Milk, cheaper than bottled water - Surely that's udderly ridiculous?
Two cows lived in Bristol's Harbourside in an exhibition that explored current food and farming systems - and their wider environmental impacts
21st -25th April 2016. At-Bristol, Anchor Square, Bristol, BS1 5DB
Political Ecologist Nessie Reid lived with two pure-bred Guernsey cows for five days in a temporary ‘Milking Parlour’ constructed in Anchor Square, Bristol. Free and open to all, the installation included a panel talk from 5.30-6.30 each day bringing together voices from across the spectrum of the debate - from dairy farmers, to vegans, to food producers, to academics and more. This was a chance for people to give their own views, and listen to others, all whilst considering their own food choices - particularly in relation to catastrophic climate change, which becomes more urgent a threat to our society with every passing day. Industrialized farming is one of the the largest contributors to climate change, producing a quarter of global emissions and consuming 70% of the worlds fresh water. The question is: how do we feed ourselves, and our burgeoning population, without it costing the earth?
This immersive and personal exhibition was the culmination of Nessie's intensive 18-month Cape Farewell commissioned journey exploring a range of organic farms across South West England - and you can come watch a screening of a special film at the Milking Parlour Exhibition at 123 Space as part of Big Green Week, 13th - 16th June
Designed to inspire lively debate and discussion, 'The Milking Parlour' sought to explore the current state of farming; its impact on the environment and its relationship to climate change, global food inequalities, biodiversity and health. It asked us to question what we consume – and how it impacts on all of our futures. It created a dialogue between the farming industry and general public so that we are able to work together to create a more socially, politically and environmentally fairer, sustainable food system. As the artist explains:
"Our planet is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, with industrial agriculture being one of the largest contributors. If we are to halt our climate crisis, we need first to understand the many complex systems which contribute towards it. What agricultural systems exacerbate climate disruption, and which ones build resilience and support health? The Milking Parlour came into being as a direct response of wanting to understand, first hand (literally!), where my food came from. I hope it can be a platform to gain a deeper understanding of some of these complex themes around food, and food choices.”
Throughout the duration of the show Nessie lived with the cows: she milked them, fed them, mucked them out and slept with them, demonstrating the arduous and challenging processes involved in the production of a very 'normal', everyday product. The two cows (who have travelled to numerous farm shows) and the space, were fully certified and risk assessed. The cows were very well looked after, with vets and farmers on site, and 24-hour security.
Watch this short film that documents the journey that Nessie took to produce this vital exhibition:
Every day from 5.30 – 6.30 PM there were informal discussion spaces for all to join – less of a panel and more of a conversation. Nessie put out clean blackboards every morning with chalk for people to write whatever questions they might have to the cows, to the artist, farmers, vegans, environmentalists….to whoever! During the sessions, questions on the board were addressed.
Every viewpoint was welcome and these were some of the responses that were written on the boards:
- 'I believe that healthy living should be the cheap option - not the expensive'
- 'Thanks for helping us think about where our food and drink comes from.'
- 'Milk is for baby cows. As breast milk is for baby humans. Go Vegan!'
- 'Everything in moderation - one good piece of meat once in a while, rather than a cheap one every day.'
- 'Would you prefer if people paid more but drank less milk?'