Art: Food – Bigger than the Plate

The latest immersive and interactive exhibition at V&A museum explores our current and future relationship with food, available until 20th October 2019, it brings together different innovators, communities and organisations to consider what collective choices will lead a more sustainable and delicious food future.

It is a topic that is close to my heart, food sustainability is a key concern of our times and rightly so. One has to consider how we will feed the world in the future where population growth is expected to reach close to 10 billion people by 2050  and without damaging our world even further. The V&A tastefully explores this question and gives us hope that there are people out there doing their best to change the world.

Key Highlights

The exhibition is split into 5 key components, starting with composting and navigated all the way to eating; representing the natural food cycle. I have highlighted my favourite pieces and new ideas from the exhibition below.

Composting

Compost is the organic matter that has been decomposed in a process called composting. This process recycles various organic materials otherwise regarded as waste products and produces a soil conditioner (the compost).

The exhibition starts off with the consideration that if you are a consumer, you are also a producer. If you eat, you produce waste – not just the fundamental human poop but also the by-products that come with food production.  It is a lot of waste and our usual reaction is just to get rid off it, it is “undesirable” and ends up in landfill or our oceans. It breaks the cycle of nutrients. This is exactly why we need to familiarise ourselves with the natural cycle of reproduction, growth and decay which returns organic waste to the soil to provide nutrients for future growth. Luckily there are a lot of smart people who have started to think outside the box!

  • Loowatt (2019) – Closes the loop on human waste, they have developed a waterless flush toilet and manages the collection, transfer and treatment of faecal sludge. Waste is converted to energy and fertiliser. An innovative and sustainable way to manage human waste across the globe.
  • Urban Mushroom (2019) – Oyster mushrooms growing on a bed of used coffee beans from the visitors of the V&A museum. This was an extraordinary way to recycle used coffee grounds which normally just end up in the landfill. Is this the future of farming in our cities?

Farming

Farming is the fundamental way to grow our food, however, there is a disconnect between us and how food ends up on the table. With the rise of human convenience, everything is packaged and beautifully displayed in our supermarkets; often from far-flung and exotic places. Recently I bought green grapes that came all the way from Brazil, and I had to stop and think – wait .. is this right? Should I not just eat produce that is in season? By being removed from the process and the slick machine of globalisation has meant that produce is available all year round – do we stop and think – how was this grown? where did it come from?

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Key highlights for this section of the exhibition is the beautiful wall art by Fallen Fruit, which was inspired by depictions of fruit from the V&A collection.

Having lived in Hong Kong for two years, I was surprised and humbled to see that there is a small food revolution occurring and is being displayed back in London, my home town. HK Farm is a collective of artists, designers and farmers who grow food locally on rooftops and questions the values of the contemporary city in the process. Being able to grow and produce food right in the heart of one of the world’s greatest concrete jungle was refreshing to see.

I would also recommend everyone to take time to sit down and watch a video montage on European food production Our Daily Bread by Geyrhalter and Widerhofer (2005). It is not an easy watch, but necessary.

Trading

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How do we get our food? How is it transferred to us? How many hands does it need to pass before we get to consume it? This section of the exhibition explores the globalisation machine and how it is easy to hide the environmental and social costs of food production.

  • Ester Hernandez: Sun Mad (2008) – This iconic poster (above) is by the Chicana (American – Mexican) artist Ester Hernandez, it was created to draw public attention on the human cost of the grape harvest, including the harmful effects of pesticides on pickers. In 2008 as displayed above, it was updated to include an “ICE” bracelet to signify the fate of many immigrants farmworkers working in the US.
  • Johanna Seelemann: Banana Story (2018) – This was another enlightening video on the world’s most popular fruit. It challenges the simplistic narrative of the “Made in” label. The video is a story of one banana who travels 8800km, crossing multiple national borders and 33 hands before landing on the shelves of a consumer.

Cooking

Evolution of cooking by Ferran Adrià was explored in this part of the exhibition, the head chef of El Bulli from 1987 until 2011, changed the way restaurants cook and serve food around the globe. His cooking extends beyond cooking and explores the deep history, in what he considers the fundamental part of human evolution. The drawings reflect his understanding and analysis of the development of cooking in human history.

Eating

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Eating – my favourite part of the cycle and comes to the end of the exhibition. The most memorable display is “Self Made” by Christina Agapakis & Sissel Tolaas (2013)  and it is definitely not for the squeamish! Some of our tastiest food is made with the help of microbes. Cultured from some famous individuals such as Heston Blumenthal’s, their bacteria was used to produce cheese forming a “microbial portrait”. The project was to challenge our perceived notion of bacteria and develop understandings of the microbiome and its role in how our bodies function. Grim, but a must see.

A wonderful display and truly enlightening experience. I did come away feeling that I should reconsider becoming a full vegetarian though! As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the exhibition and your thoughts of food in general.

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x