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August 11, 2021

Communicating Climate and Cultures | Jasmine Gutbrod | Teaching and Learning in Art and Design | 2021

by Jasmine Gutbrod
Eating with the Ecosystem’s booth at Pt. Judith, RI

Connecting with Community

After many remote events this Summer and past year, it was great to be able to work outside and connect with the public in person. The Blessing of the Fleet festival in Narragansett was a great way to learn more about Rhode Island’s fishing community and meet the people directly involved in the industry. The festival centered around a boat parade, where fishing vessels received a blessing for a safe year. Working on a fishing boat can be dangerous, and there was also a memorial to honor those who have lost their lives working at sea.

Eating with the Ecosystem was at the event to help visitors learn more about different seafood species and how to practice sustainable habits for eating seafood. Some in the crowd were already familiar with local species because they had friends and family members who worked in the fishing industry, and the Narragansett, RI is home to multiple seafood unloading sites and local fish markets. Many visitors were interested in learning more about where to find local fish, how to support small businesses, and how climate change might be affecting the ocean. I was able to distribute information that I had learned through courses at RISD and Brown in addition to the research that I have been doing this summer. My interactions affirmed previous observations of mine, in that overall people are willing to learn more about the environments they intermingle with and want to know how they can help build a healthy relationship with their ecosystem. Many were concerned with ocean health. To me, this symbolizes a core issue with how we approach discussions of sustainability and climate change. The issue is not necessarily that people do not care about creating resilient ecosystems, but rather they lack the tools to become involved in the discussion and do not know what they can do about it. I think that discussions around sustainability are often over-simplified to try to get people on board, explaining that if you simply conserve energy by turning off lights, eat local, and recycle your plastic then you are on track to solve climate change. This over-simplification is, in my opinion, harmful because it does not take into account the nuances of climate issues and the resulting nuances solutions. Visitors to my booth wanted easy answers to “what kind of fish should I be eating” or “what seafood is sustainable”, when it depends on the species, location, and time of year. By taking a few extra minutes to explain to visitors some of the complexities of ocean migration patterns and seafood supply chains, people can be empowered to see their food as a part of a system that is constantly changing and adapting to economic and environmental shifts. To me, this represents a stronger and more memorable way to talk about sustainability, as a concept which will always be evolving and updating and will require a mindset that is equally adaptable.

Fishing vessels docked close to the fish markets
Eating with the ecosystem’s educational materials and cookbook available for visitors to interact with.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s booth next to ours had some specimens for visitors to learn more about, which corresponded to our education materials.

Telling the Story

In addition to the in-person event, I have also been designing social media graphics to help tell the story of various projects Eating with the Ecosystem has been working on. One of these has been the seafood donation program, which began about a year ago in response to the onset of COVID-19. This grant-funded project has made whole, fresh fish accessible to community members for free, while also helping to sustain local fishermen. Organizations such as the Women’s Refugee Center, the Narragansett Tribe, the African Alliance of Rhode Island, and the George Wiley Center all have received and continue to receive fish through this program. The project also provided a platform for those in historically underrepresented communities to share recipes and stories about their relationship to seafood. Seafood can serve as a way to bring together those from diverse cultural backgrounds, as recipes are passed down through generations and different families and cultures have their own unique ways of preparing fish. For example, many in New England’s vibrant immigrant and indigenous communities know how to turn whole, unprocessed fish into delicious meals. Learning more about the many ways that seafood can be prepared across different cultures can help center these communities in important discussions.

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