Few subjects evoke as much controversy nowadays as the subject of food. The world’s population continues to grow, and with the rise in prosperity comes an ever-greater need for food. Inevitably, it seems, this means both an increase in scale and technological innovation, with unpredictable results at times.
While critical documentary-makers point out the pitfalls, false assumptions and deceptions perpetrated by the food industry, food companies themselves advertise their wares with nostalgic images of cows in meadows and heads of corn swaying in the morning sun. Images that consumers all too willingly embrace.
Meanwhile, scandals in the food chain fuel our desire for a transparent world where food can once more be cultivated reliably and at a modest scale. The present lack of transparency, and the fact that few know the real state of play, have elicited the widest range of opinions about how our food can best be produced. Each scientific study refutes conclusions drawn in others. Indeed, the issue is so complex and inclusive that every discussion seems doomed to sink under its own weight.
For his series “Food,” Henk Wildschut immersed himself in the world of today’s farmer, whom he originally saw as the most important innovator in the food production process. But even here appearances are deceiving: farmers are often forced to switch to a method of husbandry where efficiency and scaling-up are the name of the game, all under the banner of public health, food safety, the environment and animal welfare. This also holds true for organically produced food.
In his endeavor to come to grips with the production and processing of food, Wildschut, rather than restricting himself to modern farming, also directed his lens at vegetable breeders and cultivators, stock farms, hatcheries, fish farms, laboratories, inspection bodies and suppliers of slaughterhouse equipment. Theirs is a squeaky-clean world where rules, regulations and protocols are riveted together in the stainless-steel abstraction of the industrial scheme of things; a world that often seems wholly removed from the food itself.