Some books appear because they are gifts. And this one did. A beautiful, fashionably small hard back, filled with articles and photographs and surprising intersections. Yep, intersections -- one of my key words, like array. A word that if you are reading an anonymous memorandum and see "a wide array of" or "at the intersection" you might know it came from me. Anyway, FOOD from Alphabet City was just that -- a lovely, thoughtful gift filled with an array of fascinating possibilities at the intersection. . .
First: what about Alphabet City? Turns out that's a neighborhood in Manhattan -- all those streets like C Street and D Street and E Street. East Village. You get the idea. Southeast Manhattan. (We stayed there once in a B&B. D Street I think. Somewhere in the depths of my memory I knew that's what Alphabet City meant. But. . . ) For more on the neighborhood, click here. In this case, I am not writing about that neighborhood, though there is an urban aspect to it all. What I am referring to is an Alphabet City media book, an occasional publication of culture and ideas and arts -- and, more particularly, their issue on food. Click here for Alphabet City's mission and etc. Anyway, they do one topic kind of things -- supported by the Metcalf Foundation, Toronto Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, and similar organizations. As these hint, the books lean toward Canada, since they emerge from Toronto. Local meets global there in this case. Recent issues include: TRASH, SUSPECT and this one on FOOD edited by Alphabet City's director, John Knechtel (not to mention an upcoming one on FUEL).
This particular version of Alphabet City's co-publications with MIT Press is filled with colorful pictures and art works and food commentary. It is great. There is nothing like close ups of smarties to make you reinvent how you see food -- and the world. Jane Levi's "the rise of the gastronaut" was one of the most intriguing pieces; her consideration of food and the history of astronauts to encourages the reader to rethink the relation of food and technology and the various ways that science, culture and technology entangle. I'll never see my tomato paste ina tube in quite the same way again. And that's not all. The essay on urban foraging for food as art -- made me, at least, rethink/resee/reconsider both jam and art. Yes, there is a bit in here about "Fallen Fruit," an art project in L.A. which focuses on urban foraging as a way to reconceive community and art and more. Here's their website; and their manifesto. I love what they do: map where fruit trees appear in the public domain, aka usufruct, in L.A. -- and make jam from it. Hurrah. Among other things I love that word: usufruct. Also, on their website, they quote from Leviticus; Leviticus is not my favorite book of the Bible because it is usually quoted in support of horrifyingly homophobic politics. I'm not religious, but I certainlyprefer their Leviticus!
In addition to the fallen fruit project, FOOD has an intriguing piece on the food shed of Toronto -- I had no idea how rich the agricultural land is in the province of Ontario. Next time I drive through I will think differently -- though I doubt I will visit the ontario food terminal, one location where all this meets up in both FOOD the book and Toronto the city. I'll also have to rethink oranges and apples, since the ecological cost of shipping the one versus eating the locally grown other well -- we know all this, but the visual representation of it in FOOD was particularly effective in conveying the environmental costs of refusing to eat locally.
In addition to critique, FOOD also includes some suggestions for transformations that move beyond lifestyle politics. There is, for example, an article on a more or less vertical living possibility which involves gardens and solar systems -- a sort of high rise/urban possibility for local eating as it were. Its title? "farm city," about a skyscraper. The role of diasporic communities in spreading seeds and food cultures, and a great piece on street food are also included. I particularly learned from the latter's attention to the gender dynamics of food vending -- safety concerns, for example --and what happens when street food is forced off the streets and into the mall. In this case, gender meets economics -- and an entrepreneurial effort to create economy and/or join the existing economy is squashed. Why do some cities only allow hot dogs?Turns out there are loads of oddball laws about street food vending -- many of which have negative effects on immigrant populations coming into the economy -- and homogenizing effects generally. The authors, katie rabinowicz and andrea winkler ask "how can street food be revived?" and argue that doing so will have wide positive effects on urban areas.
Alongside such intellectual/political food-related reportage appears art in a variety of forms -- a photomontage of food related trucking; the aforementioned smartie closeups entitled "candy coated" (for those of you who do not know smarties, click here); some poetry, etcetera. I particularly liked the take on Chinese food. So, a visually and linguistically interesting contribution to the FOODIE possibilities for reflection. While I "got" the inventory of one photographer's eating for an entire year, it just didn't do much for me. Perhaps that was dean baldwin's point?
Finally, what I like best about FOOD is it is re-readable. I have read it twice already. And, I have gazed at the "scenic cookery," where landscapes are rendered in mashed potatoes, and remembered the ludic politics of hope. So: thanks for this gift. It was truly nourishing.