Food Phreaking Issue 04: Seeds

Artists Zackery Denfeld and Cathrine Kramer of The Center for Genomic Gastronomy are two of the artists behind the SEED-O-MATIC, the world’s slowest vending machine, which dispenses unique seeds with cultural, ecological or culinary significance. The artists are also the editors of Food Phreaking, “the journal of experiments, exploits and explorations of the human food system.” Food Phreaking Issue 04 focuses on the fascinating lives and secrets of seeds and is available for free download below—and for purchase in the Colby Museum store. Excerpted below is the journal’s mission statement, pulled from Food Phreaking Issue 00, and the introductory essay from Issue 04.  

Be sure to visit the SEED-O-MATIC in Cotter Union or in the Museum lobby starting in March.

Cover art from Food Phreaking Issue 04: Seeds. All design and graphics by Cathrine Kramer and Emma Conley.
Mission Statement

Who are Food Phreakers? They are individuals and groups interested in experimenting with human food systems at multiple scales. Food Phreakers believe that food culture should be free, open and accessible. Some Food Phreakers have professional skills as farmers, seed savers, chefs, biohackers and food scientists. Others tinker in their backyards, basements, kitchens or home labs. The Food Phreaking journal aims to connect foodies who care about sustainability with the scientists and hackers who care about open culture. Food Phreaking is where food, technology, and open culture meet.

Food Phreakers not only observe natural systems, they also explore, experiment, and seek exploits in the human food system. They breed, mutate, grow, harvest, sell, process, cook, celebrate and serve food.

Seeds Introduction

Food Phreaking is the journal of experiments, exploits and explorations of the human food system. Each issue contains stories about the space where food, technology and open culture meet. Food Phreaking Issue 04 is all about SEEDS. It is filled with short stories that uncover the secret lives of seeds, and longer essays by experts that give a range of perspectives on the importance of research, development and preservation of seeds and the cultures of care or resistance that develop around seeds.

SEEDS ARE THE SHAREABLE FILES OF THE FOOD SYSTEM. They can be used, saved, changed and exchanged pretty easily. Not every seed will always work well in your local (agroeco) system, but seeds are mobile and have travelled huge distances around the planet. Prior to electrification, seeds were one of the most disruptive technologies in the world, transforming cities, states and entire bioregions after being introduced. Seeds often have interesting metadata that describes lineages, versions, histories and usage restrictions, but this is usually only consulted by the most intensely curious or expert users of seed. The metadata of a seed can take many forms: orally transmitted stories, printed packet designs, entries in digital databases and even the genetic code of the seeds themselves.

WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN BIOHACKERS. For 10,000 years creative individuals and groups have bred plants, selecting for desired traits and sharing this information on to future generations in the form of saved seeds. Although the methods for saving and sharing seeds are quite straightforward, most commercial farmers in the world today don’t save seeds because of legal restrictions, inconvenience, or the preference for hybrid varieties which don’t breed true and must be purchased each year. However, the majority of the world’s farmers are small-scale food producers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and family farmers who don’t profit from the industrialized food system. Small scale farmers and independent plant breeders create and maintain open seeds—biotechnologies that are social, slow and (usually) open source.

“THE PURPOSE OF A FOOD SYSTEM IS WHAT IT DOES” (POFSIWID) is a heuristic for understanding a food system at any scale. POFSIWID requires one to describe the observable outcomes of a system, ignoring the stated intentions and desires of a system’s agents, promoters or designers. The Center for Genomic Gastronomy has spoken to and read papers by biologists and agricultural researchers who are excited about the potential of genetically modified (GM) seeds to improve livelihoods and environmental health. In conversation, they are sometimes befuddled or even indignant about the unending resistance of civil society towards GM crops. However, using POFSIWID provides a simple summary. The purpose of the GM food system seems to be: expand the acreage of industrial monoculture commodities that are farmed on the planet Earth while maximizing profit for corporations and reducing biodiversity. Unfortunately, it is GM maize, soybean, canola and cotton that cover hundreds of millions of hectares around the planet, not appropriate biotechnologies that are developed by and for community-controlled regenerative agroecosystems. Those are the GM seeds we hope to write about in a future issue of Food Phreaking.

In the last thirty years, the control of plant seeds and breeding has been highly consolidated, with three or four large companies controlling over half the world market share in seed sales. However, there is a visible global resistance to the trends of consolidation, homogenization and exploitation. Food Phreaking Issue 04: SEEDS collects stories chosen by the Center and some of our peers. This issue attempts to connect the hidden history of seeds with the present resistance to industrial farming in order to imagine a future in which seeds are open and shared as a collective resource.

Zackery Denfeld and Cathrine Kramer

The Center for Genomic Gastonomy


Read the full issue here. Past editions of Food Phreaking and more information about the project can be accessed here