Guest post by playwright Anne Hamilton, whose short play OFEM will be featured in our Ithaca, NY reading.
I have been eating organic food for about fifteen years. I needed to regain some health after the exhaustion I felt after graduating from Columbia University and starting my career as a dramaturg in New York City. I started ordering deliveries from Urban Organics, based in Brooklyn, after a recommendation from Lynn Nottage.
In 2004, I moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a beautiful region filled with farms and natural reserves. I was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor of a Community Supported Agriculture project at Blooming Glen Farm. As a CSA member, I often visited the farm to help with chores, like replanting onions, helping to hang garlic in the barn, and at the end of the season, to pull up tomato vines from the fields so the farmers could prepare the soil for the next season’s planting.
While on the farm, and also while hanging out with health-conscious new friends, I noticed that there is a particularly ferocious atmosphere in Bucks County with regards to food. Some are outright food preachers, espousing one type of diet over another, and some are more low-key but equally obvious about showing their attitudes, usually with a gesture of rolling eyes, or a sharp intake of breath when an opinion is mentioned that they don’t agree with. I’ve never been in a place where food attitudes were so important socially.
One day I was considering this fact, and I started thinking about writing a monologue that would push the envelope on dramatizing the food attitudes of urban and rural Americans.
As a serious example of such dramatization, I remembered an excellent monologue named A CHIP ON MY SHOULDER by Carol K. Mack, which appeared in the League of Professional Women’s New Play Festival in 2009 at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City. In it, a woman named Annie, played by Kathryn A. Layng, gives a speech at a podium thanking Monsanto for its strides in food manipulation and production. She refers to an implanted electronic chip which the company has offered, and is now becoming a normal part of American life. It was a truly intelligent and chilling piece.
With admiration for Carol’s satire, I was inspired to move in the other direction, and my mind took a wildly comic turn. What if a group of female farmers, due to their feminist leanings, decided only grow to food that is round, or round-ish? What if they went further and banished phallic-shaped objects from their diets? What would cause them to do such a thing? And what if we visited them on the day that this new food movement was rolled out to the public?
And so, OFEM, or, the Ovo-Farmer’s Emerging Network was conceived.
Its leader, Sally Parsons, is giving a speech to launch the network, and stands at the podium in iconic magnificence, like Rosie the Riveter and Emma Goldman combined. Her speech has the passion of an early 20th—century union organizing appeal. As she rails against the “Farmer Man”, she goes over the top with a litany of vegetables and fruits which will and will not be grown by OFEM. And at the end, like a suffragette leading the charge to new freedoms and rights, she invites her listeners to participate in the movement and usher in a new era for humanity.
Sally is over the top, and obviously, her message is larger than life, but it makes a point about attitudes toward food consumption, both slightly mocking, and also, deeply respectful, because it points to the power – the anarchism, one could say – of influencing society’s attitudes by taking independent control of food production. I love her enthusiasm. Isn’t it anarchic to make a stand against oppressive food attitudes? And also against mainstream food growth systems, whether they’re corporations, or family businesses?
OFEM expresses what I consider a lot of time to be the silliness and offensiveness exhibited by privileged, wealthy foodies. I want to say to them, “Come on, people, it’s food. It’s nutrition. Be thankful for the hard work of the people who labor to bring it to you.”
At the same time, I respect their choices. Food consumption involves personal, ethical, financial and sometimes medical choices that I might not be aware of. So in the end, who am I to judge?
I hope that everyone will enjoy Sally’s speech. Who knows? Maybe I’ve created a viable movement! Power to the farmer!