LinYee Yuan in conversation with Fortunately Editors Mark A. Hernandez and Cierra Michele Peters. Photography by Keith Robitaille.

LinYee Yuan is a design journalist, as well as the editor and founder of MOLD Magazine, a critically acclaimed online and print magazine about design and the future of food. In this conversation, Cierra Michele Peters and Mark Hernandez Motaghy from Fortunately were interested in hearing more about LinYee's perspective on the future of food and how community economics plays a role in it. 

In 2022, LinYee launched Field Meridians, an arts and design organization that aims to strengthen local food ecologies through critical place-based interventions. She also serves as an advisor for Fortunately. The conversation begins with the process of initiating and sunsetting an independent publication, as MOLD is set to release its final print issue in 2024.

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Cierra Michele Peters: What was the conversation on food design like at the time you launched MOLD?

LinYee Yuan: I launched this magazine in 2016 with a Kickstarter campaign because I had been publishing on for two years. There was still so much confusion around what food design was or could be. I wanted to help create a larger dialogue around the role design can play, not just in making a beautiful place setting or designing an interesting-looking cake but also around food systems.

When I launched, everybody was saying print was dead, but a new generation of print magazines was also coming out. People were carving out new ways of making magazines. One of the things that had stopped me from making a print magazine was this idea that it had to go on in perpetuity, or else it had failed. At the time, there were other magazines like Migrant Journal and Dirty Furniture, two European projects that only planned to publish six issues, and that was it. I was like, wow, of course, we can make a magazine that has a lifespan. A defined one. The deeper lesson there is to recognize that everything has its own time. Nature has its own time. That gave me the license to move forward with this idea.

CP: How did you establish the political framework of the magazine? MOLD Magazine is a beautiful publication, but it goes beyond the conventional expectations of a food magazine. It also delves into topics such as climate justice and what you call "food futures," alongside aesthetics and design.

LYY: Design has always been about our relationships with one another. It's about what it means to be human within a system of objects in space. Whatever framework of design you're using, it is relational. The unifying questions from the front to the back of MOLD are: What is our relationship with food? How can we design structures, objects, and environments that can shift our relationship with food?

Six or seven years ago, we were talking about lab-grown meat. We were talking about indoor agriculture. To be honest with you, I lost interest in that. I realized that those structures are still about companies dictating how and what you're going to eat. That is just not the future I want to see. There was always this question when I first started: "Oh, the future of food—are we going to eat insects?" It was always about othering food. "Oh, I'll eat everything but insects." My answer was, "Well, you're going to eat insects because they're delicious." That's the future of food because it will always be: What's the most delicious thing you can put in your mouth? What's the thing that's going to make your head explode? Something that will make you say, “This is all the textures. This is flavor. This is a memory.” That is what's going to make something part of the future of food. I wasn't interested in a conversation about the gross factor or the othering factor. The deeper we got into it, the more critical and politicized I became about food.

CP: That's real. A lot of people's projects start at a broad level and as you peel back the layers—maybe I'll speak for myself—I'm beginning to see more and more how these larger structural systems touch almost every aspect of our lives. For me, the larger project was the arts. I went from wanting to apply for grants to realizing I needed to structure things in a very specific way and talk about things I'm not really interested in to receive money. Then I realized philanthropy is fucked up. It shouldn't be this way. It should not be product-obsessed. It should be about supporting people. It should be about your wellness as a human being because you, as a worker, deserve to have your things. We need to intervene.

“I chose freedom instead. Full creative freedom.
I didn't have to make it on anyone else's timeline. We'll do our best to fulfill the promise of what we set out to do, which, truth be told, is a pretty big thing to do in and of itself.”

LYY: Yes. What we're talking about here is thinking that the existing model will bring you success. This is part of the conversation about what it means to make a magazine.

I knew that making a magazine was never going to pay my bills. So I was like, let this thing be just the most expensive business card I'm ever going to make. I'm going to sell these magazines for $20 and then make the next one using that money. I don't need to make money from it; it just needs to keep paying for itself so that I can make the next one. Thankfully, it has. I didn’t have to sell advertising to make the magazine. I chose freedom instead. Full creative freedom. I didn't have to make it on anyone else's timeline. We'll do our best to fulfill the promise of what we set out to do, which, truth be told, is a pretty big thing to do in and of itself.

I chose freedom instead. Full creative freedom. I didn't have to make it on anyone else's timeline. We'll do our best to fulfill the promise of what we set out to do, which, truth be told, is a pretty big thing to do in and of itself.

Mark Hernandez Motaghy: Before getting into sunsetting MOLD and starting Field Meridians, I want to ask about your essay, “Why community economics is the future of food,”which you published in 2021. I’m curious to hear more about the relationship between food sovereignty and community economics.

LYY: In 2020, writer and designer John P. Kazior wrote about a group in the Italian Alps that I was familiar with, Brave New Alps. This project really transformed me. Basically, Brave New Alps is a group of community organizers in this tiny Italian village. They wanted to create a product that was fully about this place and this community. The collective created a fizzy drink using ingredients from the region. It was bottled in place and then sold to local businesses—bars, corner stores. Oftentimes, the system tells you that everything is about scaling up. We know that scaling in perpetuity is cancerous; that's the one thing that occurs in nature that is constantly growing. And I was fully on board for this other model that Brave New Alps pursued. I didn't have the words for it.

