INDIE VIEW: A sublime food fight in ‘Yasmina and the Potato Eaters’

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Yasmina and The Potato Eaters Part 1
By Wauter Mannaert
Europe Comics

Yasmina is enthusiastic about vegetables and all stages of their use, from growth to prep to meal, so much so that she wants to replace all the academic portions of her school with classes that allow for more time with the food. She’s an inventive cook who prepares delicious meals for her father, Omran, who works at a fast food restaurant and shows his support and pride by easily digging into the lunches Yasmina makes for him rather than stuffing himself with hamburgers and french fries.

Yasmina is also a peacemaker in the world of food extremes, trying to help Cyril, a pesticide user, and Marco, an all-natural gardener, find common ground and accept that their differences are fine.

But there are other forces in the world, outside of Yasmina’s influence and therefore impervious to her persuasive charms. It’s here that the book gets into social and political criticism by addressing the proliferation of industrial food processing to feed the world and the way it trains taste buds to expect lower quality even during hunger pangs, and of the scarcity of access for fresh food, leading the danger of it becoming out of the reach of ordinary people, something just for the wealthy. But it also takes it further, to the point where designer food takes precedence over fresh with even the upwardly mobile, thrusting Yasmina’s idyllic gastronomic existence into a commercially-driven, Frankenfood-dominated dystopia.

I suppose it’s easy to read this as a criticism of GMOs, and you can certainly do that if you choose, but I think the wider point is about the commodification of food and the separation that much of humanity feels from its origins, which the marketing of GMOs is definitely in alignment with, regardless of your views on the science (Disclaimer: I’m fine with GMOs, just as I am fine with organic farming).

The marketing has turned food into something more than what it is — a symbol for lifestyle or ease or status or technology or even interaction with other humans — and Yasmina’s story works as advocacy for direct interaction with food. A personal relationship with food, you might say, one that includes recipes as an understanding of culture and history, and home-cooked meals as interaction between people, expressions of affection and concern, and invitations to welcoming someone into your personal space.

Yasmina’s world itself is stunning, filled with exciting overviews of the landscapes both urban and rural, capturing the intricacies of both the gardens Yasmina frequents and the city in which she wanders. Alternately, Wauter, whose art was so exemplary on the recent Weegee bio by Max de Radigues, is genius at focusing in on the physical humor of a single moment, elongating it into absurd proportions and making Yasmina’s world burst with energy regardless of the vantage point the reader is offered. The book features dialogue but also has many extended moments of pantomime that guide us through the world around Yasmina, as well as her own processes of cooking and other types of engagement.

This is a great book for kids and adults alike. Younger folks will appreciate the energy and humor of the story and the complexity of the artwork. Grown-ups will respond to all that too, and also the satirical element, and the opportunity to incorporate the book as a dialogue-started about multiple subjects with their kids.