Robert Karimi combines culture, cooking and diabetes education in a multi-dimensional experience at Intermedia Arts this month. To explain his Viva La Soul Power show, Karimi goes back to his multi-cultural roots.
Born in the San Francisco Bay area and raised by an Iranian father and Guatemalan mother, Robert Karimi remembers a life filled with food in a close-knit neighborhood. His mother learned how to be an American by watching PBS cooking shows. Karimi himself started “The Cooking Show con Karimi & Comrades” 15 years ago as a way to merge his love of art, performance, food, and community. Mero Concinero (Karimi’s alter ego) is “the neighborhood cook,” a culmination of many people, experiences, and influences in Karimi’s life.
One of those influences is his father, who has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. His father was reluctant to take insulin or medication, so his doctor suggested changing his diet and exercise. His father went back to eating family recipes from his youth.
Combining his father’s diagnosis, his passion for art and food, and a grant from Creative Capital, Karimi created an interdisciplinary art project called 28 Days of Good Energia. Karimi met with people living with diabetes, a licensed dietician, doctors and nurses to find out all he could about diabetes to create the 28 Days of Energia. The 28 Days includes online prompts, the exhibit Feed & Be Fed, and Viva La Soul Power (interactive cooking performance), “I thought what if I could remove that model of I am feeding you, I am the expert, I can tell you how to live, how to eat, how to be, and find a way to find the expert inside of us all “.
On the set of ¡Viva la Soul Power! (Photo by Erin Lavelle)
Viva La Soul Power uses music, dancing, and comedy to engage audiences in a two hour cooking show. The exhibit and performance are centered on Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos. For this holiday, families bring gifts and food to an altar to honor loved ones who have passed.
Diabetes in Minnesota
Two Twin Cities residents are taking an innovative approach to bringing awareness to the disease. Looking past the statistics Robert Albee and Robert Karimi are using their personal experiences with diabetes to meld community togetherness and culture as tools in the fight against diabetes.
In Minnesota, diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death. The number affected by the disease is on the rise in Minnesota and nationally. Diabetes costs $174 billion dollars per year in the United States.
Type 2 diabetes is a type of diabetes that typically develops later in life. “80 % of individuals with Type 2 diabetes whether child or adult could prevent or reduce risk by modifying lifestyle, which primarily comes down to healthy eating and being active,” says Carol Manchester, Advanced Practice Clinical Nurse Specialist and Certified Diabetes Educator at University of Medical Center and Amplatz Children’s Hospital. Usually diagnosed in adulthood as a result of the body’s inability to use insulin effectively or produce enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas and is responsible for controlling the amount of sugar in the blood.
Ironically once referred to as “adult onset diabetes” Type 2 diabetes is now being diagnosed in young children, a startling effect of rising obesity rates and inactivity in young children. However, half of all dollars spent on diabetes related medical care are directed at treating the high cost complications of the disease in the hospital. When diabetes is left untreated it can result in heart disease, blindness, nerve damage, limb amputations, infections and wounds that are slow to heal, and kidney failure.
Mero Cocinero (Photo credit: Jeff Machtig, courtesy of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center)
“But it’s also what your ancestors feed you back,” Karimi says, “by inviting to people to be proud of and share their culture. When you remember the stories people start talking about food and culture in their lives.”
“I thought: What if we created so many good feelings and ideas and had dinner with each other and ate with each other that we stopped the isolation of Type 2 diabetes? Got the guilt and shame out of it and brought culture back to the solution instead of telling people culture is the reason you’re dying.” The target audiences for his project are minority groups who experience higher rates of Type 2 diabetes, and all women ages 18-65, who tend to be the primary food shoppers for a family.
Karimi travels wherever people want to hear his innovative message. He admits it can be difficult to get especially at-risk communities to come to performances, but that‘s when he takes his approach to the people.
“How do we get them we feed them? I have to go to the west side, the south side, the schools, so going to them and dancing with them and feeding them is as rewarding.” Although the cooking performance talks about portion size and healthy diet, Karimi wants to be clear that, “This is not a health education theatre, it’s a performance piece that gets us to think about are relationship to our culture, to each other, and our relationship to cooking and food.”
For now he is using his newly formed company, The Peoples Cook, to continue to use art, food, and community as a tool to promote wellbeing. Arizona State University has taken notice of Karimi’s work and is researching the effectiveness of his approach with youth and health professionals.