Food is the mirror of society
We need to recognize what has happened to our food system, and, consequently, to ourselves, it was not a chance and inevitable process. The transformation of the food system is actually being driven and shaped by one of the most powerful human and brutally efficient forces: the market. That system, however, is still largely a work in progress, a product of billions and billions of human decisions. And if many of those decisions are made in places and contexts that go far beyond our control, there are many others that are taken closer: in our regions, in our communities and in our kitchens. From thousands of years food is the mirror of society. It is the source of the material and ideas that have brought forth civilization, as well as the mechanisms by which civilization now seems to fall apart. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, we are closer to the precipice than we have ever been, but we are perhaps better able to walk away. Hunger has always been a stimulus for the creation of a better world, and it still is.
Few subjects generate as much discussion as the subject of food. Such discussion is increasingly marked by suspicion and pessimism about how our food is produced. Two years ago, when I was asked to make an in-depth study of the subject of Food for de RijksMuseum in Amsterdam. I was full of preconceptions about the food industry. I saw it as dishonest, unhealthy and unethical. More than that, it was contributing to the decline of our planet, unlike in the good old days, and I felt that the magic word ‘organic’ was going to solve everything. So when I embarked on this project, my first impulsive reaction was to bring to light all the misunderstandings about food once and for all.
After two years of research and photography I realized that the discourse on food production can be infinitely refined and that this often puts supposed advantages and disadvantages in a new light. Scaling-up can actually enhance animal welfare, for example, and organic production is not always better for the environment. Often, an excessively one-sided approach to the subject of food is a barrier to real solutions. Food is simply too wide-ranging and complex a subject for one-liners or to be describing in terms of black and white.