Category Archives: Darin Jensen

On the Ethics of Mapping and Mapping of Food: a 5-part blogpost




The above iconic image of a bean-eater or “Mangiafagioli” by the late Renaissance Bolognese painter Annibale Caracci is an icon of the local eating of food in the early modern world.  The image of eating is compelling because it is rooted in a specific place, eating the beans, onions, bread, and wine, immersed in the Mediterranean economy of oil that defined the cuisine of northern Italy and Rome around 1590–and is so iconic in part, as it is one of the earliest maps that depicts the simplicity of the so-called Mediterranean diet.

The image became iconic unlike Caracci’s other images of butchers or later images of fish-mongers bas the template for the Sicilian artist Renato Guttuso’s classic illustration of Italian eating, which was the cover of Elizabeth David’s Italian Food (Penguin 1965)–a series of books on regional cooking that preserved food as local and fresh, in ways associated with Alice Waters and, in Europe, the Slow Food movement.  The image is an icon of local eating, where vegetables, oil and wine engross bean-eater absorbed in consuming local Roman food.


Guttuso’s images of earthy, sun-drenched vegetables of Sicily evoked a strong tie to place that David presented to English readers; the cover of her book echoed Guttuso’s rendering of earthy qualities of local cuisine, in ways that seemed to give a fresh awareness of the stuff of foods, and their origins, for a postwar country waking up from packaged rations and voyaging abroad.




Maps can help in untangling how eating habits and practices relate to place.  In the winter, we buy and eat blueberries and grapes from Chile, tomatoes from the Netherlands, garlic from China, or just don’t know from where the multi-sourced food that arrives in confected packages was grown.  Mapping food supplies, food circulation, and the economics of its price forces us to come to relate food to place–and follow the routes food travels as it reaches our plate, teaching us how food systems mediate our relation to the space where it is grown.  The call to action to “vote with our forks” reflects not only a desire to eat good food, but to appreciate the origins of grown food, from its cultivation to practices of animal husbandry, and a call for responsibly to map the food on our plates.  It raises possibilities for historical maps of shifts in food supplies, of understanding the first airlifts of tomatoes from Dutch greenhouses, or the economy by which fish are flown around the world–in the hope of reclaiming an awareness of mapping food, this blogpost discusses the ethics and benefits of rendering food cartographically.

The project of mapping extends far beyond enjoying local cuisines–that’s a great thing, but mapping is here a critical project.  The volume aims to achieve a re-mapping of our relation to the land in understanding the routes by which food arrives in our refrigerators, kitchens, and plates.  As we search for maps to excavate or understand how food ties us to a basic relation to the land, it’s not surprising that food-mapping, as much as food-writing, is a way to call to attention the problematic estrangement of food from place in contemporary life.  For maps of food prices and growing regions attempt to preserve a clearer relation of food to place and to help understand how complex our relation to food has become.

The maps compiled in FOOD:  An Atlas–discussed in my first post in this blog–raise a number of thought-problems about the relation of food to place. Each attempts to preserve and privilege local notions of our relation to food as we are starting to situate traffic in food within an age of the global circulation of goods.  It is the ideal gift for fans of farmers markets, and to those interested in taking back their relation to food.  The interest in mapping food starts from mapping the sources of the food we eat, but advocates a new ethics for mapping food to understand our relation to space.  In a series of crowd-sourced maps of different scale that are grouped thematically, they image eaters’ relations to regions and the mediation of local to global in foods.  What is compelling about this “atlas” is how each of the maps subverts the universalizing authority of the map by privileging access, availability, and the distribution of food and by asking us to start to remap our own relation to networks of food supply.

The maps were drawn to create a living geography that mirrors a geography of food through questions of local availability and exchange, as well as by mapping food consumption:  they reveal how all food exists in a network that links us to place.  The mapping of food is a necessary extension of writing about food if we are going to take seriously what place and location mean in our food supplies.

