A meal can simultaneously be good to eat and good to think (words borrowed from Levi Strauss), as I learnt from the recently published Experimental Eating. It is a book that compiles more than 60 food-based creative projects across the globe, most of which intersect with art, design, and science. They push boundaries on how we understand, relate, and experience food, and also call attention to neglected topics, either related or tangential to food. To induce salivation and considerations at the same dinner table is no small feat, given that few will voluntarily ponder over climate change and slavery when presented with a plate of tantalising fish steak. As the book’s authors, The Center of Genomic Gastronomy, writes: “Contemporary art is an essential domain of experimentation and research, because art still makes room for unpopular views, freedom of expression and non-instrumental research.” Let’s digest some of these projects…
An egg-whipping performance that made smog visible and tastable. During the performances, egg whites were whipped at traffic junctions and on rooftops to harvest air pollution. As egg foams are up to 90 percent air, smog from different locations could be tasted and compared in the form of polluted meringues. This project urges us to think about the relationship between food, the environment, and our body.
The artist intervened the way a group of people interacted over a Christmas dinner by getting her participants to eat through the same tablecloth that extended from the table top and over each person’s head, leaving holes for the head and the arms. As each could feel if the tablecloth was pulled, this dinner enforced an attentiveness and intimacy between the diners.
Many of the stinkiest cheeses are hosts to species of bacteria closely related to the bacteria responsible for the smells of human armpits or feet, so the duo asked, “Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies?” They inoculated swabs from human hands, feet, noses and armpit into whole milk, curdled the milk, and then pressed them into eight cheeses varying in texture, colour, and odour. The cheeses, which reflected “an individual’s microbial landscape,” challenged the observer “to confront the microbiological aspects of their food and their body.”
An architect and a design studio in London collaborated to create a barter-based restaurant to revitalise a historical but forgotten market. Visitors would go to the market to purchase one of several ingredients laid out on the restaurant’s daily shopping list. They would then deliver these ingredients to Ridley’s, where they could be exchanged for a cooked lunch. The produce collected at lunch was used to cook dinner. To eat dinner at Ridley’s, customers paid £15 for their meal, and receive £5 back in the form of market voucher. The money made at dinner was used to buy ingredients for next day’s lunch, and the vouchers brought people to the market long after the pop-up restaurant had ended.
The artist created a helmet that forces the user to chew at specified intervals and length of time. It is an art vehicle to expose fast food eaters to the pains of enjoying the ‘luxury’ of such foods. The helmet is controlled by a computer programme that calculates the amount of chewing time required to burn off the number of calories of these foods. In case you are wondering, it takes eight hours of chewing to burn off a Big Mac that is 560 calories.