Food and fashion are rarely considered on the same platform, discussed at the same debates, or indeed even thought about in the same way. However, despite their apparent differences and the fact they seem so vastly removed from each other- think size zero models, skimpy dresses and unnaturally shaped mannequins- however, there are more similarities than one might think.
If you had to think of two of the main commodities that you- without fail- use every day (phones aside- and not including houses or toilets or buses or trains or computers (just bear with me okay?)), what would those be? Well, food, for a start. It’s a basic requirement to survive, so a total no brainer. And, clothes. While the term ‘fashion’ might be up for debate here- does it count as fashion if you really don’t care about what you wear? what about if don’t change out of your pyjamas one day?- there is no doubt that clothing is something that we, on some level, engage with every day. Even if you think that you never think about your clothes, and don’t care at all, you are, inadvertently, maybe, still buying into a global fashion system worth billions of pounds. And thinking about not thinking is still thinking, right?
So fashion and food are both things that we use, more or less, every single day of our lives. Now for some numbers: the total consumer expenditure on food in the UK in 2014 was £198 billion. On average around 10% of all household spending is on food. Similarly, the fashion market has a value of £66 billion in the UK alone, and around 6% of all household spending is on fashion. Both are huge global industries, employing millions of people worldwide and accounting for a very large percentage of global turnover and individual household spending.
There are also extreme problems of waste in both industries. In 2013 alone, 15 million tonnes of food was wasted in the food in the UK. The highest proportion of food wasted was generated in the household, with around 7 million tonnes being post consumer waste. Similarly, around £100 million worth, or around 350,000 tonnes of used clothing went to landfill in 2015. And that isn’t even mentioning waste at the manufacturing stage- both industries are culprits of waste on a massive scale, before the products even get to the consumer. And there are social issues too, including the poor treatment of workers in clothing factories, and the gross inequalities in food distribution worldwide. While both industries provide millions of jobs worldwide, and generate huge sums of money as revenue, there are definite problems in each, including the waste they generate, and the global inequalities in distribution.
Lucy and Jorge Orta, the internationally acclaimed artist duo, of which one half is CSF’s Professor Lucy Orta, are about to open their newest exhibition at Peterborough Gallery. The exhibition, simply entitled ‘Food’ opens in September and examines some of the major concerns of the 21st century food industry, including species loss, food security and food waste in the face of world population increase. This isn’t the first time Studio Orta have turned to food as a medium. Their food recycling projects, mass open-air meals and mobile soup kitchens have been pioneering a renewed interest in the politics of food and the social and ritualistic practices of eating together. The exhibition brings together archival work from their Food series, alongside new sculptures and drawings from the Peterborough Harvest meal. For example, the exhibition includes the project ‘HortiRecycling,’ which draws on the 1996 protests carried by French farmers against EU agricultural policy, during which the farmers dumped their entire year’s harvest of fruit and vegetables onto the motorways. In response to this, the Orta’s began gathering food waste and leftover produce, and, working with chefs, they turned the produce into jams and preserves which were then shared at the Les Halles retail centre, once the former farmers’ market of Paris. Through this process, they engaged people on the subject of food waste, and the creation of structures that enabled a food recycling initiative to take place in local markets.
So, while food may not seem the most likely topic for a blog dedicated to sustainable fashion, there are more cross overs than you might think. The press release for Food in the Public Sphere, the book accompanying the exhibition, reads ‘after decades of successful food production in massive quantities, producing cheap produce, policymakers and citizens are recognising the environmental and social cost of this process. The over-industrialisation of food has forced small farms to surrender to agribusinesses, reduced biodiversity in favour of monoculture crops and assaulted communities with debilitating chronic diseases, Lucy + Jorge Orta illuminate, through the diversity of their work, issues of abundance, scarcity, waste and loss…’ There are clear parallels between the over-industrialisation of food and the mass production of fashion, and that both industries are now reliant on big corporations to produce goods at an ever-increasing pace for an ever-decreasing cost.
‘Lucy + Jorge Orta: Food’ opens at the Peterborough Museum on 10 September. More info about the exhibition here and about the museum here. The accompanying publication Food and the Public Sphere will be out in August 2016.
‘Food Statistics Pocketbook 2015,’ Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,’ 2016