Sunday, 19 May 2019

FOOD: Bigger than the Plate

Supernatural, by Uli Westphal, highlights packaging images that idealise ideas about food production.
The V&A has gone back to its roots – literally – with this latest exhibition. The museum is built on the site of the Brompton Park Nursery, founded in 1689 and once an important growing centre for fruit trees. Today, the future of our food, and our planet, is a matter of concern for everyone and the display takes a witty and sometimes provocative look at production ideas and alternative food futures.
The opening section, Compost, aims to change our perception of waste. One of the first things you see is Loowatt’s waterless flush toilet that collects excrement to be converted into fertilizer or to generate energy. Nearby, the problem of what to do with used coffee grounds is addressed by GroCycle’s Urban Mushroom Farm installation, which uses them to grow edible Oyster mushrooms, which will be harvested and go to the V&A’s Benugo cafe, to be used in selected dishes.
Farming explores how new technologies might change the way we grow and farm the plants and animals we eat. One idea is this Bicitractor L'Aggrozouk, designed for small-scale farming and which, being pedal-powered, has minimal impact on the environment.
Trading looks at the buying, selling and transporting of food. It questions the images sometimes used to make food look desirable (top) and asks visitors to think about their last meal. How did the food get from field to plate? A highlight here is the bar provided by Company Drinks, a community enterprise in east London that, inspired by the local tradition of hop picking, brings people together to pick, process and produce drinks. More than 36,000 people have so far been involved in the enterprise. The cordial I tried was a refreshing infusion of kale, rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, sugar and water, served in a paper cup.
The final section, Eating, is understandably the largest, exploring how a meal connects us culturally, socially and politically. It looks at the role of the table, the challenges we face in feeding the world, and the scientific projects, ingredients and recipes that push the boundaries of ingenuity in cooking. You can visit the pop-up food bar provided by the Centre for Genomic Gastronomy's LOCI Food Lab that makes tiny canapés to order once visitors choose three of their food priorities from a 15-strong list. My choice of a “delicious, affordable and protein-rich” canapé contained Essex chia seeds, British yellow peas and quinoa, mould microprotein and dried and powdered anchovy. The end result, below, certainly tickled the tastebuds.
The headline-grabbing feature in this section is the display of cheeses created from microbes harvested from the bodies of celebrities. You can't taste these – and quite honestly, I wouldn’t rush to try a Comté cheese created with the help of samples from Heston Blumenthal’s nostrils and pubic hair – but maybe in the future, we’ll be grateful for such delicacies. Anyhow, top marks to the V&A for addressing issues that affect us all with such engaging and thought-provoking installations. The show’s co-curators, Catherine Flood and May Rosenthal Sloan, point out that food is one of the most powerful tools through which we shape the world we live in. They say that now is a crucial moment to ask not just what will we be eating tomorrow, but what kind of food future do we want?
FOOD: Bigger than the Plate is at the V&A Museum in South Kensington until October 20, 2019. Tickets £17, concessions available.

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