Food: Bigger than the Plate

Cheese cultured from the armpit of Blur’s Alex James, black pudding made from a still-live pig and excrement turned into table settings – but after the novelty, what’s the real takeaway from the V&A exhibition?

“We are at a critical moment for thinking about how we grow, distribute, and consume food, and what kind of food system we want for the future,” say co-curators May Rosenthal Sloan and Catherine Flood. “The modern food system, much of which took shape in the mid-late 19th century is not working to serve the people it should be serving, and now is the time to be asking serious questions about what we want it to look and taste like tomorrow.”

Their exhibition, Food: bigger than the Plate, brings together small but scalable projects that rethink assumptions about food – can we really make plants respond to our chatter? Might a black pudding made using blood drawn from a live pig be vegetarian? Seemingly fanciful questions that become more pertinent when presented alongside snapshots of intensive farming served with a viewing warning. “We aren't telling people what they should be eating or scolding anyone for their choices,” Rosenthal Sloan and Flood tell Domus. “What we are doing is highlighting the realities of today's food system and its impact on the world and its citizens, and showcasing exciting ideas and propositions for how we could design a more sustainable, just and delicious food future.”

The show taps into an ever-increasing concern over the sustainability of our food system, with urban farming, vertical gardens and veganism taking spots at design weeks and biennales world over – and the origins of a number of projects drawn on for the exhibition.  Innovations are shown in bite-sized sections titled “Compost”, “Farming”, “Trading” and “Eating” enveloped in fleshy-toned drapes. “One of the enormous strengths that artists, designers and other creative practitioners have to offer is an ability to communicate complicated ideas in ways that capture the imagination,” say the curators. “More than ever we need new, more diverse voices in the debates around food futures. Creative thinking and experimentation needs to be at the centre of this.”

With the first 200 edible tickets long gone, the LOCI Food Lab snack bar – which tailors morsels of food to tastes and ethics selected from a tablet – closed down for the day, and only a faint whiff from the fermenting jar display, the senses feel unusually stunted for an exhibition all about food. But with the display of oyster mushrooms growing from boxing-bag shaped sacks of old coffee grinds will be served up at the V&A cafe, the Loowatt waterless toilet that’s already used in festivals across the UK, and a veneer made from corn husks the promise of how these ideas will be plated is there.

Food: Bigger than the plate
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
May Rosenthal Sloan and Catherine Flood
Opening dates:
18 May - 17 November 2019

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