“Instructions for Eating” is a new monthly column from Tracy Candido about food as a medium and eating as a social practice. Invited artists present recipes, preparation instructions, directions for hunting and gathering, lists of ingredients, etc. for public consumption. These experimental essays function as a site of learning and action: readers are encouraged to perform the instructions laid out before them. Each invited artist is asked to propose/suggest two other artists who would be well suited for the column. This creates a participant/artist driven effort. The following entry is from Eric May.
I’m all for “going green.” I have to wonder, though, what exactly is this ideal of “green?” Is it a utopian state where mankind reverses the impact that we’ve had on the planet, finding a perfect stasis of man and the original design of nature? It seems like an impossible feat. In terms of our consumptive relationships and habits in an ecosystem, I wholeheartedly support ideas of seasonal, local, heirloom, and genetically pure food. However it seems to me that by focusing so much on an ideal, we may be overlooking the way nature actually looks in the 21st century.
Man is nature, so I’m not here to say we have irreversibly corrupted the planet. We ought to take a close look at how we’ve changed the environment and take more responsibility for the altered ecology of now. Its time to unpack our value judgments towards species that are considered impure or nuisances, for typically we are the reason they are here. In my practice I examine these relations. I am interested in the language we have created around other beings.
Genesis 2:20: Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field. I’m looking at language beyond just taxonomy here. In animistic belief systems, animals are given the status of spiritual figureheads. The medicine man or shaman of these cultures would induce visionary states to commune with the animal spirits. They put themselves in the place of the animal. In Western civilizations there is an inversion of this type of relationship with nature, in fables and other such tales, animals are put in the place of humans to allegorize our own virtues and misgivings. On one level, we look for a commonality between our own behavior with that of the animals, we look into them for emotion and expression, we find an empathy in their “cuteness.” We name animals, in this case, to reflect our perceived innocence of nature. The teddy bear, a surrogate human child. On the other hand though, when the same such creatures are tipping over our garbage cans or eating our tomatoes we name them pests.
In my “Dinner Party” and “Picnic” projects, in which I play host to anthropomorphized fantasies of animals, I invert the relationships we have with pest animals and recast them as guests to our privileged, typically off-limits dinner tables. However, these aren’t the cute animals of You Tube video follies or the gentle, cultured creatures of “The Wind in the Willows.”” The beasts at my parties typically don’t have such dainty table manners. We despise these animals because they reflect our nasty brutish side. It happens to be animals such as raccoons, opossums, and bears that play the roles of our despised backyard invaders. Yet they are simply just clever, omnivorous scavengers with attuned motor skills, just like us, and in this case it’s physiological rather than allegorical.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t empathize – by all means, Rousseau and Betham have taught us that the beasts indeed feel. Perhaps we just ought to join the animals in their place as the shaman may have on a vision quest. Meet nature head on. It’s with this on-the-ground, face-to-face attitude that we must approach the contemporary state of nature. The animals are invading our preened suburban lawns because their woods are shrinking. And they love to eat our delicious scraps.
Some of our interventions in the landscape have yielded much more sinister results. Species end up where they aren’t supposed to be due to any number of reasons – sloppy agricultural practices, unchecked hitchhiking on vessels of trade, shrinking natural habitat, fucked up shifts in weather, mismanagement of environmental policies, etc. Yes, thorough, long term, pragmatic solutions to manage invasive species are tantamount. However, adopting a more hands on, aware perception of these species would help us better live with them, as they are (accidental) citizens of our localities and we are typically responsible for their residencies. We give them a name – invasive – a slightly more threatening term than immigrant.