Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Pumpkin Paradox

The food most often associated with Halloween is candy - the individually-wrapped mini chocolate bars, lollipops and fruit chews that make up a lucky kid's stash, to be hidden under the bed and visited time and again. Overlooked, but present everywhere, is the true food* of Halloween- the pumpkin. Throughout our cities and suburbs globes of orange and deep green decorate front porches and stoops, mantles and windows. While rarely is a whole pumpkin used for cooking anymore (besides roasted seeds), it is an agricultural product, with its own cultural requirements and historical significance. And it stars in a special type of themed local food 'agri-tainment' shared only by the Christmas tree and perhaps the apple - the family pilgrimage to the nearest 'countryside' available to pick one's own pumpkin from the field, while partaking of an ever-growing array of entertainment options like corn mazes, hay rides, haunted houses and petting zoos. Or a simulacra of the pumpkin patch that finds its way onto a vacant city lot, where dried corn stalks line the fenced perimeter and stacks of hay are artfully arranged in mis-en-scene. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Exploring Food & Place - Food:An Atlas

[Map section:Urban Agriculture Projects in San Francisco, via Food:An Atlas]

Place is a central concern in the practice of landscape architecture, from the genius loci of a site to more contemporary concerns that contextualize a site within larger operational networks. In practice we seek to be informed about the way a site works, and the forces that work upon it: wind, solar patterns, transportation networks, hydrology  etc.   Less often, but no less importantly, we work in reverse and question how a place affects its context - either social, economic or environmental. Food:An Atlas is a work belonging to the last category of place-making. A "cooperatively-created, crowd-sourced project of guerrilla cartography" and the brainchild of Darin Jensen and Molly Roy at U.C. Berkeley's Department of Geography's CAGE LAB, the sixty-map volume is currently seeking publishing funds on Kickstarter.

[Full disclosure: I am the proud co-author of one of the maps, an experimental work that maps not only the present, but also a speculative future scenario of food resilience and it's relationship to architecture, planning and landscape. We began with the question of how the practice of landscape architecture intersects with food, and chose one of the threads we discussed to map. I'll have more to say about that in a future post.]

[Map sections via Food:An Atlas]
Other maps examine global almond distribution, beersheds, the geography of taco trucks, the rise of food banks, farmers market access and other food-related visualizations from around the world. Food, at least in our original understanding of the word, is always place-based, as it comes from the land. Any story about food is also a story about how we relate to land and place. In this way the atlas tackles all the topics that we are beginning to face as a culture (and by implication as designers) - how do we understand place in relationship to food? In an urbanizing world, what are the operative realms for food-placemaking? Are they inclusive? Will they be based in traditional culture, commerce, grass-roots efforts or a combination? Will our food production remain obscured by global trade networks, or happen right next door?

The project has been getting lots of great press, including a great interview with Darin at EdibleGeography that is worth checking out. As he points out, the Atlas is about asking questions and contributing to the dialogue. I'm looking forward to seeing all the maps! 

The Atlas is going to absolutely provoke more questions than it provides answers, but that’s fantastic, because that’s what we should be doing as scholars: getting people to think about these kinds of issues.