2.  Food has long been mapped.  Food tastes define regions; the resources of food are often mapped to define the integrity of geographic areas, patterns of transhumance, and geographic divides. Take, for instance, an early historical map of the divide between the consumption of oil and butter in early modern Europe, of the sort used as critical tools to understand the material basis of civilizations by members of “the Annales school” of French historiography, and exemplified by the work of Fernand Braudel, who sought to illuminate the “deep structures” and rhythms of a Mediterranean mapped by vines and olive groves.  To be sure, this generalizes in part the divisions in France to understand the divisions in European consumption at large, separating the Mediterranean economies into vegetal and animal fats.


But it also used maps to delineate a lived space that expanded beyond the experience of its actors, their emotions, and relations to life.

In Francophone fashion, the Annaliste maps divides as learning aids which exploit the objectivity of cartographical accuracy as a scientific foundation for historical inquiry.  Rather than map routes of historical exchange or structures of daily life, they map agronomic foundation of political cataclysms or events s  to draw distinctions that are not viewable to actual participants, rather than the finer grain of local variations.  Such a map of butter and oil maps the habits of consumption and reliance on fats to draw a line of difference that distinguish and demarcate the Mediterranean, but  have an odor of essentialism that perpetuates the naturalization of differences.  These lines of division return along different latitudes:


What’s lost in drawing such crisp lines of division is the meaning of local.   We privilege lines of regional and national differing as explanations of difference, without looking at how meaning was made on the ground, even as these maps seek to reveal the coherence of deeper structures from the “folds of the Mediterranean” to the proportion of arable lands.  A related if distinct danger in mapping food differences is that we elide consumption and production, or view the economies of production and consumption as a unit, rather than examine the choices available in a market that could reveal how populations relate to a complex global market of food.

The Annaliste maps made sense as a way to understand the distribution of goods or the distribution of resources in a map of zones of caloric intake:


Of course, when one thinks of how French map food, one thinks of terroir as a championing the authority of local wines:

Cotes du Rhone       Region of Bordeaux

Maps such as the above value place, location, and authenticity.  But authenticity is a scarce commodity, and food maps look far more strange as food choices are mediated by the vagaries of a food economy, responding often to the availability of disposable income, scarcity, or market forces.  We have seen a recent rise of islands of awareness of food and islands of distinct eating patterns and even archipelagoes.  Such islands are created or emerge near to fresh produce growing areas, or farms, as farmers’ markets arrive in cities with the promise of “fresh” food grown in a “local” way–if not in the cities where the markets occur, but in farms that promise sanctioned growing practices–and access to a sense of place in our plates.  To be sure, the creation of farmers markets in cities can be active ways of reclaiming pubic spaces as sites of sociability and exchange, and probably are tied to the ‘greening’ of urban space associated with projects of urban agriculture of the sort that has also begun to be mapped.

But there is a way that the issues staked out in these maps engage the globalization of food consumption, the mediation of foods in the urban marketplace, where food is removed from place and eating removed from the places of growing food, consumers lack a clear set of tools for remapping one’s relations to food, as there is of restoring a sense of place to one’s dining plate.  “Place” is not understood in terms of cuisine, however, but geographic specificity:  as wine is regionally grown, coffee beans or honey are sourced, linked to “origins” that we’ve lost sight of in a global marketplace, and high-end markets promise to recapture a specific place of origin–presumably one cleaner than the spaces in which we live–and a sense of authenticity that we used to look for in local cuisines or while traveling.

3.  Maps draw our attention to the local through the maps in FOOD:  An Atlas.  

For the maps that it includes focus an eye on the manner it maps how food travels over space through an ethics of cartographical representation.  The open-sourcing of maps for this volume suggested an attempt at recovering a transparency in understanding the sources of food, and removed the project from a single authorial bias.  There is indeed a shared pleasure of providing different maps of food sources, and at revealing exchanges in a variety of food products in different cartographic formats and conventions.   The many maps of modern practices of food consumption clarify our current (confused) relation to the land in relation to questions of the just access to food and food supplies in ways that mirror a new concern with food and social justice activism, by revealing the value of a new ethics for mapping food.  Such an ethics of mapping were raised by the late Brian Harley in the early 1990s, when he called for guidelines in formulating principles to help formulate maps that are themselves made to support moral or ethical judgments.

