Vibrancy, Energy, and Groceries

It is a privilege to be able to make things go away. As Jane Bennett describes in Vibrant Matter, the “things” that we have come to dismiss as “trash” possesses an energy or “vibrance” separate from human influence (Bennett). This energy impacts our biological composition in different ways depending on its origin. Intangible things like culture are also vibrant, meaning that they are energy, and that “cultural forms are themselves powerful, material assemblages with resistant force”(Bennett). Therefore, cultural forms act upon the living in a real, tangible way — and instead of thinking of cultural norms are a force shaped by society, in reality, they form us. Similarly, Teresa Brennan explores the vibrance of human energy in The Transmission of Affect, and she too posits that like the laws of physics, energy can never be discarded or destroyed. It remains, pushed away from the lives of the comfortable in order to maintain the sense that when something rots, we have the power to throw it away (Brennan).

Fruit Boxes, Hunts Point (2019)

Chris Arnade first stumbled into Hunts Point, The Bronx, in 2012. This was around the time he quit his job in banking to pursue an appropriated kind of photographic journalism, documenting poverty and addiction around the United States. His status as an affluent white man: educated, privileged, and far removed from the narratives of marginalized people, serves as inspiration for his work. Through his photo essay “Faces of Addiction”, Arnade addresses the way in which privileged people have the means to construct their own narratives — while others are trapped by what they can’t be (Arnade). These “cultural boundaries” are something that enable our ignorance: “We don’t all want to know what goes into making our lives work. Sometimes it’s just easier not to”(Phoblographer). In the Transmission of Affect, Brennen also states that when people are able to pretend the energies others generate does not exist, they can create boundaries, closing themselves off — leaving that energy to stagnate with nowhere to go (Brennan). I, too, cross a boundary of affect to enter Hunts Point. I take the subway from Manhattan and travel through an underground wormhole. When I emerge, the energy hits me: it is neither negative nor positive, but exhausting nonetheless.

I came to Hunts Point on a mission to explore its status as a “food desert”, defined by the USDA as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas… largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers”(USDA). Keeping this in the back of my mind, I begin to observe the direct impact that food deserts have on people’s lives. A group of young men park their car outside of public housing, moving groceries up to the stoop, handing them to others inside. I notice several people walk across the freeway underpass that marks the entrance to Hunts Point, plastic bags in hand. Leathery men run roadside fruit stands with no vegetables, and I wonder if they still come when it gets cold. By a street food cart I hear the man behind me exclaim that he’s tired of eating at bodegas every day — he just wants something fresh. 

Groceries, Hunts Point (2019)

Hunts point is not a food desert because of a lack of local, fresh produce: in a deeply ironic fashion, it is actually the epicenter of fresh produce for the entire New York metropolitan area. Hunts Point Produce Market is one of New York City’s largest wholesale produce distribution center that employs over 10,000 people to feed the 5 boroughs: basically everywhere but its own neighborhood (HP Produce Mkt). The market charges three dollars for entry and two dollars for car parking, which makes access for Hunts Point residents (whose median annual income is 25,529) impossible (Address Report). Instead, residents are forced to drive or walk out of their neighborhood to buy their groceries, and even then, their options are slim. Because of this, most people in Hunts Point do not eat enough nutritious food, and obesity rates are nearly two times that of Upper and Lower Manhattan (Address Report). They are a people forgotten in a place that is trying to swallow them whole, leaving only remnants of their existence behind in the refuse of energy. 

When I return to my comfortable life in Manhattan, I still feel uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable with myself, and the knowledge that I am really only lucky, and usually willfully blind to that fact. I think of Bennett, who discusses the way in which, because of how highly Western cultures view the individual, we tend to think we act because of who we are. Because that means only others can act upon us, that it’s not our fault: it was our families, our friends — not us, our choices (Bennett). But I knew that the energy I had felt, that leftover, stagnant, energy that tends to stick people to where they are, because they have nowhere else to go — it was acting upon them. And I knew that not only they had not put it there. It’s also ours.

— Catherine Benge


  1. Arnade, Chris. “Faces of Addiction”, Flickr,
  2. Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter, U.S.A: Duke University Press, 2010.
  3. Brennan, Teresa .The Transmission of Affect, New York: Cornell University Press, 2004.
  4. “Hunts Point”, 2017, Address Report,
  5. Hunts Point Produce Market, last modified 2019,
  6. “Chris Arnade: Capturing the Faces of Drug Addicts in Hunts Point”, May 19, 2013, The Phoblographer,
  7. USDA, vol. 38, no. 2, “USDA Defines Food Deserts”,

~ by catherinebenge on September 28, 2019.

7 Responses to “Vibrancy, Energy, and Groceries”

  1. I found this post to be the most informative because it includes the message of Chris Arnade’s photo essay on how priviledged people have means to construct their own narratives.

  2. BEST OVERALL – I really loved how you used the images in this post, they make the post very appealing and interesting to read. I like the format of the post and you effectively connect the content from the readings to the research that you are doing.

  3. Affective: I find this the most affective. I understand the uncomfortable feeling and how lucky we are to be able to live in Manhattan, thus was able to feel a different affect than when going to our sites.

  4. Best Overall: The blog post was very informative on the author’s ecology, as well as the precarity that the ecology faces. I thought the pictures that were captured were also very in tune with what the author was writing about. The narrative brings a more natural and reflective element to the post.

  5. Most Informative! You’ve done such a good job of not only explaining the nature of the precarity but also its nuances. You did not take food insecurity in Hunts Point for face value but instead analyzed the reason for little access to food: “Hunts point is not a food desert because of a lack of local, fresh produce: in a deeply ironic fashion, it is actually the epicenter of fresh produce for the entire New York metropolitan area.” This piece of information and the facts used to back it up are a surprising revelation, which forced me to rethink the way I see structural issues leading to food insecurity.

  6. Best overall: The blog post was very informative, I could really feel the impact that food desert has on people’s lives and the descriptions and images fit really well. The narrative was a good way to talk about this issue.

  7. I found that your blog post was the best for me to overall comprehend and understand. While you used theoretical examples from Bennett regarding how we dismiss “trash” as unimportant when in reality it creates a vibrancy that matches our own and Brennan’s idea of the transmission of emotional energies, I really enjoyed how you integrate a personal story that was integrated in your blog post. You discussed how Chris Arnade, a privileged, educated, white man, took on the role as a photographic journalist in Hunts Point, the Bronx, and how his work was meaningful in that he listened to the stories from the individuals within that area. I really enjoyed how you tied in Brennan’s idea of the transmission of affect and how most people close themselves off from emotional energies and create a wall that blockades their true emotions. It is quintessential for us to open our eyes to the struggles environments and their people face, and you brought that to life.

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