Residency Unlimited

DIALOGUES - - Lanchonete

Todd Lester writes a monthly blog post on RU’s Dialogues detailing the preparation and implementation of, a 5-year residency project in Sao Paulo.

View all Lanchonete posts here.

Lanchonete | Nov 2014

2014.9 – on Food Systems

By Todd Lester


RU has been following the progression of the residency initiative in São Paolo since it began by raising a question that appears in our Newsletter each month. Inspired by The Nature of Cities, a virtual Magazine and discussion site on cities as ecosystems, Todd Lester, founder of raises the following question (#9 ): How can art (in all its forms), exhibits, installations and provocations be better catalysts to raise awareness, support and momentum for urban nature and green spaces?

When I’m asked how is art by a curator, I often feel like it’s a test to see whether I’ll reference Gordon Matta-Clark’s FOOD, a restaurant the artist/ architect and colleagues started in lower Manhattan in the 1970. Sometimes I start my response with what differentiates from FOOD, or share the variety of influences – from French cooperative bistros to Welsh pubs, from Fast & French in Charleston, South Carolina made by artists, JEMAGWGA to the 70s Lanchonarte project by Brazilian collective, Equipe 3 – that inform and inspire the making of When folks from outside the art world ask the same question, I’m excited … excited to share these examples but also because the project’s personality and aspirations reach into a range of spaces and co-mingle with everyday life. While we are making the container, what happens in that space, and on the broader platform, can be authored by anyone, artist or not. is the evolving, materializing result of both my artistic practice – one that is both research-based and curious about organizational form – and a process of community organizing by a group of diverse stakeholders, that includes artists yet not as a majority. This dual persona is what makes such a dynamic process, and I actually love how it doesn’t have to be understood as art by everyone who encounters it.

Given the topic of urban nature and green spaces, I immediately think of the urban sprawl and congestion of São Paulo, and how the municipal electric company, ElectroPaulo, is the primary holder of remaining green space – the space under power lines – in the city. is a five-year project, and in the first two years, our focus is on developing strong partnerships from key sectors and populations, which we feel are foundational to the project. These include both GastroMotiva (culinary vocational training) and Cities Without Hunger (urban gardening), which partners with ElectroPaulo in the East part of São Paulo where unemployment is at the highest level in the city.

GastroMotiva trains at-risk, urban youth to cook and become chefs in professional kitchens. Cities Without Hunger teaches households how to grow produce in urban conditions provides both a healthy diet and income-generating opportunities. Cumulatively the gardens under Cities Without Hunger management produce at a surplus; therefore it is possible for a restaurant to buy directly from producers. It shares a very similar ethos with GastroMotiva, to first improve food preparation and dietary habits at the household level that, in turn, leads to employment opportunities and holistic betterment in families, communities, neighborhoods, business and the city.

We plan to purchase our produce from Cities Without Hunger and hire our restaurant staff from the ranks of GastroMotiva trainees. Furthermore, we have asked the founders of both organizations to be part of an advisory council for, and are planning a hybrid ownership model whereby their organizations can serve as anchors within the association’s membership if so desired. Both organizations (whose stakeholders are primarily from the periphery) have expressed an interest in having a central location – or food/food service lab – in the Centro for a variety of reasons; therefore, its makes sense to enter discussions with them now regarding future usage and management of the restaurant facility.


As you might imagine, I’ve been thinking about food systems a lot since starting the project in São Paolo these past years. In the same period, a steady stream of stimuli started coming my way: Over a year ago, the Vera List Center for Art & Politics presented programming entitled Your food is on its way, that focused – in part – on food delivery workers in New York City and how online aggregating services, such as Seamless, can result in longer delivery routes by offering the customer more options yet do not encourage higher tips to the delivery person. So whereas the customer perceives improved services, the delivery people, often informal, immigrant laborers, suffer lower earnings.

A friend told me about the international peasants’ movement La Via Campesina and its Food Sovereignty Principles; and most recently Thiago, a Brazilian friend in NYC, recounted his trip to Queens to visit the office of Tania Bruguera's Immigrant Movement International, and witnessed some police stopping a food vendor out front and throwing away her food. The food cart generally and Thiago's experience specifically remind us that we live in a time when the very cultural (by which I mean broader than artistic/creative) reference for a commodity becomes illegal. We've seen food cart primacy (foodie hype, rodeos and other gimmicks) literally supplant the middle ground – and important space – of food workers and delivery person rights while at the far end of the agency spectrum, immigrants in Queens who depend on informal labor (selling food) as their sole income can have the product (and representation) of their labor literally destroyed. Food carts and other pop-up notions, of course, play into the speculative real estate (capitalist) force that influences many – even well-meaning – urban plans that give us the new green and pedestrian spaces in NYC’s higher income zones (e.g. Madison Square Park, Prospect Park) where the food carts are allowed, stationed, taxed and begin to atrophy (because in effect they lose their original mobility/flexibility when sequestered in these demarcated zones).


I’ll stop here without attempting to fully compare and contrast the urban nature and green spaces of NYC and São Paulo. There are many commonalities and many differences, which I look forward to discussing. In the mean time, here’s a survey of projects – old and new – that I’ve come across in my research:

{Projects by and with Artists}


{Places / Place Concepts}


{Canada Resource Guide}


{NYC Resource Guide}


{Misc / Projects / Organizations / Initiatives / Articles}


Thanks for reading,


PS, here's more about our partners!

More Lanchonete Posts:Lanchonete:

2016.5 – on ATAQUE!

2016.4 – on Queer City

2016.3 – on ‘Food Audit’ @ Poly/Graphic Triennial {San Juan}

2016.2 – on the politics of water

2016.1 – on refugees and the São Paulo housing movement

2015.8 – on Embedded Residency, #III {Cultural Centers in Occupations}

2015.7 – on Embedded Residency, #II

2015.6 – on Embedded Residency, #I

2015.5 – on Nuance