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Digging through the rubble
Fascism, fires, and the future of food
It’s a mixed week for plant matter at Public Seminar. Pamela Ballinger digs up the roots of fascism on the Greek archipelago Rhodes—and the legacy of a gardening scheme that helped fuel this summer’s wildfires. Meanwhile, Emma Slack-Jørgensen considers food insecurity as the main course in a neoliberal diet, and finds hope in an edible forest.
In 2016, on one of the hottest Saturdays of the summer, a barge was docked at a promenade just over a mile up the Bronx River from Hunts Point—one of the biggest food deserts in the United States. From afar, the barge, parked in Concrete Plant Park, looked inconspicuous, like an old rusted ship. A closer look revealed to Bronx residents that the barge held an edible food forest, home to raspberries, artichokes, and beach plums.
Swale, a garden on a 130-by-40-foot steel barge, is the work of New York–based artist Mary Mattingly. Docked adjacent to New York City’s public land, Swale used the common laws of the water as a loophole to make foraging possible—an illegal public act when committed on parkland in a largely privatized city. Here, New Yorkers could freely forage for plants and vegetables to their heart’s desire.
Although foraging and natural literacy seem exclusive to bell-bottomed hippies, granola girls, and ruddy-faced celebrity chefs, this prehistoric practice has recently exploded in popularity. And this trend is not lost on New Yorkers …
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On July 17, 2023, a series of wildfires erupted on the Greek island of Rhodes, with residents of the villages of Dimilia, Salako, Laerma, and Eleousa ordered to evacuate. The blaze soon expanded in scope, with dramatic images of tourists forced to flee their accommodations and, in some instances, even seek shelter in the Mediterranean Sea. Such terrible scenes have been repeated this summer around the world, with ten major wildfires in Greece alone (followed by deadly floods) and the conflagration on Maui that killed over 100 people in a few devastating hours.
Even as state officials, insurance companies, and relief agencies struggle to put dollar figures to the costs of such catastrophes, the loss of life is ultimately incalculable. Discussions of the cultural and historic patrimony at risk in such disasters typically focus on the most visible and beloved forms of culture and nature.
It’s precisely that visible patrimony that draws so many visitors to Rhodes each year. This tradition of tourism is deep-rooted, with the island occupying an important spot on the itineraries of visitors in the classical era …