The geographer Brian Harley was preoccupied (he seems always to have been preoccupied by something pressing in the meaning of maps) by an ethics of mapping and the ethical nature of the questions that mapping practices inevitably raise.  He raised a set of questions in the spate of short articles that preceded his untimely decease including:  what are the ethics of cartographical practices? could a more ethical cartography exist? can we move from “what map is good?” to “what map is just?”  Isn’t the problem of map making not only in preserving standards of cartographical illiteracy in an age of the rise of automated and computer-generated cartography (Google Earth?), but in a failure of attending to the ethics that are concealed in the universalizing project of mapping and the interested nature of any map?  It would be unjust not to map sites of toxic waste, and to pretend that they didn’t exist or were not worthy of consideration.

To do so would be to indulge in the cartographical illusion of mapping a sanitized relation to space.


Familiarity with such questions might explain the interest generated in maps of food.  They present our relation to the land, or map how food mediates that relation to the land.  They recognize that our relation to the land is mediated in maps, how we eat food is also a way to construct or relation to place.  The gathering in one book of a set of particularly inventive means for mapping our relation to place pioneer a new iconography to map food that questions the uniform distribution of space in maps, and our relation to what we eat.

Beyond being maps of the appropriation and distribution of food, the maps found in FOOD pose questions of the justness of mapping that recap how social justice has become a concern in food supply and policy.  This makes food-chains and consumption the perfect focus for  Harley’s focus on making the map “a socially responsible representation of the world.”   Harley was troubled by the historical Eurocentric value of cartographical projections, but concerned with the need to bridge practical commitments to precision, accuracy, and exactitude with questions of the morals of cartographical representations that moved beyond the pretense or illusion of objectivity.  His concern with ideological naturalization might begin from how mapping oceans as bright blue concealed environmental impact of industry on water-safety, and universalizing one blue concealed variations in clean water supplies by creating the illusion of abundance; created a misleading uniformity in soil-qualities; how USGS maps omitted sites of toxic waste.

Harley’s concern partly echoed worries that the majority of information imparted to students is removed from ethics, and concern that the aesthetic or perceptual questions of mapmakers needed to be returned to an awareness of the moral judgments made in cartographical design.  This concern is evident in the search for a new iconography of mapping in FOOD to reveal the implications of how food circulates in the modern world, removed from caravans and naval routes, but suddenly dictated by market forces and global exchange:   the concept of mapping the transaction of food supplies illuminates the all-too-easy naturalization of a relation to food.  There is a danger to forget discrepancies in the availability and scarcity of fresh food; lest we forget this, witness the urban “food swamps” where more junk food is sold than fresh produce.  We might forget where tomatoes come from, viewing them as located only in a grocery:  yet witness the established routes of the importation of tomatoes across Europe, where crops move and circulate along routes removed from natural settings.  And witness the uneven distribution of major crops in the United States.  We can learn more about our food, and increase awareness of its sources, by continuing to map where our food comes from by reading how foods are distributed in maps, rather than letting maps naturalize our relation to space.

Harley’s concerns with such an ethics of cartography no doubt began from keen historical awareness of the basis in maps as the English Ordnance Survey with military needs, or the uses of mapping in processes of colonialization in South Asia or the naturalization of Apartheid in the former South Africa, downgrading or erasing informal black settlements in maps; this cartographical distortion suggested either the illegitimate nature of their claims to space or lesser place within the consciousness of the maps’ intended audience:

south african towns and townships

These maps of South Africa distorted the social landscape of townships in ways that masked actual size of settlement towns, making it impossible to locate the settlements or place them in collective knowledge, and granting greater prominence to a network of white settlements which the maps treat as more historically permanent and hence more legitimate.  Such maps are perhaps inherently conservative to a dangerous degree, as they retained “white” cities as the most important for their users, erasing the stability or permanence of settlements–or presuming that no user would be interested in locating them in the map.

