The crosscutting nature of ‘the future of food’ makes for particularly contentious debate, as it resonates throughout the often abstract domain of the economic, into the realm of the most intimate, the corporeal. Historically, food has been essential in the creation and organisation of community, for it was surplus of grain and its division that started our first hierarchies. Understanding our environment and how we may best produce from it is innate, embedded within our most primitive (but perhaps not so unsophisticated) psyche, and is core to our anxiety over the degradation of the environment. Bundanon’s fourth Siteworks, the annual program that looks to create an interdisciplinary forum for art, science and academia, focused on this relevant issue the only way it could, with a Future Food Feast. On 29th of September Bundanon’s homestead was a ‘forum for the future’, hosting a number of experts in their foody field, over 450 members of the public, eight commissioned and curated artworks, and approximately 65 Angus mix Simmental cows.
On approach to Bundanon’s homestead, Sitework attendees were greeted with two films, each displayed within the interior of one of Brook Andrew’s vintage caravans, which sat at the entrance in all their zigzagging glory. One of the films, made by New Yorker Natalie Jeremijenko, followed her XSpecies Adventure Club around Victoria. Jeremijenko’s piece acted as a microcosm for the program: a scientist by training, she curated dinners of the future, presenting her audiences with test tubes and igniting discussion over possibilities for the future. Like Siteworks, Jeremijenko’s project looked to examine current day issues through envisioning a future of alternatives and innovation.
The first forum of the day asked its four panelists to write a postcard from 20 years in the future. The speakers came from four different corners: the entrepreneur, Chris Andrews from Greening Australia; Chris Presland, Landscape Manager for Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority, who works in the management of local rivers; Landcare Australia’s Shane Norrish and artist Barbara Campbell. Despite their varying backgrounds, each spoke of a not so dissimilar future. The worlds of 2032 were hopeful (granted, the exercise relies on our survival of the next two decades), and detailed the future practices and technologies on which we would come to rely, and even enjoy.
We’ve just celebrated the Spring Equinox here in Bundanon beside the Shoalhaven River. As you know, it’s the time when all kinds of seeds are planted...(Barbara Campbell’s postcard)
Throughout all the postcards there was seldom a mention of miracle machines of the future. The technologies were familiar, and the described landscapes built on images we are beginning to see in the present day - of rising tides and community greenhouses. Chris Presland reiterated the importance of taking advantage of what we already know and have. It was suggested in Barbara Campbell’s postcard that the way this will occur is through art:
Artists have always been good at working with the latest technologies, always wanting to see how far they can push things, but they also know how to make things from scratch using raw materials; they know how to find creative solutions to complex problems... artists are allowed to see and do things just for the sake of seeing and doing them. It doesn’t have to have this immediate commercial value... I think that’s how it all started
Many reminisced about past times, our present, when misguided education and misplaced emphasis frustrated the often well intentioned efforts of groups internationally. If we are to believe our oracles, the a-ha moment is not too far away. It is a time of reconciliation and reinterpretation, as Chris Andrews stated, a time when “an economist can share ideas with a farmer."
Removing weeds may protect Australia’s biodiversity, but it also leaves you with a lot of weeds. When Diego Bonetto moved from Italy to Australia he grew a new found sympathy for weeds, as he too was a foreigner. He took advantage of this abundant foliage and had Siteworks participants in 2010 eating weed pie, made of Scotch Thistles. Overlooking what is traditionally deemed unattractive is the end of the future of food. Passionately positive Dank Street Depot Chef, Jared Ingersoll, looks to give value back to food. All food. Encouraging people to invest in the local food industry, when dining and shopping, and take advantage of the vast quantity which is disregarded. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is seaweed. University of Wollongong marine scientist Pia Winberg has been researching, growing and collecting seaweed as a food source for many years. She worked alongside Ingersoll, in serving it up as a side to the local black fish for lunch (one of four futuristic options). It was noticeable that the only qualms with this came from the older crowd, who recognised it as the thing you try to avoid when enjoying the ocean. The popularity of sushi makes it hard to believe that this connection will be occur in the coming generation, and as Australia boasts the largest coastline in the world it is not a issue of access. It is the lack of initiative to make these decisions, to think outside the wildly caught Atlantic tuna tin, which Ingersoll believes comes from the modern day obsession with ‘the bargain’.
The first forum asked its speakers to use the imaginary, placing themselves in the future, to examine the present, while the final conversation of the day discussed the years between us, in the now, and our speakers of the future. The host, Gretel Killeen, reminded the speakers and the audience of the emotional significance that food has in our lives. Each speaker may have a different interpretation of the food chain’s situation, or the best way to reform, however it is foods undeniable innate quality which binds us to it. Food security and famine is one dire aspect of the debate, but it is often the idea of being starved of choice which makes a tragedy of the commons too disturbing to consider.
There was no disagreement amongst the panel that change was inevitable, as Futurist Mike McAllum explained, our food is supplied through a system founded on cheap oil and “those days are finished”. Jodi Newcomb, an economist who works with Carbon Arts in producing creative alternatives, reiterated the importance of altering everyday lifestyles when it comes to issues of food security. “A developed country is not one were a rich man drives his car to work, it is where a rich man catches the train”, she said, pointing out the skewed, and often damaging, goals which current culture aspires. This is a notion we hear all the time when there is mention of the future, although it seems that most policy making that is done today is that of a reactionary kind. Sydney University academic, John Crawford, explained how the government, through current incentives, is in fact encouraging the public to eat food that is nutritionally unsound, environmentally unsustainable, Newcomb’s ‘holistic’ approach is not an opinion, but an inevitability, and the sooner we start to instill these changes the more choice we will have over their affects.
The Choice Magazine spokesperson, Ingrid Just, believes that such conservations are interesting and important, but often irrelevant as they fail to consider the ‘everyday consumer’. It is true that there is a heart in this matter, but “there is also a hip pocket”, she states. Just stated talking to Siteworks audiences “was preaching to the converted”, and attention should remain on educating and empowering the consumer. It is to the consumer, the customer, that Jared Ingersoll is most drawn. He explained his passion for food came from a desire to show people how happy it can make them, and it is people “constant pursuit of cheapness” that overrides this potential joy. Food should find new status in our lives, as ignoring its importance is ignorant and central to the problem of food security. Lynne Strong, a dairy farmer at Clover Hill Dairies and agricultural commentator, states that we spending the lowest percentage of our income on food than we ever have in Australian history. This statistic leaves us asking what we are spending the left over percentage on.
The conversation on this topic is never ending, due to its multifaceted nature, food’s particular ability to impassion people and the exciting prospects that are being developed out of proposed alternatives. The forum continued for over two hours and acted as a catalyst for new projects and collaborations.
Five years ago any vision of the future of food, or the future at all, was under the shadow of an apocalyptically dark cloud. This period of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” was necessary as it was disheartening. As technology advances we find we are, for the first time in history, able to completely end the planet’s story. Acknowledging this dire situation moves towards changing these destructive habits, and Siteworks 2012 was a celebration of these changes. Perhaps the most distressing conundrums could prove inspiring, like a weed pie.