Tag Archives: Darin Jensen

The Way We Eat Now: the City and the Farms

The impacts of radical over-specialization of agricultural lands in the United States on our food supplies is only beginning to be mapped with the critical eye that it deserves.  With the intense expansion of ‘mega-farms’ jumping some 20% just in the years 2005-7, their expansion of subsidies, and an intensification of the quarter of vegetable production for animal feed, the notion of agricultural stewardship has been replaced by an artificial market and explosion of selective crops.  Is the notion of an agrarian space indeed itself a casualty of this new use of farming in a land of the death of the family farm?  Is this the end of an ideal of cultivable space, or does it push us to seek to imagine a new relation to the land?  It is indeed striking that until fairly recently, the ancient term ecumene or oikumene described the inhabited (or inhabitable) world with reference to those lands able to be used for agriculture or pasturage. 

The extreme “specialization of the agrarian landscape” William Rankin recently mapped offers visualization of data from the 2007 Census of US Agriculture:  the maps charts variations in crops and animal pasturage in each county of the country, each of which are colored by the gradations of four to five major crops or farmed livestock in the United States.   The selectivity of farmland use it reveals captures the effects of this expansion and maps the consequence of that dramatic expansion of mega-farming in the Bush presidency of those years, in response to selective subsidies of corn and soy:   the color-coding of individual crops provide a snapshot of the proportion of land devoted to each subsidized crop (soy; wheat; corn; cotton; vegetables and fruits or nuts) that  raise to raise big questions about our limited foodscape and suggest the degree to which farm subsidies inform land-use in desirable ways.

Even more striking than the limited regions of land used for farming in Rankin’s data visualization is the creation of the zones of land dedicated to wheat, soybeans, silage and corn that rarely if at all overlap, where over 50% of county land is dedicated to soy, a solid 40+% is dedicated to wheat, or over 60% to corn.  This is not only a map of agrarian distributions, but a the creation of a new attitude to agricultural space:  indeed, Rankin’s map helps us see the distribution of croplands in the country less as something that occurs on a flat surface, but in itself creates a new familiarity with space, and a relation of our food supplies to space, as much as a form of “geographic” knowledge of how events occur on the map.  For the sequence of maps chart a shift in the American foodscape, where we revise how we imagine agricultural space, and as creating a new notion of our agrarian space, rather than as changes that can be mapped or occur on the two-dimensional distribution of mapped space.

Rankin’s set of three maps of the national foodscape are not historical per se, but suggest a metageographical narrative of how attitudes to land have changed in their spectrum of such scattered colors.  They chart an extraordinary degree of remove from local intake, distribution or demand.  The distortion in this agrarian landscape is of course enabled by a huge transport industry, moving the wheat grown in the central band of the US from Iowa or Nebraska to Oklahoma, corn from Wisconsin to Iowa, to the soybeans so densely grown across South Dakota and Iowa to Indiana and Ohio.  Although continuity and coherence as the central properties of terrestrial maps, an absence of continuity in the concentrations of crop cultivation suggest a skewed relation to the land–the maps undermine the very notions of continuity and coherence that defined maps of national territories–using maps to raise questions about food supplies.  All the silage in across the Eastern seaboard in the country seems to derive from the local profitability of livestock products, show a nation almost drained of agricultural productivity, and relocates fruits and vegetables to ribbons on both coasts.

The consequent de-coupling of food markets from growing habits inverts Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of a yeoman farmer who planted crops for his own needs, out of the conviction that those “who labor in the earth are the chosen people by God.”  The Jeffersonian ideal of stewardship,rooted in a contractual relation of a responsible servicing of the land, rested on “good practices” of land management through rational skills of crop rotation, terracing to prevent soil erosion, promoting the diversification of varied crops, and surveying of land, from advocating a regular seven-year cycle of regular crop rotation that follow corn and wheat with a variety of crops, including turnips, clover, vetch and buckwheat.  He pioneered innovations that would increase the conservation of resources as well as crop yeild, including deep contour plowing, turning the ground far beneath the topsoil, and terracing to prevent soil erosion.  And his quest for variety and diversity for the agriculturalist no doubt encouraged him to introduce eggplants, brussels sprouts, rice, chestnuts, cauliflower, nuts and olive plants to the country–Jefferson imported 170 different fruits and 330 vegetables in the period from 1767 to 1824 to diversify the nation’s agriculture.  Jefferson was vigilant in advocacy of agricultural stewardship and famously wrote Washington with dismay in 1793 that “we can buy an acre of new land cheaper than we can manure an old one.”