Harley’s consternation at the dilemmas of mapping led him to challenge mapping as primarily mathematical and note that it was fundamentally illusory in how it  re-described the world.  In calling for a more “self-critical, socially sensitive, politically street-wise approach to the practices of map making and the objectives of cartographical activity” Harley hoped that cartographers could “recapture control over the morality of the map” in ways that exercised moral judgment, rather than “being relegated to becoming a robotic arm of an institutional or commercial patron” (Harley 1991).  Although he devoted less attention to the consumption of maps or the levels of literacy of reading maps, focussed as he was on the construction of maps and the contexts in which they constructed a social reality, Harley valorized the literacy of reading maps as a way that ethical statements could be made by mappers.  He was particularly concerned lest the makers of maps unintentionally become instrumental in undermining an ethical relation to the landscape in which we live–and perpetuate a simulacrum restricting our relations to social space as well as to agrarian place.

4.  Harley’s work has usually been read in relation to critical deconstruction, have the rise of the moral cartographer.  Many of Harley’s critics have called him optimistic (or utopian) for hoping that maps could change our attitudes to social space.  But perhaps it is not so utopic at all in an age of globalism.  Since Harley asked that we consider the moral benefits of mapping the world in a new way, and how questions of social justice can be endorsed by cartographers, the proliferation of GoogleMaps have distorted or make misleading links between places, and their totalizing claims to objectivity have revealed their flaws or limited reliability.  Crucial to Harley’s call for an ethics of cartography was a refusal to accept only official data that might obscure or silence local variations and local meanings:  we have seen a range of new mapping forms in recent years that call attention to the overlooked, from maps of superfund sites to Crow and Lodha’s Atlas of Global Inequalities (2011;

These maps use the familiar cartographical certainties to define monolithically uniform spaces in relation to each other, without much fine grain for local differences and, despite their illuminating observations of inequalities, sacrifice relations to place to draw and reveal stark contrasts in national GDP.



The losses of the erasure of local meanings was central to Harley’s call for a new ethics of cartographic practice, engaging not only the conventions of mapmaking that create stark hierarchies of meaning and prominence, but the iconographies by which distributions were noted.  Harley was particularly preoccupied that the increasing institutionalization of technologies of Geographic Information Systems and automated cartography would  omit a local relation to the landscape–and indeed promote a uniform mode of mapping often   insensitive to local social or environmental issues.  But the malleability of the computer-generated statistical map has created the opportunity for expanding the map as a critical tool in Crow and Lodhi’s Atlas, so that questions about global relationships can be readily viewed across space and time with iconic power.

A more seriously revisionist approach might play off of our familiarity with the significance of cartographic icons or even color schemes.  One example of engaging the familiar color-schema of maps that have dominated the media in recent election cycles to create a new map of meaning in our political divides lies below.  This map re-appropriates the stark red-blue division in its syntax, re-presenting how we understand the divisions between red and blue states not in terms of ethnicity, race, or the voting tendencies of segmented pie charts of the population.  We can understand this stock division by mapping underlying social practices, as revealed this map of the prevalence of bookstores versus churches across states:

Bookstores versus Churches

The mapping of the prevalence of bookstores generally follows patters of urban settlement–the places most likely for a bookstore to occur that would be economically viable, to be sure.  Although a telling snapshot of American, the map may not hold as bookstores dwindle or become less economically feasible in more states; one might be tempted to  extrapolate that with the greater likelihood of the closure of bookstores, as Amazon and online sales expand, the expansion of red states threatens–but the map is a tool to reveal social practices, rather than a map of the characteristics that determine a population.  It reveals how the occupants of each region view space, however, and the sorts of spaces in which they chose to live.  And we can see that there is no such thing as a homogeneous red or blue space, or a clear map between, as Zook and Graham put it, faith and reason.  The density of bookstores or churches in each place is divided by a national average, we can map a propensity for lifestyle choices, rather than the actual decisions or actions of a given population.

This sort of a map as an ethical intervention, in other words, by revealing the complexity of a landscape and asking us to relate it to the sort of landscape in which we live or want to live, rather than draw clear divisions based on statistical averages or means.  We should have maps of food that allow us to know what foods we chose to eat, and what foods are most available in our environment–or the agrarian environments or marketplaces from which the food we eat derives.

