"40% of U.S. food wasted, report says" reads the headline of this CNN article, citing a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (hyperlinked in the article).
"One key recommendation of the report is standardization of date labels on food. Americans may be throwing out a substantial amount of edible food simply because they misinterpret a "sell by" date as a "use by" date, the report says."
I'm ashamed to say I think I've fallen for that one...Perhaps an awareness campaign is in order? It seems there are a few simple things that could be done to help reduce such waste. But first the problem needs to be officially acknowledged and recognized. Our future food source rests on how we manage our resources now. Spending them to create food is one thing, throwing almost half that food away is another.
The short story is I DID IT I got my Jello to the site and installed it.
I had a fantastic time yesterday at Smoke Farm.
The reward of watching people interacting with the Jello made all the sweat, late nights and crazy amount of work more than worthwhile. It was a joy.
A common interaction with someone who wandered into my grotto went something like this.
They would look around in bemusement as if on a strange kind of Easter egg hunt, finding the blue and green Jello molds in the grass. I'd ask them what they thought.
Then if they asked I'd tell them a bit more about it: That Jello comes from cows' hooves and this was a dairy farm and that I was putting the gelatin back down on the ground where the cows used to walk. I watched thoughtful looks come over their faces.
Ohhhhhh they'd say and nod.
If I felt like they might be open to hearing more I would mention that I'd chosen blue to represent water. Then I'd venture to point out the deeper layer of meaning about beef and water consumption and we'd talk about it together.
Some people really got into it.
But with others I honestly felt like a bit of a jerk ruining the fun of a goofy art experience with a deeper educational meaning.
There were moments when I couldn't believe I'd made a project that had to be explained in words, an idea formerly against my principles as an artist, and not only that but one with a political, ecological message.
Can't art just be art?
Yes it can and should.
But part of this venture has been a deliberate foray into conceptual art which in my mind is art that stands on two legs, one visual and one verbal. Not only that but it has been a deliberate exploration of political, ecological art.
The conceptual nature of the project is the reason I started this blog, so that I could share not only the technical and artistic process of making the piece but also the ideas behind it.
One or two people couldn't leave fast enough when I explained the underlying idea, almost as if I were pointing a finger at them personally about their eating habits, which was interesting in itself.
But most people seemed to appreciate being prompted to think a little further beyond simply the physical installation and pleased to be engaged about a deeper meaning and eager to hear a few facts.
It was fun sharing that gelatin melts at the body temperature of the cows it comes from. That's kind of creepy said one woman.
And that we use 2,000 gallons of water to raise one pound of beef. Some already knew. Others' eyes widened.
Everyone was curious about the Jello. When someone asked what was in it I enjoyed explaining that I'd worked for weeks to come up with a formula that would hold up outside. What's the formula? asked several people.
I would share that the ingredients included some that were plant-based but I decided not to divulge all of my hard-won scientific secrets. For all my deliberate transparency in this project some things about art need to remain mysterious...
Most gratifying was when someone actually thanked me for starting a conversation about beef and water. One bright-eyed young woman looked me in the eyes, high-fived me and said right on, I like what you did. She made my day.
In the end I must admit that the part I loved most was watching people interact with the Jello. The look and feel of it prompted a lot of "oooo's" and "eewwws"...it was fascinating.
Here's a sampling:
Oooooo did you touch it??
It feels SO WEIRD.
Oh my god it is totally not what I expected I thought it was ICE.
Do these glow in the dark?
Oo land jelly-fish!
Ohhhh you should have made it in the shape of a cow's hoof.
Hey it's next to the stream, I bet cows used to walk in here.
I didn't know there was BLUE Jello.
Can you eat it?
I wish there were like, tons of them.
Hey let's take a picture down real low and then photoshop us in!
It makes me feel like a kid! Can I poke it?
I want to pick that whole thing up and throw it against a tree.
How long will it take to melt?
It looks like some kind of fungus.
....And for the win....
Did you grow these here?
I'm giving it a name. Helps me keep my ideas straight.
Though this project could perhaps better be described as CUCKOO FOR COCOA PUFFS.
Same probably goes for Jello, too.
My Priority Mail box full of secret ingredients was sitting for a full day at the post office while a temp mail carrier apparently overlooked it. All is forgiven however because I finally figured out what was going on and got it in time before the branch closed.
While I'd like to tell myself I had this adequately planned out and blame it on the USPS I have to be honest and admit I should have a. figured out my recipe sooner b. sprung for FedEx shipping and/or c. ordered sooner.
But if there's one thing I learned from watching the Mars landing it's that ZERO MARGIN OF ERROR IS THE NEW WIGGLE ROOM.
And when it comes to Jello I'm all about wiggle room.
It's going to be a long night in the studio/lab/kitchen and I couldn't be more excited. Unless maybe someone brought me beer.
Here in the control room everyone is bantering lightly but you can feel the tension as the crew waits for supplies to arrive. Currently the shipment is one day late. "Come on, USPS Priority Mail!" says project leader Dr. Julia Hensley cheerfully, "you can do it!" Then glancing at the bike-box coolers waiting for action, "Li'l shooter", she adds under her breath.
What to do? Well, let's see. We could put Jello on the ground. You know in a remote location in northern Washington where if all goes well it will be stumbled on (hopefully not literally) by a crowd of festival-goers before becoming slug food and melting into the ground...
This is my response to an issue that feels overwhelming. It's an admittedly nutty and miniscule, arty drop in a very serious, very big ecological, economic, sociological and political bucket.
This project is also a lot of 'firsts' for me as an artist: A political, conceptual, sculptural installation involving considerable technical, logistical and scientific challenges.
Scary? Yes. Making art and showing is frightening. You expose your innermost thoughts and emotions. What if your Jello doesn't set or melts right away for instance. This is vulnerability everyone but it's part of the job.
In all seriousness I feel passionately about water and I'm deeply concerned where it's going to come from in the future worldwide and how we are going to have enough of it to grow food for us all.
What's truly frightening to me is the thought of waking up one day in the US to find we've sucked the last sip out of the Oglalla Aquifer, one of the major sources of water for crop irrigation. I don't know about you but 2,000 gallons of water to raise one pound of beef seems like a crazy equation and a bad deal.
The concept of my project is simple. Jello is made from cows. Smoke Farm where the Lo-Fi Festival is held was a dairy farm. The Jello will sit in the dirt next to a stream where cows used to walk.
Hopefully it will be be fun to look at. But if anyone cares to think about it enough to seek out a grassfed burger, or refrain from eating that cheeseburger one extra day a week that would be extra fantastic.
If you do happen to be out at Smoke Farm this Saturday, whatever you're having for lunch (and there will be a lot of tasty meat grilling going on) if you want some dessert stop by my installation, I'll have lots. The color is a surprise and the presentation is a little unusual but as my grandma used to say a speck of dirt never hurt anyone.
Personally I don't eat much meat and hardly any beef, but if you do there are a lot of good reasons to seek out grass fed beef, from nutrition to ecology to sustainability.
From Whole Foods here's an article on how to cook grass fed beef and why it's better environmentally, biologically, ethically and nutritionally than the grain fed kind.
More places to buy grass fed beef:
American Alps Ranch (Skagit Valley, Washington)
Northwest Grassfed Beef (sourced from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana)
Eatwild/Washington (Grass fed meat, eggs and dairy in WA state)
A resource for grassfed meat, eggs and dairy products, searchable by state
Rain Crow Ranch (Missouri)
Tallgrass Beef (Illinois)
San Rafael Valley Grass-Fed Beef (Arizona)