An Introduction to Our Food, Art & Climate Series

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Thanks to a generous grant from Invoking the Pause, the Artists & Climate Change’s Core Team recently went on a retreat to the Omega Institute, a holistic center located in Rhinebeck, New York. While there, the topic of food kept coming up in our conversations, and not (only) because we were having three gorgeous organic meals prepared for us every day. It became clear that when talking about climate, we also need to talk about what’s on our plate. The complicated infrastructure of large-scale, globally connected food systems irreversibly impacts bodies, tummies, animals, oceans, and ultimately climate. At the same time more extreme weather, including droughts and floods, impacts farmers across the globe. And that, in turn, impacts us. Since we all need to eat, we couldn’t think of a more democratic yet urgent topic to dedicate our next series to.

There are many different points of entry into this topic: as a farmer, consumer, scientist, nutritionist, designer, cook, businessperson, policymaker, etc. We all have agency when we make decisions about what we eat, and these decisions inevitably add up to become collective power.

In this new Foodstuff series, we – Chantal Bilodeau, Susan Hoffman Fishman, Julia Levine, Yasmine Ostendorf, and Joan Sullivan – will write about the relationship between art, food, and climate from our own backgrounds and interests. Below is a short introduction that outlines our respective views on this subject.

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Chantal: When we talk about climate change, we usually talk about food that will disappear. I’m interested in the flipside of that. What are the foods we will eat more of because the new climate makes them easier to grow, or because they have a smaller footprint? Many cultures already eat things like insects and worms – what will it look like when those show up in Western cuisine? Fine cooking has become so labour and energy intensive, it’s almost like chemistry! I wonder if somehow we have to rein that back a bit. What are other ways we can make cooking and eating fun? How do we do that with nature rather than with machines? How do we eat with the seasons rather than importing food whenever we feel like having it? Eating local can make us more creative because we’re challenged to do more with less.

Susan: My entry point into the food series will be directly connected to water resources. As the planet continues to heat and reliable sources of water dry up, crop growth and food supplies will continue to be impacted, setting off a chain of local, regional, and global events, including water wars, large scale migration, and political upheaval. These events are already occurring in many regions around the world. I am also very interested in exploring the ways in which indigenous populations have traditionally sustained their food sources by planting efficiently and by honoring, protecting, and conserving their water resources.

Julia: I want to connect with where my food comes from, and motivate others to do so as well. By tracing the food supply chain, we connect more deeply to the planet and to each other, thus strengthening our community in the face of climate change. Sharing meals as a community is vital. As a theatremaker, everything I do is about recognizing other people. I want audiences to feel that they’re not just at a play but part of something larger than themselves. The more I learn about others working on food, the more I see that food is a justice issue. What we eat is connected to a larger political and cultural system. I want people to feel driven by their own interests and equipped to make informed choices (whether in food or climate or otherwise). In these ways, I use theatre to pose questions about how, in Western culture, we got disconnected from our food sources. On the stage, my collaborators and I imagine alternative food systems and empower audiences to shift from apathy to action.

Yasmine: I’m interested in how artists, innovators, and designers are contributing to re-thinking and sometimes radically re-shaping some of our food systems: whether that means what we eat, how we eat it, or how it travels to our plate. Food-sharing apps, speculative foodfutures, co-ops, (experiential) food design, groundbreaking horticultural research around greenhouses, and start-ups producing artificial meat – all of this stuff really excites me. In addition, I’m really interested in microbes and the pivotal role of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, both in our bodies and beyond. Not to mention bio-art collectives, which are doing interesting research and projects.

Joan: I would like to explore food from a personal level, looking at my own life. My bachelor’s degree was in Nutritional Science and now I’m living on a farm. I’ve lived there for ten years and it has influenced and informed my worldview on food and the environment. My own child, who grew up on the farm, has become a vegan; her personal activism to address climate change is a plant-based diet. In addition, food waste really bothers me; we have 40 chickens and the tablewaste goes back to the chickens or is composted. But generally, the amount of food waste we generate is shocking and I would like to look into how this could stop. I find it unethical. I’m also very interested in the packaging of food. And I LOVE cooking and am interested in fermented food.

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We hope you enjoy this new series and invite you to comment below with your own interests/concerns relating to food, art, and climate! And perhaps this might lead up to an offline event at some point…!

Note: For people in Europe interested in art and food, Yasmine is organizing the Food Art Film Week at the Van Eyck Academy in September 2018, transforming the academy into an open-air arthouse cinema, artist-run organic restaurant, site for debate on Food Futures, and forum for workshops and Artist’ Talks. Topics include Is Natural Possible?, Obsession and the Senses, Livestock vs Wild Animal, and Human-Non-Human Dependencies.

(All photos by Marente van der Valk.)

For previous articles related to food, check out:

Recipe for Change, In Conversation with Food and DIRT in Development by Julia Levine
Plants, Place, and Environmental Stewardship by Jimmy Fike
Maybe Tomorrow, The Fish Will Be Gone by Alison Weller
Abundance, Art, and Creative Social Research by Dianna Tarr
The Nature of Positive by Tanja Beer
Non-Human Narratives: Stories of Bacteria, Fungi and Viruses by Yasmine Ostendorf

This article is part of the Foodstuff series.

See the Core Team’s bios here.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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