On Wednesday morning, a group of guests from the Centre, Tina and myself 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 beautiful pink curtains 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 walk through 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, such as Heston Blumenthal. Through the display and description of eating practices, the vessels that we use to consume, the environments that we do it in and even the substance of food itself, this exceedingly common and universal experience is shown to be as particular and diverse as possible. In each new room there is something visually striking, stimulating text, and an interactive moment.
At the end of the show, each viewer can visit the Loci Food Lab. There, you select 3 adjectives from 16 different attributes to declare what a great food system looks like for you. The list includes delicious, nutritious, seasonal, affordable, open source, traditional, native, wild, protein rich, gluten free. After selecting three, a museum staff member creates a customised “bite” inspired by their choices. A printed receipt reveals how many other people of the more than 16,000 people who have visited the exhibit before chose the same combination as you. May let us in on a secret- they’re all delicious, so if you go to the exhibition don’t waste your choice on that (like I did).
This amazing opportunity came about after Catherine 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 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 it encourages a more mindful approach to how we eat and consume