Its November. Term is in full swing, meaning plenty of lecture writing but little time to put finger to keyboard for a blog post or two. That’s not to say that there isn’t much to write about - tickling my tastebuds recently has been the multi-faceted turn to food by designers. I kickstarted this thought in a review of the London Design Festival in September where, as Wallpaper also noted, food was something of a going concern at this year’s festival.
Faye Toogood and Cocomaya, Force of Nature, 2012, at Designs on Nature. Photo: Tom Dixon.
The magazine picked up on the food-based treats and installations that designers such as Tom Dixon, Paul Cocksedge and Cocomaya together with Faye Toogood were offering, alongside the creation of ample opportunities for eating together, such as Cocomaya's collaboration with the Vera Project and Kopiaste, Design Marketo and Haptic Thought's pop-up cafe in West London, in which designers such as Michael Anastassides created silicone food moulds whose design commented on the current socio-economic crisis in Greece.
Michael Anastassides, €uro Bread wooden dough stamp,2012. Photo: Core 77
Across town, Italian collective Arabeschi di Latte and Studio Toogood's collaboration contained some of the interests circulating in design currently; hosted at the latter's canal-side studio was their M25 lunch, a spin on the traditional British Ploughman’s lunch.
M25 Lunch, Arabeschi di Latte and Studio TooGood, LDF 2012. Photo: Dezeen
The meal expressed the post-industrial and utilitarian ethos that was also seen in the clothes and chairs on show at The Back Room: it opted for the limitations of localism over long-distances in the sourcing of ingredients, all of which had been gathered within the environs of London’s perimetrical motorway, from smoked-salmon to cheese, chutney to honey.
Designers’ recognition of the potential for food to unite, to create communities and have a positive social effect is not new - witness the influence of the Slow Food Movement on design - and the connection between food and design is, as always, one of those subjects far larger than the narrow gaze considered here. What I’m particularly interested in is the current use of food as a material in design, a cross-pollination of the edible and the non.
Debbie Nitsan, Baked Electronics, 2012. Photo: Designboom
As Debbie Nitsan’s baked electronic suggest, bread seems to have particular appeal in this respect, also seen in Studio Formafantasma’s flour-based Autarchy and Baked series. On a different note is Alkesh Parmar’s orange-peel based Apeel. Unveiled at the RCA Show last year, Apeel turns rind, a byproduct of juice and fruit salad production, into a biodegradable material.
Alkesh Parmar’s Apeel, 2012. Photo: D-Talks.
Informed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle concept, Parmar’s use of an existing byproduct is part of the larger set of sustainable approaches to design, one here informed by an increasing urgency of the need to recognise the issue of waste in our consumerist society, and the need to adopt more circular approaches to design - expressed in the use of Apeel to create the juicer that leads to the rind that it is made from…and so it goes on.
Closely tied to this use of food as a material is the potential of using techniques associated with food on conventional design materials. Included in Out of the Woods, an exhibition documenting the RCA’s collaboration with the American Hardwood Export Council on view at the V&A was the Leftovers chair by Lauren Davies. Based on the design of a traditional kitchen chair, Davies used processes normally associated with preserving food for treating furniture, in a project that, like Parmer’s Apeel, is similarly concerned with maximising the life cycle of the material culture that surrounds us.
Lauren Davies, Leftovers chair, 2012. Photo: Core 77
As Davies describes, the chair was the result of a love of cooking and the fact that there is an overlooked affinity between food and furniture - as she has noticed of the project, ‘so many of the American hardwoods we were working with are connected to food production’. This dual concern with food in both the materials and processes used permeates the chair; its hickory legs have been ‘smoked’, the maple spindles on its back flavoured with fruit essences such as beetroot and blackberry, and its seat, made from timber offcuts, pickled with vinegar. As these treatments suggest, these olfactory element to the chair express a concern with a sense beyond the visual, one that is normally overlooked in design and yet which a food-based approach can clearly exploit.
This is not to mention the widespread application of design to the realm of food; from rethinking the shape and social custom for eating food, as in Marti Guixe’s FoodBALL, Bompas and Parr's jelly architecture, and Carl Kleiner and Evelina Bratell's re-visualisation of ingredients for IKEA’s Hembakat är Bäst (Homemade is Best) cookbook, in which the layout recalls a self-assembly kit - allen key not included.
Carl Kleiner (photography) and Evelina Bratell (styling), Hembakat är Bäst, 2010. Photo: Carl Kleiner
These examples are just for starters (for dessert, see Naomi Filmer's chocolate jewellery). As always, these snapshots of a larger phenomena raise a number of questions. Chiefly, this interest in food comes at a time when less of us are cooking, and yet more of us watching and reading about food - witness the global phenomenon that is The Great British Bake Off - and in a context in which unethical and unenvironmental processes dominate food production, distribution, consumption and disposal. Could these examples mean therefore that we can use design to value food more in the future? The benefits could run both ways - does a food-based approach to design suggest new sensual and social possibilities for design practice? (Re)conceived variously as material, medium, energy source or social glue; food could become more than what we put on the table, but what the table is made from.