On Wednesday morning, a group of guests from the Centre, Tina and I met outside of the Victoria and Albert Museum well before the doors of the museum would open to the general public. We received wrist bands and walked to the special Summer exhibition: Food: Bigger than the Plate for a private tour. An hour before the exhibition opened, the two c0-curators of the exhibition, Catherine Flood and May Rosenthal, led us in.
We entered through a beautiful pink curtain into a immersive exploration of food in the present, but also the past and the future. May and Catherine led us through their circular vision of the food system, starting at a seemingly unusual place: human waste. At the very start, they display a composting toilet and various artistic and practical uses of food scrapes, off-cuts and excrement. Naturally, we had a lot to share about our own Centre’s zero-waste operations- although granted, we aren’t using plates made from cow dung yet... The curators begin the exhibition in this way because they want to challenge the viewer not to see excrement as the end of the food system, but part of a continuous cycle.
As each room unfolds from compost, to farming, to eating, these scholars craft a compelling argument about how food can be employed to understand human society- be it how food connects us, drives us apart, entices us or repulses us. At one point, they display cheese that is inoculated with bacteria taken from the bodies of famous humans, including Heston Blumenthal (who has sent chefs from his kitchens to cook at Refettorio Felix)! The curators make the case that this exceedingly common and universal experience is also particular and diverse by comparing global eating practices, vessels, environments. In each new room, something visually striking, stimulatingly written or interactive captivates the visitor.
At the end of the show, each viewer visits the Loci Food Lab. There, he or she selects 3 adjectives from a list of 16 different attributes to describe a great food system. The list includes delicious, nutritious, seasonal, affordable, open source, traditional, native, wild, protein rich and gluten free. After selecting three, a museum staff member creates a customised “bite” inspired by the choices. A printed receipt reveals how many other people (of the more than 16,000 people visitors) chose the same combination. May Rosenthal let us in on a secret- they’re all delicious, so if you go to the exhibition don’t waste your choice on ‘delicious’ (like I did).
This amazing opportunity came about after Catherine Flood responded to an email asking if we could bring our art and culinary training courses to see the exhibition. We’re so grateful to the curators and to the V&A for sponsoring us to bring this group. We opened the opportunity on a first-come first-served basis to anyone who participates in either of these two programmes, and the group was split about 50/50 between visual artists and chefs.
I think this exhibition encourages a more mindful approach to how we eat and consume.