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Thought salvaging food from skips and cooking it up into a free lunch wasn't art? Think again!
Chelsea College of Art & Design graduate Eugenia Beirer is the political artist who launched the Free Market Kitchen as part of her degree show. On a mission to prove that collaboration is a radical art form, she's challenging global issues of waste, capitalism and globalisation via her ongoing project Beyond The Free Market.
Virginia Rowe caught up with her to get the low-down...
Mmmm...so contemporary art isn't just about sensationalism and hanging out in Brick Lane?
Art to me is not about the 'artist', a 'lifestyle' or a 'fashion', it's much more profound than that. It's a powerful way to communicate through creative expression and inspire change. I also don't limit art to visual art, or the production of objects. As an activist I have become frustrated with the trend of activist circles who 'ghetto' themselves. Ideas within these 'movements' are progressive and can lead to positive change but their ideas are often not reaching the wider audience. As both an artist and an activist, I am interested in building a bridge between art and activism. Art can translate ideas coming from the activist world.
So, how does the Free Market Kitchen work?
Firstly, I take people on a 'skipping' tour. We recover 'waste' fruit and veggies from the New Covent Garden Market wholesalers early in the morning, I explain to participants the workings of the market and speak about Free Market policies and food overproduction in economic terms. This engages participants in a debate around international food trade, alternative ways of existing and sustainable living. The actual kitchen adapts itself to the space it gets set up in each time. The 'skipped' fruit and veg are displayed and left out for free use and there's a record player and visual material showing where the food comes from. The kitchen encourages self-organisation and a non-hierarchical, fluid and organic structure. It's also open to newcomers, who just drop in and find out why they've followed a sign inviting them for a free meal!
I'm a bit squeamish about 'food skipping' - do you really dive in and rescue food out of a skip?
Sometimes yes, but there is no actual need to 'dive' in, as you put it, because most of the food is left on pallets, and in boxes so they don't even touch the floor or a skip! The food we collect is just as clean or dirty as any food that they actually sell. In fact sometimes you can't even tell what made the traders choose to throw them away as often the fruit and veg are fresher than in your local shop!
Why is the New Covent Garden Market dumping all this good food then?
Every day there's new stock, so if the stock from the day before doesn't get sold, it's discarded, even if it's still in good condition.
Blimey, so how come they don't give it away?
Simple, the cost of transport is too high. Economically there is no gain in managing the waste any different then they are right now. It is a business after all!
Ok, so what does all this have to do with Free Trade?
New Convent Garden Market is one of the wholesale markets in London where fruit and veg from all over the world are delivered to, stored and sold. Food overproduction stands in high contrast with food insufficiency in the developing and third world. Within Free Trade and Free Market, food overproduction is encouraged in order to keep prices low. There was a time when farmers within the E.U. would be paid for their waste. This led to farmers overproducing insane amounts just to produce waste and be paid for it. You can see the complications! World poverty is not down to there not being enough food; it's down to politics and economic global policies of food production and trading. The reason I set up BTFM kitchens is so people can witness this and hopefully inspire them to make changes in the way they think, consume and engage with the capitalist system.
Those EU buffoons have set some pretty ridiculous standards for fruit and vegetable trade, haven't they?
Yes there's legislation that defines their aesthetics. An example of this is bananas. Now when you think of a banana you think of a semi long, perfectly shaped fruit. In Tenerife, platanos are mini bananas which grow naturally. Because the platanos are short and thick and not long and narrow, the E.U. has prohibited the export of platanos, which means farmers from Tenerife can't enter the European market even though they are part of Europe! Instead, bananas (as we know them) get flown over from Puerto Rico or other parts of the world. So the E.U. legislation contributes to Climate Change through unnecassary food-miles when they should be supporting local farmers. Also, fruit and veg species die out due to standardisation, as producing them is not profitable or even affordable any more.
Why was it important for this project to be a collaboration rather than a personal one?
To make a difference we need to work together. I am currently working with 3 members of a group called Critical Practice which are placed in Chelsea College of Art and Design. I believe in non-hierarchical structure and open organisation, and really think that this is how society would best function, so working collaboratively within the arts is an attempt at creating such a society.
So, what's next for Beyond The Free Market?
I'm starting to work with students at Chelsea College of Art and Design to encourage collaborative, and socio-political engagement via art projects. I'm also planning to take the Kitchen to the heart of where the policies are made - Luxembourg and Brussels....
If you would like to get involved or find more about BTFM email: