Guatemala Fruit Plate

Guatemala fruit plate_tif309
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3 Essays

  1. Vanessa Dodd | 2008 Second Prize Winner says:

    According to the United Nations and protected under international human rights, the right to food is a fundamental human right [1]. Tanur’s “Guatemalan Fruit Plate” displays the vibrant, simplistic beauty of Earth’s gifts without which human survival would be impossible. The photograph evokes a perception of bounty; a pleasing image of a human right available for the asking. Tanur's photograph serves as a gift of cultural symbolism to visitors and guests. Juxtaposing this serene image against the harsh realities of food insecurity forces the engagement of one’s Sociological Imagination to understand the dire consequences of stratification that culminate in, among other things, food insecurity in developing countries like Guatemala. Somewhat slyly, with a muted voice so quiet it is deafening, this photograph implores its viewers to understand, protect, and promote a fundamental human right that not all are being afforded.

    Food security is “a condition that exists when all people at all times are free from hunger” [2]. Food security entails access to available foods that are affordable, culturally appropriate, nutritious and safe. Theoretically, food may be available, but not accessible. It might be that certain factions deny others access to the food. This easily can happen in times of war, in societies harshly divided along gender, class, caste and ethnic lines. There might be a lack of transportation, roads, bridges, or boats – especially for use by the poor and the otherwise disenfranchised. For the poor, including the working/toiling poor, there will be times when they have to make harsh decisions regarding eating versus using their meager incomes to take care of things such as doctor’s bills or a bus ride into town.

    Food insecurity occurs all over the world. However, it is most pronounced in developing countries – and especially in those where human rights are secondary to other larger goals and agendas. Historical patterns of racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination compound the situation. Despite the Malthusian contention that population increases geometrically while world capacity to give people the materials for survival increases arithmetically, changes in technologies have made it theoretically possible for all of the world’s peoples to be food secure at all times. For well over 100 years, more food has been produced all over the world than can be eaten by the world’s population in that year. All the same, food insecurity remains a constant in the lives of millions of people around the world.

    Gerhard Lenski’s theory of social stratification brings understanding to the establishment and perpetuation of food insecurity. To Lenski, the systems of production and distribution of goods and services heavily influence the fates of the people within the system [3]. Technological innovations lead to higher levels of productivity; surplus emerges as a factor in the social system. With surplus comes a shift from mutual interdependence and subsistence to differential access to surplus and systems of inequality. His hypothesis correlates that an increased level of economic development, the more power plays into distribution of goods and services. When combined with further technological advances, even greater inequality exists in the society. In developing societies, however, the disparities between the wealthy and the poor are more pronounced than in industrialized societies, with long-term negative impacts disproportionately affecting the poor. Indigenous, primarily rural, groups continue to suffer gross inequalities. Women’s status is measurably low. Those disenfranchised by poverty and hierarchical social structure are vulnerable to, among other things, food insecurity.

    The United Nations has outlined the “eradication of extreme hunger and poverty” as the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals. This placement reflects the pivotal role that this goal has in all aspects of human rights and improvement in the quality of life for all. As with Tanur’s lovely picture of fruit and its power to have us delve deeper, placing this goal at the top of all goals helps us move beyond the single issue and into its interface with other equally but not necessarily separable social facts.

    Those most affected by food insecurity often are those most essential to food production and harvest. It is a significant reality that the people who harvested the foods photographed might not have been able to afford to buy them in a market square. Food represents the sustainability of life. The fruit's significance begs you to step back critically to imagine the unseen and bitter realities of whole cultures of people whose fundamental rights, including the right to food, are at the whim of groups, systems and social forces that can doom them or be altered and set them free.

    1. Ziegler, Jean. (2003). The Right to Food. United Nations General Assembly 58th Session, Item 119(b).
    2. United Nations World Food Program (2007). World Hunger Series 2007: Hunger and Health. London: Earthscan.
    3. Beeghley, Leonard. (2008). The Structure of Social Stratification. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

  2. Katheryn C. Twiss | Stony Brook University says:

    The World on a Plate:

    It is striking the extent to which even the simplest foods and beverages testify to a long history of human contact and exchange. In Rachel Tanur’s lovely photo, a Guatemalan fruit plate holds a banana (domesticated in Southeast Asia), pineapple (native to South America), papaya (originated in Central America), and melon (originated in Africa; may have been domesticated in Africa, in Asia, or in both).

  3. Elizabeth Loftus | University of California - Irvine says:

    Rachel’s “Guatemala fruit plate” naturally brought to my mind some of our recent research showing that memory manipulation can change what we choose to eat. In research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2005, we plied research subjects with misinformation about their food histories and induced them to create a detailed story about how strawberry ice cream made them ill as kids. In one study, up to 40% were persuaded that they actually had gotten sick on the ice cream, and now claimed they were less inclined to eat it. In other studies, we have shown that we can plant a positive childhood memory involving a healthy food (asparagus) and people become more inclined to want to eat it. The New York Times Magazine published a list of 78 of the "most noteworthy ideas" of 2005. One item that made the list was "The False Memory Diet," based on this research. (The research also made Discover Magazine's 100 top science stories of 2005.)

    The False Memory Diet may work by creating or strengthening negative or positive associations to foods. But perhaps there are other ways to accomplish this. Pondering Rachel’s “Guatemala fruit plate” might be all it takes to make people want to eat more bananas and cantaloupe, rendering The False Memory Diet, as a route to healthier eating, obsolete.