As a visual editor at bonappetit.com, and as an art director at Saveur before that, Allie Wist aims to present food as “absolutely delicious and approachable and exciting,” she says. How she treats the subject in her personal art is a different matter: “My goal is to make it strange and jarring, so that you understand the multiple connections your food has to other systems.”
Take Flooded, a collaborative project that presents a stark yet lovely what-if dinner table laden with dishes shaped by climate change (for instance, mushrooms, which can grow in various environments and detoxify soil). Flooded was Wist’s thesis for the master’s degree she received from the Food Studies program at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. It is there that she now teaches the course Food in the Arts as an adjunct professor.
“What’s compelling to me is the shifting definition of normal,” says Wist. “I wanted to use the language of beautiful commercial food photography because it never addresses these issues.” What Wist ate while growing up in western Pennsylvania wasn’t a big concern, but her relationship to food became “fraught and obsessive” when, as an undergrad at Boston University, she became significantly overweight. But exposure to unfamiliar cuisines while in the Semester at Sea program led to an aha moment in India, after which “the concept of food was a lot bigger,” she says.
She started to distinguish what she calls “trashy diet food” from truly healthy fare: “I was floored that our food system was so constructed for failure.” For the next installment in her future-food series, Wist is focusing on drought. “There are a lot of urgent issues that need the alarm sounded,” she says. “We can’t treat food so preciously. We have to adapt.”
Wist's collaborative work visualizes the possible future effects of climate change on our food system.