Welcome to the newest gallery in JAC’s Gallery of the Month series, where we showcase a wide range of art and writing under unique monthly themes. Check back on the first of each month for a new collection of works by the talented artists in the JAC network. To view past galleries of the month, see our Gallery Archive.
We hope you enjoy this month’s gallery: Food for Thought
Where would we be without food? Aside from it being as necessary to our livelihood as the air we breathe, food is an integral component of history, culture, and identity. It is often the centerpiece of gatherings with friends and family, and it has the power to influence our mood, energy, and health. Such a simple component of our daily routine carries a deep emotional weight upon its shoulders.
The significance of food is especially pronounced in areas where affordable, nutritious meals are hard to come by. When a person’s access to nutrition is limited, they are at higher risk for both physical and mental illnesses, which can be driven or exacerbated by nutrient deficiencies. The World Health Organization states that many of these deficiencies are preventable through healthy diets, but unfortunately, anything from money to location can deprive someone of their right to nutrition. In U.S. prisons, meals are notoriously restrictive, unappetizing, and innutritious. According to the ACLU, incarcerated people experience higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and foodborne illness due to prison diets, all of which can result in high medical costs and further obstacles during reentry if they are released. Nutrition is a basic right that no one should be denied, and prison food is yet another example of the carceral system’s dehumanizing nature.
“I painted strawberries from a picture I found, knowing that I might never see real strawberries again,” wrote artist Cuong “Mike” Tran in his JAC Artist Spotlight, a sentiment that aligns with a 2020 survey finding that 62% of formerly incarcerated respondents “rarely or never had access to fresh vegetables while incarcerated.” This month’s gallery features a variety of food-related artwork. Some pieces, like Mike’s, depend on memory and photos to recreate the food from outside prison walls and the emotions associated with it, while others depict the artist’s experience with the food they are given while in prison. Together, these images construct a narrative of nostalgia and injustice, nourishment and loss. As you scroll, we hope that you appreciate the mouthwatering pieces before you, but also reflect upon what it took to create them.
The Maryland Food & Prison Abolition Project connects farms in Baltimore with Maryland prisons to resist oppression tied to the poor food quality in prison. You can learn more and contribute to their efforts through their website.