5.  The maps in the self-published curated collection FOOD: An Atlas are all inventive uses of cartographical iconography to illuminate the local by mapping local meanings and currencies of food.  They offer provocative templates to examine our own relation to food.  The editors reveal their commitments to food justice activism, mapping eating habits over space to reveal how constraints of economy, availability, and attitudes to food inform discrepancies of food consumption.  Does the density of farmers’ markets in Berkeley whose vendors are required to sell food from a minimum of ten mile radius reveal a geographic pocket that will encourage new attitudes to food?  does the actual access of the produce sold at farmers’ markets provide an index into local attitudes to changing patterns in the consumption of food?


Does the way that the food industry draws with surprising ease from a range of geographic sources create a new sense of how we relate food to place?  It is particularly compelling to view a map of how regions protect or safeguard local food specialties in the European Union, protections no doubt militated in part to protect local economies:

PDO-PGI-TSG_v2.2b - transp copia

It is in some way an act of resistance and a way of framing spatial knowledge to assemble a new “map” on a regional plate.  Take the time, in other words, as you eat, to map the origins of the food that shows up on your plate.  If you’d like to do so with more precision, or are uncertain of the origins of what you eat, feel free to use a handy program as a guide, at

Or, if possible, please do consider ordering a copy of the atlas,

There will be an informal collective publication party for the book of maps and an ongoing discussion about its February 17 release party at Smilodon Plaza outside McCone Hall at the University of California at Berkeley: Food: An Atlas Release Party.

Where: Smilodon Plaza at McCone Hall** University of California Berkeley, California

When: Sunday, February 17, 2013 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

 This even being long past, for an absolutely free download of the maps in the atlas, click here…

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Filed under Alice Waters, Atlas of Global Inequalities, butter/oil, crowd-sourced maps?, Darin Jensen, data visualization, Elizabeth David, Ethics of Cartography, Fernand Braudel, Food: An Atlas, foodscapes, Guerilla Cartogaphy, mapping farmers' markets, Mapping Food, mapping food sources

Mapping Knowledge and Mapping Food


What relevance do maps have in a world often organized by database systems that are in themselves often impossible to visualize?  One answer is that the map is not only a visual register of data, but prepares an active correlation of information patterns and raises questions about human relations.  Rather than arranging data, maps show or highlight selective relations between data in graphic form.  Maps do so in ways that generate questions about our relations to space, if not the variety of relations each of us occupy to an otherwise uniform expanse, in order to make space our own; they are as a result particularly useful tools to ask us to consider our sense of place in ways that we might not otherwise find a way to puzzle over and consider, or find a way to concretize.  Although the size of massive database systems escape the kind of an individual, the maps that guerilla cartographer Darin Jensen has solicited and assembled in FOOD: An Atlas raise chart the spaces we organize around through food, and understand place through the intersection of place with how food is produced, exchanged and consumed.

In an age of the unwarranted expansion globalization of food consumption patterns and trade, where the importation and circulation of foods to their consumers often seem shaped by processes irrational in nature, the rationality of the map provides a way to raise questions about how to understand the ways that food sources and substances travel across space both in commercial ways and in raising questions about the efficiency of these systems.   In identifying and rendering a joint database of food production and consumption, we can grasp in an entertaining visual form multiple questions about how we value the place of our food and how food is now valued and exchanged over spaces far beyond the places where it is grown.  We may not know what bacillus of yeast helped the fermentation of the glass of beer we are drinking, even if we prize the origin of our coffee; we can’t visualize or often even know what field of tomatoes provided the basis for our pasta sauce, or the huge range of regions united in the foodstuffs in a plate of school lunch, or where the almonds of northern and central California travel in order to reach consumers from the Central Valley.  The maps in FOOD:  An Atlas provides a range of provocative maps of how food interacts with space that provide a compelling set of questions about our relation to place, and indeed the relation of food to space.  Maps of the global distribution of grains, or of the costs of the same foodstuffs, remind us of how food exists in relation to place, even if food travels globally—as well as the places where food grows.

