Steinhardt Alumna Highlights Social and Environmental Issues Through Food Photography

NYU Steinhardt News

Steinhardt Alumna Highlights Social and Environmental Issues Through Food Photography

We recently spoke with Allie Wist (MA ’17), an alumna of Steinhardt’s Food Studies program, about how her passion for art and photography led to a career in food as an Art Director at Saveur Magazine. Here Allie tells us how she became interested in the Food Studies program, and shares some insight into her research projects, like her study of the effects of sugar consumption in Colombia. Allie is committed to bringing to light issues of climate change and political, social, and economic connections with food consumption through art. Allie’s work is scheduled to be shown in the Honolulu Biennial.

What brought you to Steinhardt's Food Studies program, and what sparked your interest in food and social and cultural issues?

My background is in graphic design—a skill that was largely self-taught throughout high school and college. But as I worked in design, I found myself gravitating towards food and design. 

In 2009 I traveled around the world on Semester at Sea. I was exposed to entirely different food cultures and began to view food as a lens through which to experience culture, society, and economics. I was also obese, suffering from food addictions, and learned more about the problems in our modern food system. After that trip, I began designing for a food magazine, and became passionate about food policy, food issues, and the serious nutritional, societal, and cultural implications of our modern food system. I applied to the Food Studies program not knowing exactly how a designer and art director would fit in, and found an amazing intersection between visual media and contemporary food issues.

Creative direction by Allie Wist, photograph by Heami Lee, food styling by C.C. Buckley, prop styling by Rebecca BartosheskyHow did you begin to make the connection between food studies and climate change? 

I have always been interested in sci-fi novels and movies. As I learned more about the implications of our modern food system (particularly beef production and the degradation of fisheries), as well as the realities of climate change, I realized that some dystopian narratives that I had grown up reading about were on the precipice of reality. I started to research, intimately, the connections between food and climate change. I realized that artists and art directors, like myself, were uniquely poised to help communicate those connections through visual media and photographic narratives. 

Why did you choose to use photography to highlight this topic?

Photography is one of our most visceral and tangible means of communicating complex issues. Visual art, and food in particular as a subject matter, is an incredibly accessible way to talk about the abstract issues of climate change and food systems. We all eat everyday—and we are intimately connected to tastes, flavors, and the act of cooking. What better way to explain how climate change may affect our lives than by showing it on a table, in our daily meals?

Can you explain the research you will be doing on sugar consumption in Colombia?

I traveled to Colombia last year to explore their culture's unique relationship with soda. I found myself on an island that has limited access to fresh water, and I witnessed a high consumption of bottled soda. It brought to light a confluence of cultural traditions, economic concerns, and nutritional issues that are largely left out of the soda debate in the United States. I was compelled to document how life unfolds in an area where soda may be problematic, but may also be a complex cultural and economic issue.

How did your time at Steinhardt impact your career?

Prior to Steinhardt's food studies program, I was an art director that sought to portray food in beautiful compositions. But the food studies program revealed to me a host of nuanced issues that are important (culturally, politically, and socially), and I was compelled to expand upon my skills as an artist and art director to articulate those issues. 

Courses with Stefani Bardin, Krishnendu Ray, and Yael Raviv (and some with Tisch) taught me the ways in which artists can express these ideas. I have since found a niche as both an academic interested in food and art, as well as a professional art director who can conceptually work with writers, editors, chefs, and innovators to visually communicate Food Studies concepts.

Learn more about Allie's climate change project Flooded.

Food photo credit: Creative direction by Allie Wist, photograph by Heami Lee, food styling by C.C. Buckley, prop styling by Rebecca Bartoshesky