The Lexicon of Sustainability: Food, Thought and Meaning

In the world we live in, we are increasingly surrounded by choices. This is true for everything including choices on style, music, the cars we drive, the phones we use, and the food we eat. With food specifically, our options seem to be constantly increasing. Chain grocery stores have aisles and aisles all filled with an array of selections. No matter what I want to buy – eggs, cheese, bread, olive oil – I have dozens of options. But it’s not just the products themselves, it’s the terminology used to describe them.

Doug photographing  Xuyen Pham amongst Vietnamese taro plants in her home garden in New Orleans

Douglas photographing Xuyen Pham amongst Vietnamese taro plants in her home garden in New Orleans

These terms, newly coined in many cases, are abundant and just plain hard to decipher. How am I as a consumer really supposed to know what they mean or even what I’m eating?

Douglas Gayeton, the founder of The Lexicon of Sustainability, has taken the initiative to educate the public about these new and emerging changes to our vocabulary. From ‘cage-free’ to ‘grass-fed,’ ‘urban farmer’ to ‘green collar,’ or ‘food miles’ to ‘carbon footprint,’ new phrases are packed with important meaning not commonly understood.

Douglas journeys through the United States seeking true and applied meanings for the most important, newly coined terms that describe the foods we buy and the story behind them. His unique and interactive approach relies on  story-telling and visual stimulation. He spotlights practitioners at the forefront of sustainable practices who shed light on what these terms really mean in practice. The artistic personality embedded in the visual definitions make this project one of a kind.

What sustainability means to Running Squirrel

What sustainability means to Running Squirrel.

Douglas’ photographs and videos of his encounters embody personality and passion, adding more value to these words. Definitions are artistically spread over a visual depiction of a given term, helping people understand sustainability through understanding vocabulary.

The term that stood out to me the most was locavore: a person whose diet includes foods grown, harvested, or produced within a 100-mile radius of where it is consumed. This practice aims to keep “food miles” at a minimum. Farmers markets provide local, sustainable choices for locavores. Adopting a locavore lifestyle helps the local economy, and though the products may be pricier (though not always) than at a grocery store, the quality of foods offered is substantial while the money spent circulates within the local community.

How far does your food travel until it reaches your home?

How far does your food travel until it reaches your home?

To spread the word, the Lexicon promotes pop-up shows for people around the nation to exhibit the project. Margie Bushman, Program Coordinator for Santa Barbara City College’s Center for Sustainability, works with the two organizations that sponsor the Lexicon exhibit in Santa Barbara. The SOL Food Festival and the Center for Sustainability were both chosen in 2011 to be local curators for the national tour.

Since its Santa Barbara debut two years ago, the Lexicon has been on display at the SOL Food Festival, Santa Barbara Earth Day,  downtown 1st Thursday events, and the Lucidity Festival. Additionally, the exhibit can be found on the SBCC campus at the beginning of each semester for kick-off events and a weekly Community Market, where thousands of students go streaming by.

“We are proud to have taken this project even further by fostering two students to do a project involving local pioneers of sustainability in Santa Barbara,” Margie tells me. “The students took a semester to interview two local food pioneers in the sustainability of agriculture – Oscar Carmona and Mark Tolefson – with the hope of having Santa Barbara create its own lexicon.”

Students take notice of the pop up show on the SBCC campus

Students take notice of the pop up show at Santa Barbara Earth Day.

The Lexicon’s goal at the national and local level is to help illuminate terms and ideas in order to define and differentiate the many new products swirling around us. Being an educated consumer is important, and the Lexicon offers an opportunity to become more knowledgeable through aesthetic insight and artistic creativity. And knowledge is power.

To find out more about The Lexicon of Sustainability, visit

Emily O


By Emily Oberhand. Emily is one of LoaTree’s newest bloggers and social media coordinators. She will be graduating this June with a B.A. in Economics and Accounting, with a minor in Professional Writing.

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