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Food Bigger than the Plate

What is the future of food, are we consumers as well as producers, what’s the future chicken, what cheese would Heston Blumenthal be, what if bananas had passports? All these questions and more are answered in the thought provoking new exhibition FOOD: Bigger than the Plate at Victoria and Albert Museum in London until 20 October 2019.

Over 70 contemporary projects, new commissions and creative collaborations by artists and designers working with chefs, farmers, scientists and local communities, form the exhibition space centered around four sections: ‘Compost’, ‘Farming’, ‘Trading’ and ‘Eating’ with one overriding theme, how to “disrupt the system” and “re-imagine a better food future.”

Catherine Flood and May Rosenthal Sloan, co-curators of the new exhibition, said: “Food is one of the most powerful tools through which we shape the world we live in, from how we create society, culture and pleasure to how we determine our relationship with the natural world. In an era of major ecological challenges, fast-changing societies and technological re-invention, now is a crucial moment to ask not just what will we be eating tomorrow, but what kind of food future do we want? What could it look like? And taste like?

There’s plenty of food for thought on a walk through the four areas, from industrialisation and intensive farming, to re-purposing food waste and re-inventing crockery and cutlery. For example, did you know that it takes 14 days for a banana to reach a supermarket in Iceland having left a tree branch in Ecuador, some 8800km across borders and through 33 pairs of hands, that intensively farmed chickens produce inferior porcelain and what tools we’d need to hand pollinate flowers, in place of bees.

It’s a great place to absorb fascinating food facts, historical food insight, innovation and inspiration in a food world threatened by shortage and waste.

Here are some of the exhibition highlights:

Biodiversity in Heirloom Corn Varieities

Mexico has over 60 types of native corn. Designer Fernando Laposse works with the discarded husks of colourful heirloom corn varieties in Mexico to create a new marquetry material, Totomoxtle, that supports agricultural biodiversity.

Fernando Laposse, Totomoxtle table detail


Supernatural Food Landscapes

A new commission by German artist Uli Westphal explores the way nature and agriculture are portrayed on UK supermarket packaging in his ongoing series Supernatural. He creates landscapes collaged from imagery found on packaging in three different UK supermarkets highlighting how packaging generates idealised and often fictional ideas about how our food is produced.

Supernatural, Uli Westphal 2019, commissioned by the V&A

The Future Sausage

Designer Carolien Niebling has developed a range of creative new sausage designs that explore how we might put historic ingenuity to good use today in finding delicious but sustainable approaches to consuming protein. Find out more about the project when we met her in our interview.

Carolien Niebling, The Sausage of the Future. Clockwise, from top left: Carrot, apricot and coconut dried sausage; Berry, date and almond dried sausage; Insect salami; Berry and liver sausage; Apple blood sausage; Potato and pea fresh sausage; Vegetable mortadella. Supported by ECAL and published by Lars Müller Publishers. Photo: Noortje Knulst


The power of Instagram

Since 2013, Michael Zee has shared images of the breakfasts he makes for himself and his partner Mark on his hugely popular Instagram account @SymmetryBreakfast, incorporating world cuisines, contemporary design and a story of love over breakfast. The site has become a global success encouraging foodies and design lovers to engage in presenting and caring about food.

© Michael Zee, SymmetryBreakfast


Chicken Culture

Belgian conceptual artist Koen Vanmechelen has been crossbreeding chickens from different countries since 1999 through his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP), creating a collection of chickens that are more resilient, live longer, and are less prone to disease than their industrial counterparts. Planetary Community Chicken continues this work, bringing new, healthier chickens to the world’s communities by pairing CCP roosters with local commercial hens globally. The aim is to produce birds that are more productive for local people, improving nutrition and biodiversity.

Mechelse Padovana – 23rd Generation Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, 2018 ©Koen Vanmechelen


Urban Mushroom Farming

GroCycle’s Urban Mushroom Farm installation in the gallery illustrates a circular economy by using waste coffee grounds, including grounds from the V&A Benugo café, to grow edible Oyster mushrooms. Once fully grown, the mushrooms will be harvested in front of visitors and served in selected museum café dishes.

Urban Mushroom Farm ©GroCycle

Fallen Fruit

Contemporary artist collective Fallen Fruit created a bespoke 12-metre squared wallpaper drawing on the horticultural history of the V&A – which was once an important nursery for fruit trees – and its collection to explore the past and contemporary role of fruit in creating shared culture. The commission is an extension of Fallen Fruit’s public art project Endless Orchard, that encourages planting fruit trees and foraging in public space as a way for people to engage with their local landscapes and communities

Fruits from the Garden and the Field (Purple and Yellow), David Allen Burns and Austin Young (Fallen Fruit), 2019. Created for the V&A. © Fallen Fruit


Cheese Cultured from Human Bacteria

Unique ‘microbial portraits’ of musician and cheesemaker Alex James (Blur), chef Heston Blumenthal, British rapper Professor Green, baker and food writer Ruby Tandoh, and Madness frontman Suggs are on display, recreated as Cheshire cheese, comté cheese, mozzarella, stilton and cheddar respectively. Find out more here.

Selfmade. Installation image at FOOD Bigger than the Plate at V&A (c) the artist. Photo Victoria and Albert Museum, London

All the images Courtesy of V&A Museum – FOOD: Bigger than the Plate, 18 May – 20 October 2019. Sponsored by BaxterStorey.

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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.