One of my images from Cold Antler Farm was accepted into a group show (February-March 2016). What excites me the most about this, is the show’s complex theme:
Nourish: Food as Sustenance and Pleasure
Here I am documenting Jenna, a former vegan that now raises animals as food. Complicated? You bet. The food industry and its politics constantly feed us ideas (pun intended) about what food should be, or what it should look like.
Our society –in the U.S. for example–is vastly disengaged from the reality of where our food comes from, how it gets to our tables. I am quite certain my image in the show (below) will be appalling to some – but it doesn’t change the truth that human beings consume living things in order to survive, and some of that happens to be animal meat.
Jenna and I have spoken at length about this, and because she writes and blogs about her life – she has been questioned about this for years, sometimes aggressively (see Huffington Post article). Her switch back to eating and raising animals for food is her way of not ‘buying in’ to the factory farm industry which is horrid to animals, people and the environment.
Jenna tells me, “the truth is there is no meal we can eat without killing. None. A trip to your local grocery store for tofu and spinach leaves may not include a single animal product, but the harvesting of such food costs endless animal lives.”
I eat animals I raise myself, because I want to eat local food
that causes less animal suffering and empowers my local community.
If I take a step back and look beyond my backyard, I think of the deforestation in the Amazon that made way for cattle ranches (thanks McD‘s), and commercial crops that destroy the habitat of countless wild animals. Birds and bees fall prey to pesticides, and fertilizers are being made from petrochemicals. I had no idea that vegetables were such voracious beings although I often wondered about the “organic materials” and bone meal ingredients in plant food… then I think back a hundred years to what farmers did before current technology and practices. They had to use what was on hand, not some chemical imbued concoction.
Being a vegetarian/vegan will remove oneself from participating in the factory farm cycle, but might not be an effective mechanism towards changing it (which was one of Jenna’s goals). Some people don’t have an economic choice and opt for processed food which are filled with chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, or steroids. Others will rely on packaged beef or chicken in the market without considering how it lived or died. Few are afforded a choice of where their food comes from, and I devour stories about urban gardens and programs that are teaching kids to grow their own vegetables. Cue young farmer, stage right.
Maybe I tend to think about how food is made because of childhood memories on my grandmother’s farm, where pigs I knew as piglets eventually became the food on our table (and I also maaaaaay have named all the chicks after they hatched). Or maybe it comes from understanding hunger. Frederick Kaufman, author of Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food, says that hunger may be the most horrible symptom of the global food malady, but it is just one symptom. “The price of basic farm goods drives world hunger, but it also drives the push for sustainability, the rise of long-distance food from nowhere, the scourge of cheap and unhealthy foods, the single-minded drive to own the smallest molecules of food, the declarations and pledges of the politicians, the global mania for markets and the profit margins of many of the world’s largest corporations.” They very people that raise our food often can’t afford to keep it or their farms.
Food choices in general, start with a personal preference but are so much more. I say “choices” deliberately, because food decisions are often based on hunger, not the privilege of choice. After all, “worrying about tomorrow can be a luxury if you don’t know how you’ll survive today.” Food is our nourishment, yet it comes embroiled with questions of ethics, socio-economics, geography and politics. I can’t help but respect the practice and ideology of raising one’s own food. A complex issue? Hell yeah, and one of the motivators behind creating this documentary (solo show coming this summer at Saratoga Arts).
Until then, enjoy the exhibition and accompanying catalogue Nourish: Food as Sustenance & Pleasure, the 15th Annual Joyce Elaine Grant Photography Exhibition, curated by Dr. Rebecca Senf, Center for Creative Photography & Phoenix Art Museum.
On view: February 15 to March 9, 2016
East/West Galleries, Texas Woman’s University
Fine Arts Building, corner of Texas & Oakland St, Denton, TX 76204
Gallery Hours: M-F 9-4pm, and weekends by appointment
Click here for a list of participating artists.
Image: © Miriam Romais. Pig and Sheep Become Food, 2014. Homesteading: Cold Antler Farm series. Archival pigment print, 10″ x 15″ “Traveling Butchers (Sam with is father and his son Josiah) make quick work of the harvesting; Jenna feels this is much more humane than having the animals taken to a slaughterhouse, scared and stressed until they are dispatched days later. She says her animals have only one bad moment in their lives (ie, when they are put down for harvesting).”