With South Africa’s current drought and ever-increasing food prices, food security has become something of a hot topic. For this reason, the open-air exhibition, Food (R)evolution, is nothing if not perfectly timed.
Launched in Ethiopia in 2015 and currently on show along Government Avenue in the Company’s Garden, the exhibition was put together by the Sustainability Institute in partnership with the Centre For Complex Systems in Transition – both based at the University of Stellenbosch – as well as the African Climate Change Adaptation Initiative, “with the intention of promoting dialogue and discussion around the future of the African food system”.
The exhibition’s co-curator, Gwendolyn Meyer, a research fellow at the Sustainability Institute’s Food Systems Centre, says: “The goal with this exhibition is to collect responses from the public on the subject of Africa’s changing food system, using the photographic exhibition as a vehicle for generating interest and discussion.
“While the exhibition currently comprises a selection of images from a relatively small group of about 15 photographers, who have worked across the African continent, the exhibition is intended as an open public platform for collaboration. If anyone, for example, has an image they feel tells an important story about our current food system, they are welcome to post it to our Facebook page.”
Getting the public involved in as big a way possible was one of the main reasons for choosing the busy Company’s Garden as the location.
Luke Metelerkamp, programme co-ordinator at the Sustainability Institute’s Food Systems Centre – and co-curator of the exhibition – says: “The Gardens are a central public space in the city, which allows for a wider audience. We wanted to use a public space because, in contrast to a museum or gallery, the public is an audience as they happen upon the exhibit in their day-to-day routine of walking along Government Avenue.”
As to whether this decision is yielding the desired results, Mr Metelerkamp says: “From observations so far, people are interested and intrigued. Evidence of this is when people slow down or stop to read the captions, which commands a relatively a high level of engagement. It seems to indicate the content is intriguing enough to cause people to slow down and divert form their path to take a closer look.”
Mr Metelerkamp adds: “In preliminary conversations with people viewing the exhibit, it is also evident that food is a familiar subject everyone can talk about in some way.
“Overall, the diversity of people represented in the exhibit creates interest. The pictures on what South Africans eat also get a lot of attention because of the comparative costs of weekly grocery shopping.”
The images looking into the often jarring differences between what various average South Africans get to eat were captured by the Oranjezicht-based photographer, Eric Miller.
The images were taken from the book, The Hungry Season: Feeding Southern Africa’s Cities, for which he worked with journalist, Leonie Joubert.
The book, which took approximately a year to put together, saw the two traversing South Africa and visiting areas as far afield as Atlantis, the Eastern Cape, Durban, Maseru, Pretoria, Swaziland, in the hopes of answering the question: “Why is it that in southern Africa we produce enough calories and nutrients to keep the region full, satisfied and well nourished, and yet we still have such high levels of hunger and malnutrition?”
As could be expected with such a project, there would be a few eye-opening moments.
Says Mr Miller: “In Swaziland we saw the bowl of pap a family of five had for their dinner. That was one of the things I will never forget.
“You know, I sometimes get invited to talk about my work and the lessons I’ve learnt and I always mention that, we often say things like, ‘I have nothing to eat’, even though we have food in our homes. But I have seen people with nothing in the cupboards; people who have literally nothing to eat.”
Mr Miller adds: “I recently spoke to someone who lives in Delft and was feeding her children sugar water and bread. That was all she had to feed them. Our food security is getting worse. This is not some scientific mumbo jumbo. You can see it affecting people.”
Hope could, however, be found, literally, in our own backyards.
Recounting his time in Lesotho, Mr Miller says: “There was a family there who got quite a lot out of their own garden, where they had some sheep and grew some vegetables. That was really inspiring. This man was a migrant labourer and watching him pack some food after their Sunday lunch together as he headed back to the mines was also quite poignant.”
Ms Meyer adds: “There is really so much that we can do. It’s quite exciting. I think there is really something to be said for becoming more of an active and informed food citizen – and finding ways of supporting the localisation of your food system.”
Offering up some tips, Ms Meyer adds: “Know where your food comes from and support people and organisations trying to create a better food system from the ground up by supporting organisations like Harvest of Hope and Ethical Coop when you do your shopping.
“Where possible, find ways of speaking out against large companies who profit from selling us food which is known to be unhealthy and spend billions of dollars annually targeting children in their marketing campaigns.
“Support organisations who provide a safety net for those going hungry – in particular those working with children. And these days, there are so many of these – it’s really great as there are so many ways to get involved.
“Also, change your diet little by little. By and large, diets which are better for the environment are also healthier for you. Cut down on meat consumption, eat less processed food and up your intake of fresh vegetable, pulses and other plant based products.
“On average, a middle class family wastes about one third of all food they buy. Imagine if we didn’t do that. Not only could you slash your monthly food bill by 30%, but the environmental footprint of your diet would also come down by 30%.”
As to what she hopes the exhibition will ultimately achieve, Ms Meyer says: “Well, that the images will trigger dialogue and discussion about food – where it comes from and how multiple issues affect our daily diets. Perhaps people will think about how they can change some of their eating and food-shopping behaviours.
“But also, there is a certain recognition of humanity in relating to diverse cultures through food and, hopefully, people will enjoy discovering the similarities and differences of the many cultures represented through the lens of food.”
* A series of open public lectures and discussions are being planned in conjunction with the exhibition. For more information, follow the Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ FRexhibition For more detailed information on the exhibition and a full catalogue of the current images, visit www.foodrev.net