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'Edible Stories' engages crowd on issues of food politics, nutrition, environment

On the evening of June 13, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art was the scene of the unique, interactive event known as “Edible Stories: From Desert Foods to Food Deserts.”

The occasion brought together artists, social scientists, indigenous ethnobotanists, performers and farmers who shared their perspectives about the complex dilemmas that shape our relationship to the food we eat. The goal was to engage people and stimulate dialogue and ideas regarding the junctures of food politics, ecology, nutrition and sustainability.

The event featured an outdoor walking tour of edible and medicinal desert plants, an original DJ mix about food politics, presentations, performances, art and desert-inspired foods (like nopal sorbet), mesquite cookies and chia lemonade.

The venue reached capacity long before the event began.

“Edible Stories” was presented by Arizona State University’s Deer Valley Rock Art Center and the Herberger Institute’s Performance in the Borderlands. It was organized and introduced by Casandra Hernandez, the center’s interpretation and programs coordinator, and Performance in the Borderlands producing director Mary Stephens.

Azcentral.com recently highlighted the event in an online slideshow of images from that night.

“Edible Stories” involved the work of two doctoral students in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Thomas Bleasdale investigates community-based food movements and the socio-historical processes behind today’s inequitable food systems. He shared historic photos and information on South Phoenix gardens and explored dimensions of food insecurity and justice in the city.

Sociocultural anthropology graduate student April Bojorquez and new media artist Matt Garcia introduced the audience to Desert ArtLab. The Phoenix-based community initiative investigates connections among culture, ecology and community, as well as our sense of place and identity in the Sonoran Desert.

Other presenters included Phoenix artist, farmer and food activist Matthew Moore. He discussed his earthworks and video art documenting the loss of his family’s farm to suburban development, along with his Digital Farm Collective project. Moore installs time-lapse videos in grocery stores that show shoppers the lifecycle of plants from seed to harvest.

“If you knew it takes 160 days to grow a carrot, would it change your relationship with the next bag of carrots you purchase?” Moore asked the audience.

“Royce Manuel, an artist and ethnobotanist from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, shared his intimate knowledge of desert foods – like wild spinach and cholla buds – and his understanding of what it means to live in a desert that has provided sustenance to indigenous peoples for centuries.

Local poets Kate Saunders and Tomas Stanton opened the night with an original performance about household food economics.

Artist Michelle Ponce reflected on the cultural dimensions of food preparation and sharing through movement and music.

“Edible Stories” was produced in conjunction with the museum’s exhibit, “Stocked: Contemporary Art from the Grocery Aisle,” which runs until Sept. 1.