The Global Tacoshed: Do you know where your taco comes from?

April 15, 2010

story and graphics by John Bela, Teresa Aguilera,  Annelise Aldrich & Rachael Yu
This article originally appeared in 
Meatpaper Issue Eleven.

Click on the images below to view full diagrams:

LAST FALL, a group of California College of the Arts architecture students, led by CCA architecture faculty David Fletcher (Fletcher Studio) and John Bela (Rebar), shared a meal together at a local taco truck for a class assignment as part of a research seminar exploring San Francisco’s food- and waste-sheds. Our premise was that a seemingly simple, familiar food like the taco truck taco could provide visceral insight into the connections between the systems we were exploring. By thoroughly learning the process of formation and life cycle of a conventional taco, we would be better able to propose and design a speculative model of a holistic and sustainable urban future.

Students were divided into teams to research specific taco ingredients that appeared in our meal: corn and flour for tortillas; beef and chicken; onion, tomato, avocado, cilantro, lime; oil used for the griddle; cooking propane; aluminum foil; paper; and salt.

Our goal was not to know the origin of just any beans but the provenance of the specific ingredients in the food we ate. Where were the tomatoes grown that ended up in the fresh salsa? Who handled the shredded lettuce that covered the cheese and meat? From what waters or by what chemical process did the salt originate? What happened to the aluminum foil from the wrapper we discarded on campus?

What resulted was a richly complex network of systems, flows, and ecologies that we call the global Tacoshed, illustrated in the maps published here.

Our exploration of a typical San Francisco tacoshed gave us insight into the challenge of locavorism. Given the current extent of global food production and distribution systems, we began to consider how to envision a new tacoshed defined not by an impossibly arbitrary geographic boundary but instead by a global network of food producers that share similar values about sustainable land use, respectful treatment of workers, and care for the food we consume.

The Tacoshed project represents work by CCA architecture faculty David Fletcher (Fletcher Studio) and John Bela (Rebar) with the students of the Brave New Ecologies course taught in the Fall of 2009. This research project is part of URBANlab, an innovative curriculum component of the California College of the Arts Architecture Program (Ila Berman, Director). Final maps and graphics were created by CCA students Rachael Yu and Annelise Aldrich, Teresa Aguilera (Rebar), and Fletcher Studio.

TERESA AGUILERA is a graphic designer. She nurses a passion for information and local food, and enjoys bringing order, clarity, and whimsy to spaces both flat and dimensional.

ANNELISE ALDRICH and RACHAEL YU attended California College of the Arts. They were part of the Brave New Ecologies Seminar in fall 2009. Annelise is interested in the ecological systems of urban environments. Rachael is driven to understand the invisible forces that work to shape our world.

JOHN BELA is an artist, designer, and teacher based in San Francisco, where he co-directs Rebar. John’s family owns and operates a 160-acre CSA in rural Kentucky that supplies a diverse range of biodynamic produce, meat, and dairy to 80 families.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Eleven.


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