William Rankin’s three data visualizations map the remove of what we eat from where we grow, or where we grow and what food we buy, suggests the imposition of an artificial remove of growing and husbandry from urban life–creating a gap between the country and the city so great that we cannot say where the country is.  In mapping the geographical remove of crops from cities–and of cultivation and animal husbandry from centers of population, Rankin has charted the results of a dysfunctional division of land-use, in which the map transforms the territory, and almost precedes it, as the areas zoned for harvesting by agribusiness divorce local needs of populations from the large-scale farming and animal husbandry, not only fostering a lack of a uniform food-harvesting mosaic, but a super-regional specialization, as this map of the crops that are grown in individual counties reveal:  the disorienting nature of individual to food, and individual to agriculture, that results removes the production of crops from local demand or a topography of need.  Indeed, there seems little clear integration of the sites of growing vegetables or crops to a national market in local terms, as questions of national demand and pricing drive the redistribution of crops into what seem “hot-spots” of production, whose intensity of cultivation tries to keep up with the national need with an intensity that their concentration is unable to effectively sustain in the future.

The pronounced discontinuities in the maps of food specialization reveal a deep disconnect between food production and consumption, and the limited understanding of how reliant we’ve become on an unequally pronounced distribution of such basic needs as growing crops or raising chickens.

Rankin's Map of Crops

In this map, Jefferson seems to meet Baudrillard:  the maps does not simulate a world of rending to the land with clear coherence, uniformity, or indeed boundaries, but visualizes a range of databases that reveal the imbalance by which we try to create the illusion of a land of plenty in an era of few farms.  This map undermines the security of a healthy nation, beyond reconsidering the pathways or quality of food, to force one to ask how the foodstuffs produced in these spaces could be high quality.  Reading the map will salutarily ward of any temptation to naturalize this self-evidently artificial division of land-use, or naturalize the imbalances of select crops in regions– the six colors used in the map are, indeed, almost always distinct from one another in the above map charting variations in degrees of crop specialization.  The map is a  metadata visualization, and absence of any attention to continuity in the agrarian structuring of the land, disrupts the continuity of the iconic image of the map.

Like Jasper Johns’ 1961 Map, which re-inscribes the encaustic splattering of primary colors that distance the map from its iconic status:  the surface of Rankin’s maps distance observers from the nation, rendering unrecognizable the form of the territory, abstracting the surface of the map by revealing an uneven uniformity instead of a united whole and focussing attention on the unwarranted density of selective agricultural concentration on specific crops.

800px-Jasper_Johns's_'Map',_1961

If maps don’t define and distinguish national sovereignty, but are a range of widely diffused simulations, we need an actively deconstructive map to assemble our disjointed foodscapes.  The dramatic isolation of foci of planting of wheat, soy, and three intense pockets of cotton, the absence of vegetables from most crops across the nation is a reminder of the separation of how we inhabit the nation from agrarian land-use:  citizenship is disconnected from stewardship, or the illusion of stewardship is no longer possible to perpetuate in relation to the land that no longer exists as a coherent territorial entity.  The remove of crops from local use, and the injection of subsidies to promote specific crops in Midwestern states, but also in the Northwest and South, created intense pockets of over-intensification that with the growth of megafarms has produced, despite the temperate nature of the continent.

2012-hardiness-zone-map

Perhaps these distortions of agrarian landscapes is an effect of the markets being driven by international prices, or if a radical specialization is striking for its remove from what we eat, even if not all have heads of leafy lettuce and arugula salads on their tables:  crops like wheat and soy are farmed in mass in select places for massive milling and repackaging; local food needs are met by importing across the nation, if not scattered boutique farms or “farmers’ markets” that are not run by farmers but franchised, or run by men who drive hundreds of miles with diesel gas in order to perpetuate the illusion of a close relation to the fruits of the land to folks living on asphalt pavement and tar.  We use food to create our own illusions, drawing from mythologies of agrarian responsibility that history provides.

