Back in February at the Food and Society Conference, I met Nicole Betancourt, the producer of the cool-sounding Food Theater Project in New York City, which she told me was in rehearsals for a play about what we eat. Well, the curtain's gone up on Milk 'n' Honey, it's been reviewed by the New York Times, and alas, I can't get out from Oakland in time to see it, nor do we have any Ethicurean contributors in New York to check it out. So at my request, here's a guest post from one of the playwrights, Madeleine George, about the project. I hope those who can will go see it.
Milk 'n' Honey runs from October 21 through November 18, 2007, Mondays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. at 3LD Art & Technology Center, 80 Greenwich Street, New York, NY. Tickets can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets, the fair-trade ticketing service.
Milk 'n' Honey: An exploration of food, choice, and democracy
By Madeleine George
What we eat, how our food is grown, processed, and packaged, and how it ultimately falls into our hands are perennial subjects of concern for foodies, food activists, chefs, even economists and sociologists, but playwrights? We at LightBox, the experimental theater company based in New York City, answer a resounding yes with the new show Milk 'n' Honey, a sweeping multimedia exploration of the politics and pleasures of eating in America at the turn of the millennium.
Part fiction, part documentary, and based in part on interviews conducted with people from all over the country with interesting relationships to food — farmers, food scholars, hunters, waiters, soup-kitchen clients, ad men, immigrant workers, urban foragers, diabetics, and dumpster divers (aka freegans) — Milk 'n' Honey interweaves video footage with fragments of interview transcripts, found text, and fictional storylines that offer a kaleidoscope of views on the many ways Americans find, and feel about, the food they eat.
The genesis of the project was in March 2003, as the United States was preparing to invade Iraq. Like many Americans, the members of LightBox began to wonder why the nation in general seemed too numb to take meaningful action against the war. How did we get so disengaged as a nation? How have we become so detached from our own participatory democracy, our own culture, even the material circumstances of our own daily lives, that we feel unable to act when faced with a crisis?
Food, that most essential yet in some ways most politicized part of life, soon became the avenue into LightBox’s exploration of the fundamental American notions of choice, freedom, and happiness. The play was developed collaboratively over the course of four years, gradually growing and changing with every round of scriptwriting and experimenting with actors in the rehearsal room.
The result moves smoothly from tomato fields to produce aisles, garbage alleys to clinics, dinner tables to chemistry labs. We follow the transformation of a supermarket check-out girl from reckless consumer to tentative radical, watch a woman whose chief joy in life is honey buns as she negotiates her diabetes diagnosis, trace the steps of a migrant worker as he navigates his new life as an illegal immigrant in America, and witness the struggles of a flavor chemist as he attempts to capture, in molecular form, the flavor of light. There’s dancing, too, and songs, and audience participation — what would a play about food be without the actors handing out snacks to the audience?
Following each performance of Milk 'n' Honey, the theater space transforms into the After-Show Café, where audience members can eat free, locally made food and participate in discussions, cooking demos, book signings and other activities. Speakers scheduled to appear include Eric Schlosser, Anna Lappé, and representatives of LightBox partners including Slow Food, Just Food, FoodChange, the Small Planet Institute, World Hunger Year, Good Food (arts engine) and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The After-Show Cafe is run by the Lower East Side Girls Club, with coffee donated by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.
The play Milk 'n' Honey is just the first phase of the Food Theater Project, a multi-year endeavor which officially kicks off with the presentation of Milk 'n' Honey and the After-Show Café. In 2008 the Food Theater Project will include a Youth Workshop Program, to encourage NYC public school students to create their own plays about food and educate others about healthy food choices, and the development of an interactive website to connect theatergoers with food activists, scholars, and artists working for social change. The company also hopes to tour Milk 'n' Honey outside New York in 2008.
Madeleine George's plays have been performed around New York and elsewhere. She is a founding member of the Obie-Award-winning playwrights’ collective 13P, a writing teacher, and the director of a college program at a women's prison in Manhattan.