Eating Local as Public Art

Andrea Borghini, University of Milan

Nicola Piras, University of Milan

To celebrate the work and life of the renowned artist Ana Mendieta, the curator Su Wu and the chef Thalios Barrios Garcia organized an exhibition in a new public art space, La Clínica in Oax-aca (Mexico), which included a brunch where traditional, seasonal, and local food were served. The guests wandered from the exhibition room to the bar, consuming local food while appreciating local art in a public space. The purpose of the convenors was to create a singular exhibition where the work of Mendieta, the environment, and the food by Garcia merged in a unique artistic experience. The exhibition in Oaxaca is one among a seemingly growing number of art events that bestow upon food a key role in the sphere of public art. Jointly taken, these occasions implicitly bring to mind the thesis recently advanced by Borghini and Baldini (2021), which claims that cooking and dining may be regarded, in some instances, as forms of public art. In their work, Borghini and Baldini offer a wide variety of case studies that substantiate their claim, distinguishing three forms of public art that may arguably be realized through cooking and dining: memorial art, social protest art, and art that enhances.

Developing Borghini and Baldini’s perspective, in this paper we study whether eating local (or, equivalently, locavorism, or local food), i.e., the thesis that consuming and producing local food has a value, can be considered, in some instances, as a form of public art. In recent years, eating local has acquired a rel-atively prominent role in public and scholarly dis-cussion on the ethics and politics of dieting (e.g., Borghini, Piras, & Serini [2021a]; Enthoven & Van den Broeck [2021]; Kim & Huang [2021]; Noll & Werkheiser [2018]; Pollan [2008]). In particular, since eating local bears special ties to geographi-cal space — as the Oaxaca exhibition witnesses — it can be used as a means to convey site-specifically, intimate, and internal values of specific interest to a community2.At the same time, a second unrelated research agenda brought to light the aesthetic worth of eat-ing local. In fact, several examples of haute cuisine — which may be considered as a form of art per se, e.g., Trubek [2000] — employ local items (see, inter alia, Sammels [2014]).

Furthermore, when the aesthetic paradigm does not rely on traditional forms of artistic appreciation, which exclusively looks at fine dining, also more ordinary and wide-spread instances of eating local may be considered as forms of art (e.g., Matthen [2021]) and, as we will argue, able to elicit culinary values.Bringing together the two unrelated strains of research, in this paper we argue that eating local can, in some instances, be regarded as a form of public art. Thanks to this conjoinment, the study will improve our understanding and apprecia-tion of the complex web of culinary values linked to eating local, in particular the entanglement between its aesthetic, political, and cultural sig-nificance. Using the expression “culinary values” we mean all the values that may be linked to a food or a food experience, which extend beyond the gustatory aspects, to encompass also political, ethical, broadly aesthetic, and cultural dimensions (see Engisch [2022]).


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