Thomas Jefferson rooted democracy in the relation of the citizen-farmer and his land, metaphorically equating that relation to the fabric of the nation:  “the greatest service rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture,” he argued, equating individual agricultural stewardship as a “service to the nation” that is “worth more to them than all the victories of all the most splendid pages of their histories.”   When Jefferson preached the gospel of the agriculturalist, farmers were central to a nation’s needs both for feeding the nation and as stewards of the nation’s agrarian wealth, rather than white-color workers or professionals.  And so he valued agriculturalists’ expertise in crop rotation, fertilizers, and agronomy as remedies to the perils of land-abuse and erosion of lands, and located the preservation of the wealth in the countryside and the value of good, arable land.  The concern that led Jefferson to increase the diversification of vegetables as fundamental to the nation’s health led the horticulturist Luther Burbank in the early twentieth century to perfect crops able to sustain disease and blight, by hybridizing fruits, vegetables, and legumes by cross-pollination in strains of increased tolerance–if not genetic diversity.

When Burbank redefined performance of crops by their productivity and survival rates, he redefined plants and vegetables as a malleable resource subservient to man, though without encouraging an over-specialization similar to what we see in today’s foodscape.  Burbank’s shift in the significance of the vegetable in the world underlies, in some fashion, the metageography of the current over-specialization spatial distribution of crops Rankin maps, as it removed proximity of the place of cultivation from the growing of crops, and removed crops from the local market place.  Rankin’s beautifully detailed land-use maps chart the radically uneven nature of the specialization of our agrarian landscape’s distinct fracture lines.  To judge by the deep pockets of specialization in Rankin’s maps by the variations in anima populations in individual counties, the thinning of farms extends not only over the deserts, but across most populated regions.  This over-mapping of different types of husbandry reveals a virtual segregation of chicken, sheep, and cattle, with other areas left curiously blank, in need as much of importing foodstuffs across county lines, despite the thin distribution of cows for pasture, and a large welling across the midwest and southern Eastern seaboard of pigs.

The image suggests a set of deep imbalances and a surprising disconnect between areas and a patchwork redistricting to meet and accommodate national demand in specific regions.  The thin distributions of light violet colors conceals pockets of intense specialization with a clustering of pigs and turkeys, but suggests the extremely rare grouping of a variety of meats by mapping the ranges of density in practices of animal husbandry across the nation.

animals2007_medTogether with other maps which were solicited and edited by Darin Jensen in FOOD: An Atlas, a project broadly discussed in two earlier blogposts, Rankin’s metageography is oriented to imagining relations between food and the land.  The maps discussed in earlier blogs were data visualizations, and less informed by GIS, and bore the trace of the cartographer’s hand.  But this map is in no ways removed from being an intervention on cartography as an art, if it is based on “big data” as a structural metadata visualization of variations in local databases.

The data distribution of crops, animal livestock, and the profits of farming registered in the Census of Agriculture reveals not only strikingly constrained areas for active agriculture, but the geographic remove at which farming stands from food needs.  It presents  a clear-eyed critical view of the benefits of locally sourcing food by inviting us to shift our relation to the currently lopsided nature of national practices of cultivated space, but also suggests the distorted nature of food map created by the limited intense cultivation of crops and husbandry of animals in select areas.  I’m interested in both the maps and the questions of human geography that the distribution of food in them raises:   during the growth of agribusiness and consequent pronounced localization of livestock, slaughterhouses, and tending of animals, and map an increased remove from the sources of our food.  With a lack of available local food, indeed, food is not only less nutritious, but removed from place in the manner that Jefferson had insisted.  In such a landscape of specialization, “No major city could ever source all of its food from local farms–not even those close to major agricultural areas.”  Not only are few farms profitable, but those areas farmed are farmed with an intensity of agribusinesses more market-driven than linked to local economies.

