Immersive exhibit challenges the stigma surrounding Appalachian food wastes – the Parthenon

The desolate and barren, twisting back roads of the Tri-States can leave drivers for miles without a sign of life. The only haven for human interaction is a dollar store that pops up about every 15 miles along these winding country roads.

These food deserts are the reality for many locals across Appalachia who travel up to half an hour away just to get groceries or a meal each day.

Growing up in the middle of a food desert, journalist Xena Bunton had little idea what that meant for her community. It wasn’t until she attended Marshall University that she saw the stark contrast between food availability in these rural areas.

“After moving to Crown City, Ohio from Huntington, West Virginia, I wondered if I was the only one who noticed,” Bunton said. “I felt the urge to speak to my neighbors to see why the area had become a food desert and how they were coping.”

Tales of food insecurity and poverty were told to Bunton by the people of these forgotten cities, yet she also discovered a deep sense of pride and tradition that runs deep at the heart of Appalachia.

“The conversation about food insecurity in the Appalachian Mountains is closely tied to the pride people feel for their hometowns,” Bunton said. “People don’t want to be stereotyped when they ask for help, which is why resource use is so stigmatized.”

Bunton is dedicated to sharing the stories of food deserts across the three states in a way that viewers can access resources without embarrassment.

In collaboration with local creatives, she created General: an immersive exhibition that told the stories of Appalachia through sustainable journalism.

Bunton used recycled food to showcase the photos and stories of Appalachians impacted by food deserts. The installation encouraged viewers to pick up and read the various boxes and jars as if they were actually shopping in a grocery store.

Generally, work by other artists was also on display, such as Suzan Ann Morgan’s Affordable?, a hand-dyed quilt that explores the five-dollar stores within 20 minutes of her home. The artist Kelsie Tyson, on the other hand, addressed the vernacular of her hometown with her “J’eat yet?”. blurred wall poem. Meanwhile, local potter Meghann Ferguson curated a fortune cookie piece that shared statements many Appalachians wish outsiders knew before judging.

General took place October 24-27 at Marshall University’s Visual Art Center and was funded by the New Media Advocacy Project’s Appalachia Reframed cohort. The reception to the exhibit was uplifting and supportive, according to Bunton.

“I was particularly moved when I saw a young man – probably eight or nine years old – taking photos of the artwork,” Bunton said. “It warmed my heart to see people of all ages enjoying the exhibition.”

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