e-flux journal issue 128: “Food and Agriculture”

e-flux journal issue 128: “Food and Agriculture”

e-flux journal

Chick embryo. Image: m.antpedia.com

June 16, 2022
e-flux journal issue 128: “Food and Agriculture”

with Autonomous farming collectives, Mary Walling Blackburn, Sophie Chao, Lia Dostlieva, Alix Guibert, Mythri Jegathesan, Ou Ning, Enrique Del Risco, Martha Rosler, Vivien Sansour, and Rachel Vaughn

Chances are that in the last couple years, your life has been turned upside down by a pandemic, a war, an economic meltdown, or some combination of these. And you may feel that whatever you were lucky enough to avoid may already be on its way to you. As the coming years are sure to bring more uncertainty, maybe it’s time to prepare. Buy a small armory and move into an underground bunker? Blame foreigners or neighboring countries? Attack each other online? Let’s try instead to consider how our basic needs are met, as the individual and collective bodies that we are. 

Many of us have grown accustomed to an era in which a global logistical orchestra targets and serves our needs and whims, bringing food to your mouth or goods to your home with surgical precision. Especially for cosmopolitan urbanites used to traveling, sampling exotic cuisine, or spending money freely, these delivery mechanisms may appear to have created the ultimate hostage situation. Is it time to bite the invisible hand that feeds? Free trade might feel great when the lines are open and all the dependencies are working in lockstep. But in fact this fragile political ecosystem has something in common with the fragility of the natural ecosystem when forced to supply illusions of abundance. Maybe it’s time to see how the sausage is made. 

For this issue of e-flux journal we’ve asked a number of authors to reflect on food and agriculture as foundational expressions of life—as sociality, history, and entanglement. Just as they can be weaponized for political or industrial applications, such foundations can also be embraced to explore new and old sensations of autonomy and abundance in Indigenous, interspecies, anarchist, agrarian, or simply experimental forms of life. By attending closely to something that is, for each and every one of us, the bedrock of security and survival, a world emerges where power over production and consumption can be organized less like a hegemonic system and more like a daily routine. Attending more closely to systems of survival may feel austere at first, like a mean-spirited downgrade to economy class for the privileged. But it opens the door to another kind of abundance, one that always evades scarcity. Food is absolutely political, but food is also fundamentally pleasurable and social. Hannah Arendt, while delivering a lecture to college students, allegedly asked them about the difference between love and desire. She then answered her own question: If you desire strawberries, you eat them. If you love strawberries, you grow them yourself.

With a tight deadline, we were surprised by the enthusiasm of the responses to our invitation to write about food. In a time when some tend to retreat inward, we found many people in different places thinking about and building similar things. Relationships with land and sustenance are very specific, but easy to understand and relate to when one has their own experiences. The crises that demand a new relationship with our environment also threaten to spread into a universal condition for humanity. So why shouldn’t a more intimate relationship with the conditions of our survival spread widely as well? 

Wishing you a healthy and slow summer. We also asked contributors to the issue to send recipes. Try cooking them and send us pictures if you get a chance!


Autonomous farming collectives—Planting and Becoming
By learning the song of the land, we may just outlast a civilization determined to take us down with it. In abandoning the universal, we may find the ground waiting beneath our feet. Seeking the guidance of the world around us, we might allow ourselves a small beginning in new worlds to come.

Mary Walling Blackburn—Porcupette
No need to exit the homosphere to core the universe. The valuable magic feces is right here, isn’t it? I have to track it like a truffle pig.

Sophie Chao—Forest Foodways in West Papua
The first bite, Marcella told me, is about sharing skin and wetness. She would not eat just yet. Preparing the sago and watching her friends and family eat it had already made her feel sated. 

Lia Dostlieva—Grain, Ink, and Stones: The Story of Ukrainian Hunger
A lack of food not only threatens human survival as such but also disrupts cultural rituals. Hunger reduces a person to their body, to exhausted flesh whose existence becomes centered around satisfying very basic needs. This experience is impossible to imagine for those living in relative comfort. 

Alix Guibert—We Will Lack Bread No Longer
In the postwar period, bread-making companies introduced a wide array of baking improvers and began over-kneading their dough. Thus oxidized, it would whiten further. In this situation, bread-making no longer depends on its environment: in dry or humid weather the recipe remains unchanged. Bread is no longer alive; it has become a machine, just like the baker.

Mythri JegathesanPassing Blood, Consuming Memories: Making Fish Cutlets with Amma
As a child, I never thought twice about consuming the newspaper ink and wood-pulp fibers that bled into the cutlets’ pre-fried insides and bristly, deep-fried outsides. Pulp and ink were just two more ingredients in my childhood, unmeasured but always present. Newspapers accompanied food as intimately as the background noise of mourning and uncertainty filtered through my amma and appa’s hushed tones and loud cries on telephone calls with loved ones back home.

Ou Ning—The Agrarian Mind
Twenty-five million people recently went hungry in China’s most economically developed city. No one could have imagined this happening in Shanghai, where per capita disposable income is the highest in the entire country. The reason wasn’t insufficient food supply.

Enrique Del Risco—A Turntable
The monthly ration of eggs was reduced to the extent that eggs ended up being nicknamed “cosmonauts” because of the countdown: “8, 7, 6, 5, 4.” I remember that at some point, the personal ration was reduced to just three eggs per month. After that, I don’t remember anything.

Martha Rosler—What Sort of an Art is Cookery? Are the Great Chefs All Dead?
Julia Child: Again we see that leaving behind nature in favor of culture, or “civilization,” is seen as basic to the definition of an art. But it seems especially necessary for ingestion, which otherwise is inarguably about materiality, and even need.

Vivien Sansour—Hanan and the People of the Soil
In Arabic, generous people are referred to as people of the soil—ahl al thra. The language has other references to soil as the mother of us all, but the most telling is zareea’, which means “plant” and “seed,” but is also the word for “children.” Hanan is one of the zareea’ whose life was cut short in April 2022.

Rachel VaughnA Meditation on Food Waste, Imperfection, and Accumulation
The matter of food waste is rich with possibilities and teeming with microbial life. Yet food waste is most often framed as a problem, a failure, a moral quandary, an object around which to frame “good” citizenship through the yardstick of better, more responsible consumer trends, especially in the home. Loss is documented at all stages of the food supply chain; definitions and measurements of food waste vary. But mainstream emphasis is not placed on industry, policy, overproduction models, subsidies, or package design.

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June 16, 2022

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