Indeed, the apparently unprecedented concentration of mono-crops–wheat and soybeans; corn; cotton–creates a disjointed landscape both removed from local needs and plugged into a national (and international) market and in which much feed goes to livestock–though, as we’ll see, in which livestock is not so profitable.  This maps reflect on the consequences of how constrained farmlands shape a collective geography that leaves consumption curiously disconnected from production, which faces markets that the individual farmer cannot understand, and indeed are more subject to international prices and agricultural protectionism than to actual needs.  The regional saturation of essentially businesses of food production reflects not only a death of local agrarian farms, but the impossibility of local crop variation in a landscape of regional concentration for foreign markets, animal feed, and available land.

These attitudes might change, if we accept how Rankin’s radical cartographies reveal the narrow divisions we’ve imposed on our agrarian landscape.  But they delineate deep challenges of our national foodscape from even Burbank’s era of a range of resistant potatoes, peas, corn, and various pitted-fruits, including plums.  No longer does agricultural needs of a territory shape the contents of the foodscape, and maps lose their reference to a fixed territory, but map a disconnect:  Baudrillard would note that the notion of a territory does not in fact survive the map.  The map might suggests some links between our distorted agrarian landscape to the political landscape, and not only in the government subsidies that many crops receive to grow at a distance from urban populations, or the diversion of water to allows intense crop cultivation of regions like the central valley.  From a nation of farmer-citizens in a Jeffersonian mold, our “red” v. “blue” state electoral topography may mask deeply market-driven divisions in agrarian resources.

The data visualizations suggests the little attention we dedicated as a society to the role of land to food, or to the path from farm to table; the intense cultivation of crops, vegetables, and pastured meat to restricted pockets of the country practically ensures the remove of our food from a provenance or site of origin.  Rankin’s maps provoke us to map our own individual relations to the origins of our food, and trace their path back from sites of cultivation to our tables.  His maps delineate the broader challenges of our national foodscape;  maps may enjoy limited authority or exclusive purchase to represent or contain such abstractions as the nation, state, or nationality, but provide a way to disrupt a world of simulations, where the territory does not precede the map.  Jean Baudrillard famously asked pointedly whether the nation’s authority can survive that of the map:  the coherence of the United States as a food-producing nation can’t easily functionally survive the unsustainable practices agribusiness has dictated, even if the market can sustain it for now.

The objective disassembly of a national space raises questions of the compatibility of current practices of land use are even compatible with a national space.  Indeed, rather than map the relation of food to population, one could argue that the map mirrors one of uneven agricultural subsidies, as much as food demand or land cost, and illustrates the bloated landscape those subsidies are creating in place of agricutlural variety:

indemnity by county

This can also be illustrated in relation to animal husbandry by mapping the local density of factory farms across the nation:

20101202-factory-farms-US

Rankin’s maps are of land-use reveal the effects of such subsidies for large farms in their “disjointed and lumpy space[s] of specialization;” they reveal a surface of farming where “few areas where different commodities are grown side by side” and radical concentration of cattle and livestock in specific areas, despite their thin distribution in the country as a whole.  The rather lopsided topography of sourcing meat and centering husbandry in massive compound farms suggests a sort of anonymity of their origins, less than healthy and less than nutritious, and suggests a mental familiarity with erasing the origin of foods, rather than considering the relation of food as a “good.”  The economic intense over-specialization to some extent ensures the virtual anonymity of  paths most foods take from where they grow to the table or the supermarket aisle.  This notion of food whose path from farm to table is devoid of specificity raises questions about as knowledge of the ability to distinguish food, as well as how its freshness is radically reduced in a system reliant upon quick transport. 

As agribusiness replaces the good household practices of individual agriculturalist moving foods from limited sectors of over-cultivation, subsidies define circumscribed areas of crops and animals–here mapped by the specialization of crops or the density of livestock in each county–and limit their profitability.  With the exception of some crops in the Midwest located near to cities or towns, in fact, a radical concentration of agriculture removes the individual’s dining room table from growing practices. Take, for example, the location of soybeans, marked by red, in some regions of the Midwest, that define a relation to the commodity outside the food that is actually consumed:

red crops--tghe sites of soy

The dramatic disruption between farms to urban foods and divide between local food-supplies and consumers to reveal a deep shift in our connection to the land.

