Brie Mazurek from Cuesa: an interview with Lexicon of Sustainability’s Douglas Gayeton

Posted On: 2012/02/10 by dg

Excerpt from Brie Mazurek’s interview with Douglas Gayeton at

[You can read the rest of the article here.]

(Urban farmer. Heirloom. Food security. Methane digester. These are just a few of the terms you’ll find in the Lexicon of Sustainability, a series of portraits that speak the language of a growing movement.

The project began with Douglas Gayeton’s first book, Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town, which portrayed the principles of the Slow Food movement as expressed in rural Pistoia, Italy. While on his book tour in the United States, Douglas encountered people who longed to connect with those cultural traditions. “We’re a nation of immigrants,” he says. “And a lot of traditions that were tied to food haven’t carried on from one generation to the next.”

He decided, with his wife, Laura, to document and share what they saw as the roots of the sustainability movement in America. They started by photographing 100 thought-leaders, farmers, and food artisans and asking them to describe one key concept that defined what they did. Each portrait in the Lexicon consists of multiple photos seamlessly collaged, then carefully hand-lettered with detailed phrases selected from the interviews. “The people in the photographs often refer to the image as a collaboration, and for us, that’s the greatest compliment,” says Douglas. “They have sweated out all of the words. They’ve thought it all out.”

sites/default/files/lexicon_heirloom.jpgSo far, the Lexicon team has created more than 175 of these “information art” photo collages, capturing national pioneers such as Will Allen, Alice Waters, and Joel Salatin, as well as familiar Ferry Plaza faces from La Tercera Farm (pictured at right), Marin Sun Farms, Knoll Farms, La Cocina, Cowgirl Creamery, Lagier Ranches, and Bariani Olive Oil (all pictured below). The project is also branching out into short films.

This year, the Lexicon Project takes the show on the road with pop-up exhibits around the country. Hosted in community venues like farmers markets, small grocery stores, and CSA pick-up spots, the goal is to engage people in the places where they think and talk about food. After each show, the prints are donated to a local school.

At CUESA, we believe that understanding the language of sustainability is crucial to creating a good, clean, and fair food system for all. We caught up with Douglas, who had just returned from photographing alternative water and energy practices in Israel, to learn more about the Lexicon project.

Why did you choose to focus on the language of sustainability?
Douglas Gayeton:
 Sustainability as an idea is very important, but as a term, it’s vague and often misused. People ask me, “How can you use the term sustainability for your project when it’s already been hijacked?” Part of the project is taking back the power of words from large companies. Look at the term cage-free. When people learned the term cage-free, they suddenly thought about where an egg came from and realized that a cage-free egg would probably taste better and was probably better for the chicken. Then, it turned out that cage-free was a weasel word, and it was replaced by free-range, which was also a weasel word. That led us to pasture-raised. The idea that terms have power to shift people’s consciousness and thereby shift the way industries do business is very real.

[You can read the rest of the article here.]

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