I, unlike Lily Hargis, am not a mini master chef. I am incapable of making the complex food that I have seen documented on her Instagram. However, I have spent a significant amount of my leisure time watching the Netflix series “Chef’s Table,” in which Dominique Crenn, and other delightfully artful chefs, tell their story and talk about their food. It definitely feels like theatre to me. So when I came across Julia Levine’s article “Recipe for Change”on Howlround, the coincidence was too compelling to pass up. What does this blog have to say about performative food and its value in our theatre culture?
As it turns out, a lot. Because as a theatre artist aware of the issues that impact humanity as a global community, food is a really important one. And in Howlround’s “Theatre in the Age of Climate Change” exploration, artists are starting to look to the kitchen beyond the stage. Levine begins, “I am interested in this…telescoping through the lens of what we eat and where it comes from. I situate my thoughts on food alongside my theatrical processes, as I pose questions about our relationships to one another and to our natural environment.” As her undergraduate thesis, Levine created a piece called GAIA: an eco-theatre project, putting the themes of climate change and its causes and effects on stage in a multidimensional performance experience. She asked how we as people, as theatre artists, impact the world around us.
The choices we make in our food, whether the display is performative and the tasting menu a poem or you just need a grilled cheese right now, impact the environment around us. Why should we eat organic, what is the deal with the drought in California and agriculture, is the Paris Agreement really going to work?
Levine has gone on to create more theatre pieces about climate change and our artistic role. She is now currently working on a play called Uproot, starring “personified foods, displacing literal human circumstances for more symbolic relationships, and therefore orienting the scene in an absurd, ridiculous way… In stepping back, and metaphorically seeing ourselves in our food, I want to employ critical thinking and moral imagination as part of the process in reconfiguring our culture’s unsustainable status quo.”
Levine’s efforts demonstrate a valuable piece of the theatrical puzzle. We can take social issues we are passionate about, even if they are about that intellectual world of science that I as a theatre artist must be challenged to confront, and educate an audience on the decisions they make on a regular basis. Food is theatre. Climate change is theatre. By watching speaking vegetables on stage, our daily lives become extra-daily and we are confronted with our own impact on the world around us. It’s socially aware performance served á la mode.