While fundamentally data constructions, these maps give new sense to the materiality of the map, by providing a visualization not of expanse but suggesting some of the ill-effects of our own division of land-use.  Lest we naturalize the divisions created by this specialization of land-use, they map the stark divisions of  the origins of the food we eat poses compelling (and pressing) questions about the best way we might provide nutritious food to urban populations, and if we can economically sustain the current landscape of intense specialization of agricultural work.  One irony of this division of the agrarian functions is the illusion we are  healthy to invest one or two crops to one expansive region.  Indeed, this illusion masks dangers in segregating crops in the landscape and a fracturing of our relation to our food.  The widespread naturalization of one state or region as the center of corn or wheat, potatoes, vegetables, nuts, or cheese conceals an implicit consent to the current culture of specialization has segregated the production of meats, wheat, corn, cotton or grains in only place, in ways that effectively naturalize an impoverished practice of agricultural rotation:  by imagining certain states as lands of corn, wheat, or soy–as if crops were indigenous to a landscape–that erases the natural variety of an ecosystem by rendering it unrecognizable.

No clear sense of a landscape that provides nourishment for the nation remains, as agricultural “space” is itself dismantled as a uniform concept in relation to the nation.  Rankin’s cartographies map the extreme variations in the dedication of land to the intense cultivation of foods, plant and animal, and we might re-examine the silent segregation of an agrarian landscape through its consequent perils.  The database from the USDA that he has used reveal a concentration on crop monocultures and an agrarian centralization, à la Charles Taylor, of crop production.  Hopefully, we can use them to take stock of whether this is healthiest way to feed our cities and urban populations–to segregate or actually remove most cropland from sites of urban population.  As agribusinesses have concentrated the cultivation of wheat in a band in the central states stretching in regions colored bright green,  corn and soybeans in the yellow and red northern midwest, and fruits and nuts, the result is an increase in the remove from which our cities are nourished.  Populations stand at a remove not only from the sources of food, but of the most nutritious choices of food.

The high degree of scary fragmentation of US agriculture reveals a heightened specialization of food-sources between corn, wheat, soy, and nuts or vegetables.  The isolation of pockets of food production reveal an intensity of artificial over-specialization often removed from a national demand:   the segregation of centers dedicated to agricultural production from centers of urban life suggests a divide between city and farm.  Even more significantly, perhaps, than the divide mapped in electoral-map chloropleths between ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states, the severely localized distribution of crops maps a huge divide in expectations among Americans for freshly grown food possible of being sustained, and to the landscape of food-availability; while the food landscape cannot provide a deterministic explanation of party affiliation or patterns of registration, the distribution may map populations’ selective distribution in areas with greater access to locally grown food supplies–or their resistance to the  remove and distance from crops and an agrarian economy.

That is no doubt perhaps overly optimistic, given the huge role of agribusiness in structuring the landscape of food use, together with the subsidies of foods that they receive:  the monocrop concentration of corn, wheat or soybeans is conducive to bulk harvesting for sugars or bread, and shipping, if not to their redistribution from select centers of packaging.

Unknown

But the sad (unhealthy) result is a remove of most populations, or at least huge proportions of them, from the sources of their food. The existence of such a selective resettlement is less clear than the dysfunctional image it suggests of a fractured relation to the agrarian landscape about which it’s hard to wax poetic.  The rare concentration of fruits, nuts and vegetables in California, densest in the Central Valley and farmlands of Northern California, are the only dense areas of their dense cultivation, save Southern Florida, based less on climate or topography than on their remove from coastal cities, and seem to provide the only dense region of vegetable harvesting in much of the nation.

What does this tell us about the state of California?

