“The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
In the biblical story Agony in the Garden Christ experiences extreme emotional anguish, becoming aware of his fate before his arrest. I chose to base my photograph about organic food on this story because of the intensity of emotions and opinions that is afflicted with organic farming. Despite the number of individuals buying into organic products being relatively small, those who do, do so with great passion. For instance, the health-food industry incriminates fruits and vegetables that are the most “pesticide-riddled or contaminated” with the label the “dirty dozen” (Corrett, 2015).
The modern agony surrounding the discourse of organic foods is expressly bound by its history. During the 1970’s and 80’s, the organic diet was promoted on the grounds that it was safer for our health. Whilst in the past, the concept of organic farming would have meant risking parasitic invasion, food poisoning and a lower yield, the dangers shifted to non-organic produce, notably the fear of cancer from “growth hormones, viruses and antibiotics” (Lupton, p. 454, 2005). Organic foods could offer safety and redemption, to improve the health of the “body and soul” (Coveney, p. 145, 2006). This spiritual and emotional connection to organic foods is something my photograph hopes to capture.
My piece was also inspired by the literature during the end of the 20th century. One key influence was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Following its publication in 1962, the concern over environmental hazards and their implications for health were cultivated; the book’s exposure of the risks of DDT led to the pesticide’s ban (Smith, p. 22, 2011). Silent Spring reveals the scale to which the public were concerned with their health. I related this to Christ’s suffering because it provides a universally recognisable symbol for anguish and pain. Whilst reviews of Silent Spring were predicted to be dominated by fears related to war hazards, instead they focused on health: commenting largely on Carson’s “concern for human health” and on related health scares at the time such as the effects of thalidomide (Waddell, p. 10, 2000). Concerns about health are also notable in the BSE scandal of the 1990’s which led to the “organic boom” in 2000 (Nicholson-Lord, 2001). Therefore, like Agony in the garden, the organic food movement seems to be largely motivated by fear.
I based my photograph on a painting of Agony in the Garden by Willes Maddox in 1844 (Fig. 2), as the open-armed gesture and desperate look up to the heavens provided a simple yet dramatic way to represent the anguish that surrounds organic farming and health. In a wheat field, my model holds a bottle of pesticide and herbicide spray in each hand. Yet unlike the painting by Maddox, her face remains shadowed and solemn to reflect how the unresolved and strong moral position of the organic debate in society. By choosing the title Agony in the garden–but taking the photograph in a large crop field– I show how the large-scale farming had entered the house-hold discourse.
Coveney J. 2006. Foods, Morals and Meaning: The Pleasure and Anxiety of Eating. London: Routledge.
Nicholson-Lord D. 2001. “The future of food: safety first for agriculture; the foot-and-mouth and BSE crises have forced a reappraisal of the way Britain produces food.” Organic Consumers Association. URL:https://www.organicconsumers.org/old_articles/madcow/future7601.php. Accessed June 2015.
Smith M. 2011. An Alternative History of Hyperactivity: Food additives and the Feingold Diet. London; Rutgers University Press.
Waddell C. 2000. And No Birds Sing: Rhetorical Analyses of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press.