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Volume 77, Number 20 | October 17 - 23, 2007

Artists fast then fest to purge world of ‘globesity’

By Audrey Tempelsman

The cause is just. The tone, apocalyptic. And each participant, hungry for social change — and solid food. This week, the Globesity Festival is making artists and nonartists alike think twice about what they consume.

“Our approach to food and sustenance is destroying our personal and social health,” festival director Penny Arcade asserts in the Globesity Festival mission statement on the Web site theglobesityfestival.org/. “Our Earth and our Bodies cannot sustain the beastly grind of consumption. This beast is Globesity. It has been named. Now is the hour of confrontation.” 

The festival, which is free and open to the public, will run from Oct. 22 to Oct. 28, at the Theater for the New City at 155 First Ave.

At this time, the issue of obesity is bigger than ever. The World Health Organization reports that there are at least 300 million obese adults worldwide, a factor attributed to globalization’s social and nutritional effects.

Diets have become higher in fats, saturated fats and sugars while occupations have gotten less physically demanding. Transportation increasingly occurs by car, bus or train, rather than on foot. And more and more leisure time is spent in front of the computer or television.

People are consuming more and living larger, so to speak, than ever before.

Fasting, in the words of its director, Penny Arcade, “forces you to take a break from consumerism” and take a look at yourself.

All artists participating in the festival have fasted for 10 days. Though ideally, they subsisted on a strict juice-only diet, Arcade is open-minded about what a “fast” should entail. 

“If you eat a cheeseburger every day and then go on an vegetarian diet, that’s fasting,” she said. “If you never exercise and you get yourself to do a 30-minute walk, that’s a fast. That’s you being able to take a step in the right direction by breaking your daily routine. That’s you getting a different perspective on the way you live your life.”

More important than a dogmatic definition is to give people the chance to gather together.

“We want to empower, acknowledge and enhance spirit of community taken away from us by ongoing gentrification,” she said referring to the once-vibrant Lower East Side arts scene, driven out by the same insatiable market forces that have bloated America’s population.

Artists developed their performance pieces for the festival during these 10 days of deprivation. By changing their routines as consumers, Arcade and Paul Bartlett, a member of Community Board 3 also involved in the festival, hope that artists will inspire their audience to do the same.

“Living well in this world is not just about green consumption. You have to change the way you do things,” said Bartlett. “In theater, you can put onstage what it’s like to live and people may say, ‘Oh, I want to live like that, too.’ It becomes irresistible, a draw to change instead of a push.”

Zero Boy, a Lower East Sider who defines himself as a “performance artist, standup comic and vocal acrobat,” was one such artist to attempt the juice fast. Over the course of those 10 days, Zero Boy claims he lost 20 pounds. And though digestive difficulties consigned him to his apartment for the entirety of the fast, he asserts that he was never hungry. These days, he’s never felt better.

“The fast has been a real eye opener,” he said. “It really made me think about the history of my diet and what I put into my body. I feel much healthier and energetic, much less depressed.” These revelations have contributed to his performance, scheduled to take place on Wed., Oct. 24, at 7:30 p.m.

The festival’s keynote speaker is activist and renowned African-American comedian Dick Gregory. In the 1960s, Gregory became active in the civil rights movement and other political efforts, increasingly using fasting as a mouthpiece for protest.

To demonstrate his anti-Vietnam stance, Gregory consumed nothing but water for 40 days, dropping from 288 pounds to a skeletal 97 pounds. In 1970, he fasted for 81 days to draw attention to America’s drug epidemic. In the 1980s he became an advocate for a raw fruits and vegetables diet, and gained recognition as a nutrition guru.

“As my body was cleansed of years of accumulated impurities, my mind and spiritual awareness were lifted to a new level,” he wrote in his 1973 book “Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature.”

“I felt closer to Mother Nature and all her children,” Gregory wrote in his diet book. “I felt more in tune with the universal order of existence. I was now aware of the meaning of the words I used to hear in church: ‘The body is the temple of the spirit.’”

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