Artist’s speech at the dinner: The Magazine Restaurant
Serpentine Galleries: London
This dinner is both a drawing and a sculpture.
In school we were taught our digestive systems begin in the mouth and end in the anus.
What if we were to redraw it so as to include the land? What if instead of beginning in the mouth we included the soil in that drawing? Or the land we share? Or better, the planet we live in?
If we were to include the whole planet when representing our digestive systems, we could then learn our food choices are way more complex than liking or not liking a certain dish and so consider the wide web of interdependent ecosystems involved.
What if we were to expand not only the way we represent our digestive system, but also our sense of taste?
We all know there is food we like and there is food we don’t like. Those decisions take our taste buds into consideration and many times that is all we take into consideration when choosing food: that momentary pleasure in our mouths that will last a few seconds.
Sometimes I might eat something that tastes good, but many times my stomach is not in accordance, or my liver will hate it, or my intestines will go on strike and I won’t poo for days…mouth and digestive system don’t always agree, do they?
And what if we were to reverse that flux? If the digestive system starts on the land, then perhaps our sense of taste should also include everyone who lives on that land: forests, animals, insects, rivers, bees, trees, people. When we say something tastes good, do we consider the satisfaction of all these other beings involved?
Agriculture is nowadays among the human activities that most impact the planet, which is to say it is what we eat. In Brazil, where I come from, up to 90% of the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest is due to cattle grazing and soybean monoculture to feed that cattle.
We had a huge challenge this evening, redrawing our digestive system. How can we eat food that is delicious in our mouths, but is also aligned with both the planet where we live and our digestive system as a whole? In other words, how can we think of food in the expanded field, both inwards and outwards from the mouth?
This dinner started last year during the 32nd Bienal of São Paulo with project Restauro when the international board of the Fundação Bienal came to have lunch at the restaurant we had going at the pavilion. Restauro was an amphibious initiative. It was both a work of art and a restaurant. So it was not about food aesthetics or making it look good. The work of art was not visible to our eyes. The work of art happened on the land, impacting more than 260 families from the Landless Movement in Brazil who work with agroforestry, a way to produce food and regenerate the environment, and who supplied the food we were eating at the pavilion. We called that an environmental sculpture in progress.
Today’s dinner is then both a drawing and a sculpture. Our digestive system may work like sculpting tools and shape the landscape in which we live. It has been such a pleasure to work with the organic farmers that supplied the food for tonight’s dinner, some of whom are also present today. Their generosity was amazing. When visiting these people, who are actually land artists working our land to include diversity, ethical working relations, regenerating soil and refusing to explore the land in a predatory attitude, we were offered an amazing picnic by the river at Home Farm by William Hudson, whose wife made us the best biscuits and which are also part of our dinner tonight; we had the best apples we have ever had at Mole End Farm; we learned about composting and the importance of diversity with Matthew at Forty Hall Farm; we understood the importance of urban farming and its impact on the community at Dagenham Farm from dear Michéle; we heard Andy’s stories about indian corn and the rotation of crops at Nash Nurseries.
As site-specific as all agroecologial farming is, we wanted our recipes to be farm-specific. For that, we counted on the collaboration of amazing chefs Diego Pasqualicchio and Neka Menna Barreto. A big thanks to all the love and knowledge on food that tastes great. Thank you Diego and Neka. You have been amazing!
My words are not enough though to describe and thank all the great people that are involved in the making of this dinner. I could spend all night thanking all the amazing help I had in doing this project: Sarah Bayliss, Amal Khalaf, Joelson Bugila, Paula Signorelli, Luciana Guimarães, Jochen Volz, Catherine Petigas, Frances Reynolds… a big thank you to all the team at the Serpentine Gallery and at the Fundação Bienal: without all of you, I would be just another utopian vegan artist! Thank you for making this come true!
My words are also not enough to explain this food to you. The good thing is that we can count on the amazing ingredients on this table for help. It is not a story to be told though, but eaten. Our digestive systems and every cell of our bodies shall recognize the integrity, the ethics, diversity and life that is deeply ingrained in every molecule of this food. Your cells will listen to that story. Your bodies will understand it.
And to close my speech, as dessert, I want to speak about dandelions. Literally, our dessert is not farm-specific, but site-specific. It is an homage to the wild food that grows in Hyde Park. The chosen wild edible is the dandelion. Chef Diego Pasqualicchio came up with an amazing recipe: dandelion ice cream!
The dandelion is a far cousin to our very well known lettuce, from the Asteracea family. Lettuces are their spoiled cousin. They were once wild too, but they have been domesticated to please our taste buds. As a result, their roots are shallow, their green is pale. If you don’t water the lettuce daily, it will die away. It is fragile and when we eat it, we also mirror its characteristics.
Dandelions are tough. Their roots go deep into the soil, so they draw minerals from deeper layers of the ground. Nobody waters them and they are all over, insisting on being present and including diversity in our land. They are not welcome in monocultures, but they are welcome whenever diversity is around. I found them in every park in London, every sidewalk.
So what happens if we eat them? What do they teach ourselves? At dessert, let your cells open to the dandelions wild and undomesticated lessons. I hope the dessert will also feed the forests in us and deeply connect us to site, this amazing park where we are tonight.
Yes, this food has a lot to teach us and our bodies. Have a nice glass and bon appetit!