As 18 Reasons’ curator, my mission is to weave together the visual arts with the shopping, eating and cooking experienced in our Market, Creamery, and Farm. In that vein, I’m struck by the opportunity we have this month to begin shifting the visual culture of food shopping from the commercial to the behavioral—public health intervention through design.
In 1955 Berkeley, beat-poet Allen Ginsberg wrote his legendary poem, A Supermarket in California. In it, Ginsberg uses a fictional account of a visit to the supermarket as a metaphor for his dissatisfaction with issues such as economic materialism, domestic life, commodification, and sexual repression. Because I don’t have the space to properly divulge into such issues in this short post, I’d like to focus solely on the poem’s second line and bring its relevance into the present time.
Ginsberg writes, “In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket…”
What a tragic tone he casts—a society grown so estranged from its food sources that it is left to shop for images, simulations of food. But in 2012 a similar statement can be made regarding our grocery shopping habits. Shopping for images, for better or worse, has become the primary way in which many consumers hunt and gather their food today. Removed from the source and reliant on the package, labeling has become one of the main places where we meet the story of our food.
As we walk down the grocery aisles, visual identifiers such as slogans, logos, distinguishable colors, fonts, and buzz words jump off packages in an attempt to grab our attention and increase product sales. We seek Chester the Cheetos Cheetah because he is familiar. We seek words like “natural” and “fresh” because they have subconscious ecological, social, and health-based connotations. Although this detached relationship to our food is unfortunate, and largely caused by the predominantly industrialized food system, this vision-based form of harvesting remains a central part of our grocery shopping experience.
But here in California, in 2012, we have an opportunity to reimagine this visual relationship as more than just a marketing strategy, to reimagine our food packages as more than a place for a company to sell consumers its products. The label can become a site of intervention.
Prop 37, the initiative to mandate labeling of genetically modified foods, if passed, affords us this chance. By voting Yes on Prop 37, consumers get one step closer to having full, transparent disclosure regarding their food products. Voting Yes on Prop 37 does not mean you are casting a vote on whether or not GMOs are good or bad; voting yes simply declares that we as consumers have a right to know how our food is produced. Voting Yes declares that we as consumers crave conscious choice.
The importance of voting with our forks has been stressed, but many times before the food reaches our forks, we must vote with ours eyes at the supermarket. And in order to accurately vote with ours eyes, we must vote at the polls.