The compilation is a true atlas of modern life—or of modern tastes for foodstuffs.  The Dutch engraver and cartogapher Abraham Ortelius compiled the first global atlas by sourcing maps from different areas in Europe from his multiple correspondents in the 1560s, obtaining a range of extant cartographical forms of nautical and terrestrial form that he collated in a synthesis of terrestrial coverage that canonically redefined the image of the inhabited world.  Refined and expanded in his own lifetime and after his death, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum bound these multiple maps obtained from different parts of Europe and vetted in Amsterdam in a single commodity that was immensely popular and, though dedicated to Philip II of Spain, was disseminated over a huge geographic expanse.

The crowd-sourced maps collected in FOOD were sourced in a considerably shorter period of time over the global internet, solicited from cartography listserves and Berkeley classrooms alike, starting from the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) and coordinated through a GIS lab where proposals for mapping were often linked to potential owners of databases, and submitted maps refined for their persuasive visual organization, the transparency of their cartographical iconography and the appeal of their format.  The variety of graphic skills that are applied to map food and food’s distribution are themselves inventive exercises, and suggest the degree of invention that

The crowd-sourcing of the atlas is not only a question of pragmatics, but itself an instance of informational exchange.  On the one hand, Jensen describes how he arrived at “a project of guerrilla cartography and publishing” as the result of a natural desire to make the sort of compilation of maps that “take too long to make,” which led him to “an experiment in doing it faster,” both by relying on crowd-sourcing and local publishing. “It doesn’t have to take two or three years to put out a book or an atlas.”  The anonymity of the crowd sourcing generated a far more imaginatively diverse use of mapping conventions—unlike Ortelius’ interest in universalized norms, they celebrate local diversity of mapping abilities in keeping with the polycentrism of a post-modern age.  Rather than conforming to a single style or aesthetic, each crystallizes specific issues in an individual fashion.  The maps provoke us to consider the relations of place and food, and alter or tweak our relations to the world in mapping the circulation of food wastes, the sites for importing tomatoes for that pasta sauce, or the “food swamps” where junk food constitutes a dominant share of the foods for sale.  Each is brilliant in its own way.  Whereas we know the many authors of the maps that Ortelius collected primarily from his extensive correspondence, as well as the “elencum auctorum” that provided a comprehensive list of the different authors of maps in his atlas and sources that were consulted in its creation, Jensen lists the individual or joint authors of each map–and even invites us to construct our own!

Why create a set of maps of the relations between food and space?  This volume is a way to rehabilitate the use of the map as a way to consider and contemplate relations we construct between place, as well as the product of a local culture of food.  All food is local, even if the world we live in has globalized food as a resource.  The open arguments of maps Darin Jensen and his team assembled in FOOD:  An Atlas provide a collective tool to understand what might be called the irrationality of the globalization of food sources in the transparent and supremely rational language of cartographical forms.  Much as the previous MISSION:  POSSIBLE led us to view one neighborhood in San Francisco in new terms of the distribution of coffee-shops, trees, ethnicities, restaurants, underground gas reserves, parking spaces or sounds, each map in FOOD:  An Atlas provides a distinct corner of the exchange of food as commodities and elegant goods we value for their local origins, as well as celebrating the recent growth in the valuation of the locally produced good.  As Jensen’s map of the Mission noted the rise of artisans in the neighborhood, the mapping of Farmers’ Markets—both in Berkeley and in the United States—offers a view of the rising value of the locally farmed (and even the changing definition of what local farming means) as well as the access and audiences of these markets.  As MISSION:  POSSIBLE provides both a map of a region of San Francisco and a sort of surrogate for orienting oneself in any modern city, FOOD:  An Atlas provides a tool to orient oneself within the global exchange and local production of foods.  The map of areas of urban agriculture in San Francisco that is included in FOOD is a great model of a collective interest in the local production of food in that city, and a sort of template for resisting a growing divorce of food and a local landscape.

To order a copy, visit

How better to understand the pathways by which select regions of almond-growing enter the chocolate bars sold across our nation, or consider the inequalities of food that dominate the urban and rural landscapes in an era that celebrates famers’ markets?

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