70 x 7 The Meal Act XXXIV, Mural Arts Philadelphia, 2013
Materials: Table setting for 900 guests, Royal Limoges porcelain plates (Two editions of Ed 600), inkjet table runner (Ed 500m)
Exhibition history: 2013 Thomas Paine Plaza Philadelphia, PA, USA
Courtesy: Lucy + Jorge Orta and Mural Arts Program
To mark its 30th anniversary Mural Arts Philadelphia commissioned Lucy + Jorge Orta to create the most ambitious Act of 70 x 7 The Meal, an open-air lunch for 900 guests in the heart of the city of Philadelphia. The meal drew from a year-long public programme entitled What We Sow, exploring the loss of biodiversity –heirloom species– and their effect on global health, with a particular focus on plant species in danger of disappearing in the US. As well as working closely with local farmers and restauranters across Philadelphia, creative activities took place within different communities, designed to draw in new audiences and connect them directly with the issues at stake. Activities included heirloom seed and recipe exchanges, rural and urban farms engaged in heirloom plantations; agricultural college open days, city gardening workshops, food tasting, collective cooking, urban markets, public conferences and academic papers were written, with a focus on species loss and the vital role of food biodiversity for a healthier food system.
On the day of 70 x 7 The Meal, a single table was originally planned to stretch the full length of the Independence Historical Park, but due to the government shutdown, on 5 October 2013, 150 volunteers re-seated the 900 guests in the heart of the urban landscape, at the Thomas Paine Plaza. Tables were set with the Royal Limoges porcelain edition and table runners incorporating Lucy + Jorge Orta’s drawings of heirloom fruit and vegetables. At the end of the meal, each guest took home their porcelain plate contributing to a ripple effect of conversations from the table, to the civic space, to the private sphere, and back to the table. The menu of heirloom produce created by Philadelphia’s star Chef Marc Vetri was served on giant shared platters. Guests from a huge diversity of the city’s residents shared the communal tables with others awarded invitations by lottery; public space became the stage for intermingling citizen voices. And for those that couldn’t attend the meal, simultaneous luncheons were staged across Philadelphia so that hundreds more people could take part in the action and discussions, the estimated reach in the eight-day build up to the public event was just under 400,000 people.