Organizations and people who have imagined a world beyond capitalism have always come back to how we keep money inside our communities. How do we keep it circulating? How does that then empower people within a capitalist system to have agency? Companies and politicians that have nothing to do with our communities are often making decisions about what foods we have access to. As markets like the United States that have more economic power and more privilege start rejecting these foods, these big organizations are going deeper into places that have no relationship with these foods to continue creating addicted markets.

Making decisions about where your food comes from, what you eat, and how you eat it is inextricable from the idea of keeping money (which in our culture is power) circulating within our communities. Participatory budgeting—locals collectively deciding how, where, and why money is spent in their area—is a version of this idea of community economics within a very complex political system designed not to give us any power. There are glimmers of community economics taking hold on a local level, and that is deeply, deeply important.

“The person who's going to help me in the time of climate change is the person who lives next door. But the work is messy and hard. It's life's work.”

MHM: If MOLD addressed the singular focus on food as products without concern for food systems, Field Meridians seems like a space to rehearse and enact these alternative systems, to be entangled in the messiness of what you just described. Where does Field Meridians enter the picture? Is it organized and shaped differently than MOLD?

: Field Meridians is very much a work in progress. What I'm going to share is a vision, and how it actually plays out is wide open.

During the pandemic, a number of my Brooklyn neighbors joined together to organize against a proposed development, which is three doors down from me now. The experience of organizing my neighbors and knowing my neighbors was transformative for me; it gave me so much energy. It became increasingly clear that this was the critical work that needed to happen now and into the future: I was ready to be entangled in that conversation. So that's what Field Meridians sprung out of.

Field Meridians is about being super local. We're in the nascent stage of it, but we've done one project, last year, called the Solstice Kitchen. We created a mobile kitchen in the middle of the park thatI take my kids to. We did a week of programming with other collaborators in Crown Heights and Brooklyn-based organizations. They were free and open to the public. It was a way of having a conversation with our neighbors about what they thought the future of food should look like: What do you want to see in Crown Heights? What do you need? The trajectory of Field Meridians in the next three to five years will involve co-designing potential solutions to those questions with our neighbors. This fall, we are also launching a gardening newsletter for Brooklyn specifically. It's going to be about gardening in the time of climate change. It will include a poem and an illustration or artwork that's a reflection on the season.

So the tripod of Field Meridians consists of design interventions, publishing (because I can't quit the print thing), and a pirate radio station. We're collaborating with an artist to work on this radio station. In Crown Heights, if you drive around on any Saturday, you can tune into a gazillion pirate radio stations—the Haitian Creole church station, dancehall, dub. This is a tradition within the community. I started my career at a music magazine and I love music and music people. There are a lot of arts organizations that have talk radio, but I just want to hear music. So we're going to invite people from the community to play music on this pirate radio station.

I also want to launch the Crown Heights Nature Center. The idea is to do nature education in our neighborhood. Often, people say, "Oh, nature's far away; you have to go upstate, you have to spend money on travel." But nature is here. What is the life cycle of a house mouse? Can we do plant identification with backyard and sidewalk weeds? Can we talk about all the insects in our houses? Can we learn about pollinators? Can we get a local pest person to tell us about the pests? Some of these conversations seem silly but are also critical. How cool would it be to have an hour-long walk around the neighborhood to do tree identification every Saturday morning? I want to know what all the trees are on my block. Backyard bird sightings? Let's talk about it. Where do all these birds live?

I’m very excited about this idea, and young children are fully amped about this type of thing because they don't have the notion in their minds that nature is somewhere else. Recently, we were at a friend's house and my son, who's four, was making tiny bouquets for everyone just using the weeds in my friend's backyard, which was quite overgrown. I thought it was so beautiful. Of course, I'm like, my child is brilliant. But it was also really inspiring because, for him, it didn't need to include roses for it to be beautiful.  

CP: Totally. On a related note, thinking of resourceful and creative small acts, I remember you talking about trying to find creative ways to resist colonial systems, especially in 2020, when all the uprisings were happening. You had just become a parent and were trying to find your space in that, or another way of protesting. What advice do you have for people who are seeking to resist the status quo or think about a different future but who maybe don't have all the resources?

LYY: My therapist told me this during the pandemic: We know this is not a race. It's a marathon for justice. I felt like I wasn't doing my part during the social justice uprisings because I wasn't in the streets every day. She was like, your role in this maybe isn't today. Your season can be later.

These extractive systems of thought and practice—white supremacism, capitalism, imperialism—infiltrate every part of our lives. So resistance is a practice, and it's a daily thing. I learned during the pandemic and uprisings that even the smallest act can be an act of resistance. It will look different for everybody, but in my life, resistance manifests in cooking for my kids and for myself, trying to compost, trying to live my life in a way that leaves less of a mark on this world, saying hello to my neighbors every day, knowing my neighbors.

We live in a system centered on death, extraction, and violence. Resisting that is about living fully as a human and connecting with other humans. That's the task at hand; whenever that’s possible in your life, do it. That's why community economics makes sense. A girlfriend of mine was asking if I had read Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. It's a novel about land economics and Appalachia in the ’90s. The gist is, no government likes land-based economies, because the more sovereign you are, as a community, the less fucks you give about what's happening outside. The more we can be in relationship with one another, the more radical this world is going to be.

This article is featured in Issue 0.