"Food: An Atlas": Project Visualizes the Geography of Sustenance

Remember those rad children's atlases that had cartoon representations of the major exports of every region around the world? Well, a group of Berkeley cartographers and more than 80 volunteers around the globe have banded together to create the grownup version. Food: An Atlas will be a visual representation of food systems around the world, with more than 60 maps covering everything from the United States "beershed" (where our beer ingredients come from) to the global distribution of California almonds. The project is using Kickstarter to raise the funds to make printing and distribution possible.

Food: An Atlas is the brainchild of Darin Jensen, geography lecturer and director of the CAGE Lab at the University of California at Berkeley, and the man behind that map of gangs and cupcake shops in the Mission a few months ago. Creating a food atlas has always been a dream of Jensen's, but he knew he couldn't make all the maps by himself, and decided to crowdsource it. He recruited former student Molly Roy as co-editor, and put out a general call for food maps from geography departments and food policy organizations in the U.S. and abroad.

The maps came pouring in, so many that Jensen and Roy developed an editorial advisory panel of academics, food writers, data visualizers, and other locals to help them vet submissions for accuracy and to make sure the logic held up under scrutiny.

Because most of the team calls the Bay Area home, several of the maps are local: a survey of Oakland's taco trucks; a snapshot of urban agriculture projects in San Francisco. But there are also dozens of international and global maps covering everything from the rise of food banks in the U.K. to the redistribution of food surpluses in Italy.

The maps transcend their immediate subjects, says Jensen — for example, the map of Oakland taco trucks reveals truths about street food in general. "Cartography is a communicating device." he says. "This project will enlighten us on all humankind's relationship to food by telling these stories."

The group's Kickstarter campaign is calling for $20,000 by Oct. 23, which will go toward the local printing and distribution of the first 1,000 copies. Any proceeds from sales will go to a food charity to be determined by Jensen, Roy, and all the collaborators involved. If all goes according to plan, the finished copy should be ready in December — just in time to make a unique Christmas present for the food nerd in your life.

 
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