In all of Ward 8, there is only one grocery store—which serves 85,000 residents. That kind of inequality is addressed in the Anacostia Community Museum‘s new outdoor art exhibit, Food for the People: Eating and Activism in Greater Washington. “The DC area faces food justice issues, particularly around food insecurity and related issues like access to grocery stores and affordable, healthy food,” said Samir Meghelli, chief curator of the Anacostia Community Museum. “Particularly, where we are in Ward 8 faces one of the greatest inequities around food access.”
At the beginning of the exhibit, visitors are greeted with a huge red fork, alongside a question: “What is food justice?” Answers are provided on a series of towers that describe the life cycle of food, where it comes from, who’s responsible for it, where waste goes, and the impact of food on our collective public health.
The installation is made of wire structures that are weighed down by baskets of rocks. While it was a practical way to hold the structures in place, Meghelli says it’s also “a subtle nod to the fact that the earth, the land, is the foundation of our food system. That’s a point we make more explicitly at various points.”
A large sculpture of open hands holds an interactive feature that allows visitors to leave notes on tags, sharing their experiences or showing gratitude to food workers, who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Visitors also learn how to take action in their own communities to work toward a more just food system.
A more-extensive exhibition on the subject had been planned for inside the museum, but that has been delayed due to the pandemic. Meghelli spent two years conducting research on the history of food-justice issues in the District. He sat with more than 100 people for oral history interviews, attended community forums on various aspects of food justice, and dug into archives. His goal was to “build a story around both food-justice issues and the people and organizations working to address them.”
Because the full exhibit was pushed back, Meghelli decided to open this outdoor installation as a companion piece. “The outdoor exhibition is intended to provoke people to think more deeply about our food, and by extension our food system,” Meghelli says, “and hopefully inspire people to want to get involved and contribute to making our local and national systems more just and sustainable.”
Once it’s able to open, the indoor exhibition will have videos, artifacts, and many more photos and stories. Food for the People is part of the museum’s year-long theme “Our Food, Our Future,” which explores food, history, culture and justice through a series of programs.
Food for the People will be on display through September 2022.