FAYETTEVILLE — The third annual Artosphere festival kicked off at the Walton Arts Center Thursday (May 3) with the opening of the Structuring Nature exhibit and a conversation and book signing by Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, as the centerpieces.
Pollan hasn’t taken a science class since he was in the eighth grade. However, his views on the national food culture are arguably some of the most public and influential.
The conversation addressed current food topics, Pollan’s career as a journalist and his interests, all moderated by Kyle Kellams, producer of the KUAF 91.3-FM Ozarks at Large program. A question and answer session followed.
Pollan light-heartedly addressed misconceptions about food, such as the comparable content of sugar in yogurt and soda, and common sayings like “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.”
“As far as I can tell, it’s generally true,” he said of the latter.
Nutrition management is still a fairly new idea, he explained.
“Much like surgery in the 1680s, it’s innovative for the times, a good start, the best they can do, probably entertaining, but it’s … not yet ready for the prime time,” he said.
As he transitioned into suggestions for personal diet, his easy-going manner kept his comments from seeming demeaning.
“Don’t get your fuel at the same place your car does,” he said. “The nature of food should be sacred. Always eat at the table…never at a desk.”
Pollan’s efforts for the troubling state of the food system in our country focus largely on industry and government policy.
“All the money we’re saving on food, we’re spending on healthcare,” he said. For policy makers and people in office, “it’s hard to walk in and say that you want to increase the price of food.”
“People spend money on what they value. We should value food,” he added.
Essentially, the chain of command, according to Pollan, goes something like this: nearly half of the most common chronic diseases are linked to diet; a bad diet is frequently a cheap, readily available meal; and cheap food is linked to falling wages.
The challenge for Pollan and those with views similar to his is getting people to realize why “slow food” — food that typically has less chemicals and is prepared in your own home — is better for them.
“It’s better for farmers, industry, the land, our health,” he said. “We should be looking for quality, for an experience in our food.”
Pollan has no illusions that national changes could be swift or sure. He does find that culture might be the brightest hope, though, illustrated by cities that have small farms in glass buildings and reused spaces, bringing a quick following of new businesses and neighborhoods. If you are passionate about food quality, Pollan suggests not getting too “preachy.”
“There are times when an intervention is needed,” he said. “But that time is not in the grocery aisle.”
A few quick food tips:
• Don’t be afraid of frozen vegetables. They’re probably more nutritious because they’re picked ripe and frozen in the field instead of shipped in and spoiled quickly;
• Airport fare is the devil of travel foods; and,
• If you’re a fan of corn but want to stay away from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), sweet corn is a great option.
Earlier in the evening, Artosphere patrons enjoyed a miniature farmer’s market on the Tyson Plaza, where local business owners, farmers and organizations set up booths to familiarize themselves with the community. Families stopped to chat about the making of products.
The quilts were homespun, the beeswax harvested locally, and the bread was fresh-baked. Patrons also had the opportunity to order live chickens.
Feed Fayetteville set up an information table with guides to all local farmer’s markets and community-supported agriculture farms, which provide more options for electronic benefits transfer (EBT), an electronic system that allows state governments to provide financial and material benefits using a plastic debit card.
Structuring Nature featured the work of four artists who focused on the connection of nature, structure and place. Paintings featured sweeping landscapes in contrast to each other, shedding light on the differences of reality and the ideal, while some were painted on cut cross sections of tree limbs. Others seemed to have a curtain in the painting, framing a landscape as a stage.
One painting seemed to give structure a disjointed meaning, with its portrayal of all the artist’s previous homes floating on icebergs, independently of each other, and somehow still a part of a whole.
Structuring Nature is open through June 23.