How can one imagine this disjuncture of agrarian space from the national space?  The classical poet Virgil idealized the relation of Rome to its landscape and countryside in the era of Augustus, providing a topos of the idealization of landscape’s tranquility as the result of harmonious good government.  And it’s helpful to cite Virgil’s praise of the wealth of agrarian diversity in the Italian peninsula, too, because they provided a model of the metaphorical cultivation of a proto-national space.  When one looks at Rankin’s weird maps of a disrupted foodscape, where over half the country is without crops and blank whitespace; they’re as removed from Virgil’s bucolic agrarian ideal as they are from Jefferson’s–indeed, those two are far closer to one another than we can see in how we’ve divided the nation into zones of soybeans, silage, and wheat that only occasionally overlap.  There’s a huge contrast the dissonances in the food landscapes that Rankin mapped above to Virgil’s famous encomia of the productivity of the Italic landscape in his Augustan Georgics, where he evoked the transformation of a rocky Italic landscape through the benefit of Senatorial edicts and decrees to a land of “abundantly growing crops” and “sacred home of the olive groves,” now dotted with “many wondrous cities,/That so much toil has built” whose crops were “abundantly rich;”  the land, tended by the best techniques of animal husbandry and of agricultural practices, provided the ground to cultivate wheat, barley, spelt and vetch in alteration with Egyptian lentils “in accordance with the Gods.”

That bucolic image of the productivity of the land that is fostered by Senatorial decrees and oversight of a diverse but homogenous space stand in sharp contrast to the segmentation of pockets of subsidized divisions in an agrarian landscape subject to intense monocultivation that is to large extent both largely sponsored by agribusiness, and largely removed urban areas or demand.  Tending the Italic landscape drove wealth to the “tot egregias urbes,” so remarkably diverse and bountiful, of the recently united peninsula Augustus ruled–and whose relative riches outshone any other region in the world.  The current landscape of specialization has so narrowly concentrated to focus agrarian productivity into scattered agrarian blocks of a zoned farming industry that dramatically disconnected itself from urban areas–and reveals a disconnect of city and farm so stark one could scarcely imagine a tie between the two.

Agrarian diversity?  Well, the new space is just complicated to manage or understand.  We know it’s unwise to concentrate corn and wheat in one area with soybeans, as if they were a large monocrop, because this exposes them to disease; the concentration of fruit and nuts in pockets of the entire country is even more irrational.  The placement of production of crops at a remove from populations produces less nutritious food, and generates more waste.  Equally difficult to sustain is the containment concentrations of livestock animals in select pockets of beef for slaughter, whose concentration is likewise removed from areas of urban concentration.  Despite small areas of cows lightly scattered for use in pasture for milking across most of the country, concentrated centers of butchery define the country’s food map.  Something like one-third of arable crops are given to land animals, but the segregation of high-density livestock farming from local agriculture suggest a challenging foodscape which might be considered more creatively, even if there is never much animal harvesting in the desert:

Drive down Highway 5 to Los Angeles past centers of slaughter and beef production.  The extreme variation is stunning when one approaches the cattle farms in California’s Central Valley, and even more scary is how characteristic this is in our agrarian landscape, rather than an  extreme fragmentation of land-use for livestock:

Califronia Animal Density

Consider the localization of livestock in deep purple gradations in Rankin’s  chlorpleth reveal a national segregation of zones of butchery limiting availability of freshly butchered meat:

Central Valley animal production

What does this say about our relation to space?  Let’s look at the crazy topography of intense pockets of “cattle compounds” and “chicken farming” that might not be called husbandry which make a broad mosaic of meat processing centers in the poorer counties of the American South:

American South

This snippet is barely recognizable as a map, of course, or a record of space. Remember the pretty staggering numbers that the deep purples reveal in this key:

Animals-Legend

Mass-farming of course unprecedentedly removes food from its consumer, and removes the very idea that this need not be the case.  The inhumanity of concentrating chickens in the Southern United States is one concern; the remove of chicken farms from urban areas or human consumption is poignant: it finds counterparts in the chicken-farms of the Central Valley and Imperial Valley in California, which are something like a hub in the West Coast save from those in the northwest.  But at their highest points of concentration, we have managed to concentrate an amazing 70,000/sq mile.  (Cattle are densest in the Midwest, where we find 700 cows/sq mile at the densest parts; fewer turkeys are raised, but the greatest concentrations of 5,500/sq mile seems downright unhealthy.)   Leaving aside ethical morality, the map posits questions of food safety:  intense centralization of animals and consequently of feed supplies increase risks of contamination as well as exposing them to greater threats of disease.  With the trends to global warming, the dangers of locating agriculture in fixed areas of intense over-cultivation are even more pronounced.

