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'Milwaukee Food Journeys': A story of food and trust in Milwaukee

Story cart fellows Jessica (left) and AJ at the Jackson Park Farmers Market last summer
UW-Milwaukee Center for 21st Century Studies
Story cart fellows Jessica (left) and AJ at the Jackson Park Farmers Market last summer.

A new art exhibition at the Milwaukee Winters Farmers Market looks at the emotional decisions behind food, food access and daily nourishment in our city.

Throughout last summer, fellows at UW-Milwaukee’s Center for 21st Century Studiess set out to interview 200 Milwaukeeans about their relationship with food and the food system. Their questions focused on food access, how people get their food and how people associate food and trust.

Instead of going the traditional academic route and putting their findings in a research paper, UWM commissioned Milwaukee-based artists to turn their findings into an interactive exhibition, called "Milwaukee Food Journeys," that opened at the Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market in November.

Included in the exhibition is a collage of some of the 200 people interviewed for the project
Sam Woods
Included in the exhibition is a collage of some of the 200 people interviewed for the project

Jessica Thompson was one of the fellows who conducted interviews. She says it is important to think about the relationship between trust and food.

"I remember talking to a lot of people who said they don't trust what they eat, but they really don't have a choice in where they access their food," Thompson says. "So it gets at this greater question of what does food access really mean?"

After the interviews were completed, the Center for 21st Century Studies turned over the interviews to Milwaukee-based artists Katie Avila Loughmiller and Adam White Ossers to create an artistic interpretation of the interviews. As Loughmiller explains, while a research paper is excellent for understanding the facts of a situation, art tends to be an easier access point for people to engage with the research.

"They could've collected these themes ... into these boxed-in structures. But what our exhibit did is ... an overview of what people were saying, capturing these small moments and making it more human," Loughmiller says.

Loughmiller and Ossers were not the only ones who contributed to the project. TRUE Skool, an arts and hip-hop-based youth education nonprofit, contributed their own artistic interpretations of stories collected by the Story Cart. The Milwaukee Food Council partnered on the project, as did Latinas Unidas en las Artes, or LUNA, a business co-founded by Loughmiller that supports Latinx artists in Milwaukee. The exhibition is hosted at The Table, also the site of the Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market.

Thompson says she hopes visitors to the exhibition begin to think more deeply about their place in the food system.

"I hope it provokes a bigger conversation around the food system itself, and how we can change the food system to better meet the needs of people in the city," Thompson says.

You can visit the exhibition during the Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through April 13. You can listen to recordings of some of the interviews here.

Sam is a WUWM production assistant for Lake Effect.
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