June 1, 2009
“May I photograph the interior of your fridge?” That’s a question photographer Mark Menjivar asked people as he traveled around the United States for three years working on a project about hunger. He describes the project, called “You are What You Eat” on his website:
a refrigerator is both a private and a shared space. one person likened the question, “may i photograph the interior of your fridge?” to asking someone to pose nude for the camera. each fridge is photographed “as is.” nothing added, nothing taken away.
these are portraits of the rich and the poor. vegetarians, republicans, members of the nra, those left out, the under appreciated, former soldiers in hitler’s ss, dreamers, and so much more. we never know the full story of one’s life.
The photos, which you can see in this gallery, come with brief biographical sketches of the fridge owners. A carpenter in San Antonio has a freezer full of plastic baggies of meat from a 12-point buck. A bartender who “goes to sleep at 8 a.m. and wakes up at 4 p.m. daily” has a fridge crammed with Styrofoam take-out boxes. Documentary filmmakers, their fridge stocked with what looks like high-end beer and wine, “have helped send millions of dollars to children in Uganda.” Really, you’ve got to see these photos.
I asked Menjivar a few questions about the project:
What’s in your fridge right now?
Apple sauce, asparagus, eggs, salsa, yogurt, spinach, Real Ale beer, etc.
What was the most surprising thing you saw in someone’s fridge?
Definitely the snake. [Caption: Short Order Cook | Marathon,TX | 2-Person Household | She can bench press over 300lbs. | 2007 ] Was not expecting to see that when I pulled open the door. Also, in one refrigerator there was a small bunch of herbs in a glass of water that looked so beautiful it changed my whole perspective that day.
In addition to what you mentioned in your Statement, are there particular lessons or insights from your three-year project you’d be willing to share?
As part of my exploration of food issues and as a self portrait, I wrote down everything that I ate for 365 days. This exercise made me realize the realities of my food habits and has helped change the way my family eats. I thought that I only ate fast food a couple times a month, but found out it was sadly more often that that!
At the heart of this project is the fact that too often families struggle to fill the fridge with nutritious and dignified foods. I was constantly amazed at the ingenuity of people in the kitchen when they only have a few food items. I have also had the opportunity to see the incredible safety nets that food banks and other organizations provide for so many. So much is being done, while we still have a long way to go.
At this point, a few different organizations have hosted the exhibit in their communities and these times have been very rich to experience. There have been lectures, sermons, pot luck groups, book discussions, gardening workshops, action groups formed, etc. My hope is that I will be able to partner with like-minded organizations in the future to continue this kind of dialog about our food choices and the impact they have on self and the world around us.
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