Such data visualizations offer a database which easily slips from the eye.  While these maps don’t overlap, they suggest a joint-access data visualization that might offer a useful planning device.  They reveal mono-crop cultivation and intense concentration of the value of animal or agricultural products that impoverish the project of agriculture in much of the country and seem to reduce the value of either crops or the production of animal products in most US counties in the absence of their intensification.  More striking, perhaps, is the small degree which farming maps to value across the entire nation, uniting both animal and vegetable products, and the huge wholes of agricultural profitability in over one-third of the nation.  We supplement these gaps through the massive importation of foods, vegetables, and produced foods.  But the fact that it is rare for vegetable-growing to bring in a profit through most of the northeast suggests a topography of agriculture that few wold suspect; the profits are limited to the rich green areas dominated by the crops of soybeans and corn, as well as wheat, that are similarly scarily removed from many population centers. Despite the comforting green that leeches down the path of the Mississippi River, ; meat seems only profitable in Oklahoma and parts of the old South, sites of large concentrations of cattle- and chicken-farming.

Agricultural Value Map.rankin

The washed-out nature of large areas of this map suggests the low aggregate market value of product made in those regions; there is a surprising density in few counties where animal products provide profitable earnings.  This is, to be sure, but one sector of the economy; but it maps an important one:  the divides Rankin maps not only poses questions of how we see our land, or use resources but of how we imagine the remove of farmed land to a vital urban space–and indeed how economically removed agrarian practices have become from urban consumers across most of America.
crops2007
The lopsided  geography of land value creates an uneven distribution we all tacitly know but don’t acknowledge.  It is also a basis of land-use that is not economically sustainable.  One take away from Rankin’s series of visualizations of the discrepant distribution of agriculture is that at a time when we dedicate increasing attention to the construction and planning of urban space, rural agriculture might be better planned in concert with urban concentrations, and not only for reasons of health but as a matter of public policy.  We often need a map to reveal the artificial nature of what we naturalize.  All three data visualizations suggest that we’ve left agriculture to market forces alone, in ways that might not plan for future development; imagine the maps as overlapping public access databases we might use to orient ourselves not only to space, but to a more sustainable relation to the agrarian use of the land.  The needs for such a shift in orientation are not only for health, but economic:  it’s not possible to prognosticate from a map, but we can use the visualizations to raise questions about what would be the effects of climate change on districting agricultural land-use to specific sectors and types of crops;  the concentration of corn strains in one area, moreover, raises possibilities of adverse influences in the food chain of GMO strains, much as the concentration of both animal livestock feeding raises specters of tainted meat supplies.
The limitations and constraints of agribusiness are imposing, if familiar.  There has been some local pushback.  Discomfort with these constraints undoubtedly informs the recent retrenchment of urban gardening and even urban rooftop gardening across the urban United States.  Much as the growth of farmers markets may have encouraged or initiated widespread interest in centers of urban agricultural use within an urban landscape, as if to react to the marked remove of food-availability–as much as fresh food–from urban space, and the poor nutritional qualities of food that result.
What can we make of the local attempts to bridge the town and the country, either in the preserves of the new spaces in cities created at farmers’ markets, or the growth of urban agriculture?  I’ve gestured to the attempts to map both in Oakland in some previous posts.  Around New York City, a previously isolated urban space is surprisingly permeated by active green space.  The Parks Department in fact only owns less than half of the almost 500 community gardens measured by GROW NYC and Green Thumb in 2009, with sites to volunteer noted in blue beside urban greenspaces:
Community Gardens NYC region
How many are open to cultivation?  Over 20% of those highlighted in yellow are dedicated to edible plants:
over 20%
Or the similar emergence of community gardens in Portland:
portland gardens

The growth of San Francisco’s roof-top gardens, which was so quick in 2008-11 that the city changed its entire zoning code to permit urban agriculture from expanding in all neighborhoods of the city, led to a Renaissance of urban gardening, despite the relatively close access of the neighborhood and city to fresh food markets, not to mention an insatiable demand for local food:

Mapping the economy of rural-urban relations is a big project for the future, but perhaps it is even more difficult to plan to do so given the investment in a model of land-use that cannot yeild many positive long-term returns.

