Vegetable earrings. Cuddly sausages. Bastard bread. Sugar guns. These are the weird-and-wonderful imaginings of Dutch native Marije Vogelzang, who calls herself the world’s first eating designer.
Why does the world need an eating designer, when feeding is our first instinct? In the West, says Vogelzang, fresh food has become so easily accessible that we take it for granted. “We seem to have forgotten how we can connect to others through food. We seem to have banished food from the premium spot it used to have, to something we take for granted, and that leads to terrible waste,” she says, speaking at The Business of Design Week in Hong Kong.
Vogelzang wants to reinstate the role that designers play in the food chain by showing that food needs creative attention. “For ages, designers have not been part of the process of food production, that has been down to farmers, transporters, supermarkets and politicians.This is harmful to the world, now we need creative thinkers,” she explains. Through her installations and projects she tries to teach people to see their food in a different light. “Designers can be the bridge between scientists, farmers and mothers and markets. Eating design should help innovate in a positive way.”
Vogelzang’s edible art projects take on many forms, including installations, performance, and event catering. She explores cultural preconceptions of eating and attempts to subvert old associations with food.
“Food is connected to everything in the world — the world is shaped according to what we choose to eat every day. Food is connected to emotions and memories. Food can glue people together and it can separate them. Food gives us meaning and nourishment but it can also make us ill. It is the most rich and most important material in the world,” says Vogelzang.
Billionaire takes a look at some of her most thought-provoking installations.
“When I was asked to do a Christmas dinner, my initial thought was that a Christmas dinner is full of clichés. How can you design something that’s already fully designed? But in thinking of Christmas as a time when people eat together, I decided to create a simple ‘intervention’. I used a table with a tablecloth, but instead of putting the cloth on the table, I made slits in it and suspended it in the air, so that the participants sat with their heads inside the space and their bodies outside. This physically connects each person: if I pull on the cloth here, you can feel it there. Covering everyone’s clothing also created a sense of equality. Initially I was concerned that people would reject the experience, particularly because the participants didn’t know each other beforehand, but it actually increased their desire to relate to one another, and brought about a feeling of being in something together.
“The food was also part of the project. One person was served a slice of melon on a plate that was cut in two; the person opposite her was given ham on a similar plate. The combination was so classic that, without even being told to do so, the participants naturally began to share their food.”
“In the summer of 2012 we drove up to Weil am Rhein, located in Germany right between Switzerland and France, to transform the Zaha Hadid Fire Station into a bakery.
“With the professional help of master baker Fritz Trefzger we produced 2,500 bastard buns, plus love sentences made from bread perched on hundreds of metal pins. The main sentence read: ‘Hello gorgeous, I’m still wearing the smile you gave me.’
“We told the story that on the night of the Vitra Campus summer party, these three countries made love and conceived a mixed bread, made from the three iconic breads of each country: German dark sourdough, French baguette and Swiss sweet Zopf bread.
“The baby bastard is shaped to share. Bread is at the base of most cultures. Its pure existence is that of textures moulded into shapes and completed with fire.”
“I live in the city. When I look around I hardly see any animals that I eat and I’ve never seen them being slaughtered. When my daughter looks around she sees mostly cuddly animals and cartoons. At the kiddy farm around the corner the animals are cute and her animal toys all have big eyes and pink fur.
“This 200kg cuddly sausage is mostly made of meat from animals that can live freely in the wild. By pulling the string, the knitting will unravel and reveal the elegantly flavoured sausage inside.”
“At Headspace, a symposium launched in partnership with The Museum of Modern Art, we served every member of the audience two samples of yoghurt. One had a grass-scented spoon and the other was scented with cedar wood. For some people the cedar yoghurt brought them back to their primary-school years and chewing on colouring pencils. For others, the grass yoghurt had a strong memory-retrieving effect of various sorts. For the cocktail party after the symposium we developed wood-flavoured cotton candy on a stick of liquoricewood.”
“Rice Life is an installation about food memories I designed in Tokyo. The participants buy a pack of rice and write their own personal story on it. They take their bag into the installation made of an endless amount of hanging ribbons. In the middle of the ribbon installation other people’s bags of rice hang. You take your own bag and connect it to one of the strings. While doing so you see that your bag is connected to someone else’s bag. This bag is yours to take home. The bags are connected literally but so are you and the other person.
“Now you own a bag of rice with someone else’s story and energy. As rice is a basic staple food we eat it often without thinking. When you cook the rice at home you might think of this other person.”