Hopefully, you’ve seen the images: stunning photographs of rooftop farmers, of urban beekeepers, of school gardens, each picture shot through with curling white script. The Lexicon of Sustainability is a singular undertaking—a complex marriage of images and text that strives to define the terms we use to describe our food systems.
Founded in 2009 by husband and wife Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton, the Lexicon of Sustainability, winner of the Food, Inc. Non-Profit Award, works to engage communities in food issues through photographs. The couple have gone from hosting them on The Lexicon's website to encouraging fans to curate pop-up gallery shows to pursuing a new, youth-focused endeavor called Project Localize.
But for all of the reach and success The Lexicon has had, Howard-Gayeton says it was her father's response to her nonprofit work that she’s most proud of.
“Getting my parents engaged in not buying partially hydrogenated crackers and stopping some food habits they’ve had for a long time fell on deaf ears for a decade,” she says. But when she and her husband started The Lexicon, her parents got on board immediately.
“My mom and my dad are now 75 years old," she says, "and they’re carting these posters around and engaging with all of these people and are very proud to be experts on food systems.”
That’s the wonderful thing about The Lexicon of Sustainability: It takes a wonky exercise in lexicography and turns the definitions for otherwise niche terms into relatable, understandable works of art. Arriving at that point involves far more than shooting the photos and writing on the text.
“Oftentimes, it's weeks or even months of dialogue with those subjects, going back and forth, so that they’re really happy with what’s distilled from hours and hours and days and weeks of talking,” Howard-Gayeton says of the definitions and other language that appears on the images. “Because often these are very complicated ideas. They have a lot of history to them, a lot of involving moving parts.”
Putting that kind of time and effort into the images for The Lexicon of Sustainability is more than worth it, as they are achieving their intent: to get people talking, to educate, to build communities, to drive change. If it has worked for Howard-Gayeton’s family, she’s certain it can work for others too.
“I know if I can get through to my dad, I can get through to anyone in this country,” she says.