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Filed under Big Agra, croplands, Cultivable Land, data visualization, factory farms

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

250px-Annibale_Carracci_The_BeaneaterAnnibale Carracci, “The Bean Eater,” circa 1583-85

The hungry if iconic “Beaneater” or “Mangiafagioli” devouring spoonfuls of lunch by the late Renaissance Bolognese painter Annibale Caracci is an icon of local food and a snapshot of culinary history from early modern Italy.  Literally engaged in the moment of pleasure of joining food to his body, poised above his plate mouth open, spoon raised, the Beaneater shows the contents of the spoon to the viewer by a perspective of an odd but undeniable intimacy, engaging us to consider his soup–more than the rolls of bread or glass of wine, or the bunched scallions below his wrist, as a moment of pleasure on which we as viewers concentrate.  For as much as the personhood of the Beaneater, food is undeniably its subject, and his food–the spatial specificity of eating in late sixteenth century Italy.

The image of eating is celebrated enough to provide the cover of cook books, and compelling because it is rooted in a specific place:  it reveals a joy in  the simple pasta of beans, onions, bread, and wine, immersed in the Mediterranean economy of oil that defined cuisine in northern Italy and Rome around 1590.  The painting, which indulges the Caracci family’s taste for painting everyday life, from butchers to fish-sellers, may belong to a genre of the performative nature of eating, but is so iconic as one of the earliest images of the simplicity of the so-called Mediterranean diet–and condenses a map of the food habits that defined class behavior, or social strata in cities–and the pleasure of local, familiar food.

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

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, and eager to discover its own cuisine.

 italian_food

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Maps help untangle how highly personal 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.

1.  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.  One might compare the amount of disposable money spent on vegetable oil versus butter, to reveal the mythic divide of the “butter line” in France, an image that was perpetuated in school textbooks ten years ago as a sharp culinary divide that smacked of the persistence of localism in the nation, if not lines of national fracturing:  the north is the land of butter, school kids learn, even if it fades into the orange-hued Mediterranean south the land of oil through a fuzzy land of light green, where butter only slightly dominates households’ grocery bill.

consommation de beurre et d7huileKnafou, Géographie:  Les hommes et la Terre (1997)

The map echoes with deep structures of fat use and food preparation that structure the land, as uses of sweet butter or salted butter distinguishing each départment of la France, along less clear north-south divides, although the lack of serious gradations of color in this map where many reveal fairly equal divides are betrayed by the stark chromatic divides that preserve regional fracture lines:

image-8

But it also used maps to delineate a lived space that expanded beyond the experience of its actors, their emotions, and relations to life.  The nation may be a culinary map, of sorts encouraged by cookbooks on “French Cooking” the combine culinary divides,

BenSanders_FranceFoodMap

but the tradition of local distinctions of food tastes in départments, even with increasing geographic mobility, is reflexive, and belts have been mapped between the uses of butter, margarine, and oil, that may map more complex and fluid divides in food use, in this 2012 map of what presents a picture of  greater regional complexity to map readers.

butter:margarine:huiles veg, in 2012

In Francophone fashion, the Annaliste maps statistical divides as learning aids that 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:

europedivides

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:

CaloricIntake1600b-2

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.

map

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; http://ucatlas.ucsc.edu/index.php).

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.

gdp_ppp_1980

gdp_per_cap_2000

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.

The statistical map 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?

v6SNAP_FoodAtlas

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 http://www.thefoodmap.org/

Or, if possible, please do consider ordering a copy of the atlas, http://www.guerillacartography.net/home.html

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 data visualization, early modern Europe, Food, foodscapes, national divides

Mapping Knowledge and Mapping Food

Image

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 http://www.guerillacartography.net/home.html

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?

http://missionpossiblesf.org/

https://www.facebook.com/food.atlas

http://cafarmersmkts.com/

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Filed under Abraham Ortelius, crowd-sourcing, Darin Jensen, data visualization, data visualizations, datamaps, Food, Food Maps, Geographical Information Systems, Guerilla Cartography, NACIS, The American Beershed, Uncategorized