Edible Matters along the Mississippi

September 18th, 2019

How the “edible matter” of food as a leading agent in landscape change along the Mississippi River.

Lynn Peemoeller’s contribution will investigate the “edible matter” of food as a leading agent in landscape change along the Mississippi River. Site observations will index progressive rhythms of what has been lost and gained through postnatural and human ecologies in order to arrive at the industrialized agricultural landscapes of the present. Preplanned and spontaneous actions will provide river travelers with edible encounters presented as different time periods that have been marked by significant human interaction. This heuristic method will use food as an “actant” in assemblages of time and place to invite conversation and fuel interpretations of the landscape as the river is traveled.

Scientific investigations have begun to reveal systems of ancient agriculture in Eastern North America spanning back some 5,000 years. That is to say, through seeds, we can date the beginning of a preferential system for plant selection, domestication, and landscape change in relation to human settlements in this region. Archeologic evidence suggests at least five native plants, known as lost crops, to have been the foundation for unique local agro-ecosystems. Yet this significant period of our agricultural heritage has largely been eclipsed by “Zeacentrism,” the focus on maize as the enabler of (North American) civilization. The morphologic changes of maize domestication over time can be observed in their penultimate state through the existence of contemporary corn monocultures.

Today we can interpret edible matter in the landscape by placing observations of the wild ancestors of the lost crops side by side with monocultures and invasive species. We may also draw upon the unseen through science, mapping, and literature to help us understand the past (as it relates to food) through the ghosts in the environment that may be visually obscured, as such as buried seeds, bones, garbage, sunken boats, and other detritus. In addition to the actions along the River Journey, the project will generate visual archival material of the preparation and processing of these edible encounters, evidencing links to their relationship with the landscape.