farms Backyard Garden Project. Rock Paper Scissors contributes more regularly to this movement by providing a pickup point for the people's grocery Grub Box program.

ForageOakland contributed maps of the North Oakland Neighborhood documenting the location of found fruits and edibles. And SecretCafe, a house turned sometimes restaurant, displayed an archived collection of menus: each illustrated carefully and beautifully and hung about for all to see.

The real centerpiece of the show, however, belonged to the Backyard Gardeners, who as part of RPS's Community Collaboration Project used Holga cameras to document each other, their surroundings and the gardens they've sewn in an attempt to bring real food to their neighborhood.

For those who know it, West Oakland's unique situation within the food justice struggle demonstrates the severe reality of inaccessibility to quality foods in low-income neighborhoods. From People's Grocery,
There is only one supermarket to serve over 25,000 people...With a short supply of full-service grocery stores, many residents depend on over 40 convenience stores for their food shopping. These convenience stores carry mostly canned, processed, and poor quality foodstuffs and promote the consumption of candy, chips, liquor, and cigarettes. A 1998 community food assessment of West Oakland showed that only three of these convenience stores offered a selection of fresh fruits and vegetables (Farfarn-Ramirez, 1998). Prices at convenience stores were found to range between 30%-100% higher than prices in supermarkets.

Though some indirectly, each of the contributors to the exhibit address the issues surrounding our food systems in their own way. Some point to the abundance of foods in the urban landscape ready for the picking. Others illuminate the intimacy and sociality lost by the factory farming and sterilization of commercial food commodities. The juxtaposition of each of the components paints a truthful, critical and most of all hopeful picture of emergent views on food justice. The show stays up throughout the month of November, but more importantly I'd encourage anyone with free space to curate a show like this one. Different to your own place and the facets of food justice prominent in your own community, but present. Because I promise you it's present. I'd venture that if you go looking, you're likely to find some pretty remarkable folks at work doing similarly radical food justice work in your own city. You won't even have to look very hard.

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