The Art of Food


Food & Drink Festivals are popular fixtures of the social calendar, and in the course of my travels, I have partaken in events such as La Fête du vin (Bordeaux), Vijazz (Vilafranca del Penèdes), Manchester Food and Drink Festival, Toronto’s Winterlicious and Summerlicious – and possibly a few more that I don’t remember.

These are mostly business-led festivities, offering opportunities to sample wine, beer or food at reduced prices. Food (and drink) being the quintessential social binder, this type of festival is likely to be pleasant and convivial, as well as leaning towards the commercial and touristy side.

Food can also get eventful in large-scale gatherings, such as le Dîner en Blanc™ or celebrations organised by the French “fooding” movement. The convivial factor is also high up there, and the crowd is as much a part of the spectacle as what they consume.

If the art of food can be the subjet of a festival, what can an arts festival do with food? I’m not going to foray into Food Art for now, although for some interesting examples, I recommend a visit to La Milk Factory, a French dairy industry-sponsored creative lab run by a distant cousin of mine, or the work of Polish artist Milena Korolczuk, who carves out of bread small heads in the image of Marina Abramovic, Lenin, Jay-Z or Sartre, or else the dreamy Edible Vistas of Canadian-Hungarian artist Eszter Burghardt.

Instead, I want to feature three very different projects that have in common a playful yet experimental attitude to food. Two of them were recently presented by multidisciplinary arts festivals, and the third one is prime material to be expanded to a wider scope.

1. Future Chefs

Toronto-based Luminato Festival has offered a food-focused weekend for several years now, creating a street food market atmosphere by inviting local chefs to set up stalls and offer $5 portions to visitors. In 2013, they partnered with Mammalian Diving Reflex to revamp this traditional model and throw a few kids into the mix.

Mammalian Diving Reflex is self-described as “a culture production workshop that creates site and social-specific performance events, theatre-based productions, gallery-based participatory installations, video products, art objects and theoretical texts”.  They often work with children – such as in previous projects Haircuts by Children and These are the People in your Neighbourhood – to reverse social hierarchies and disrupt stereotypes.

Future Tastes of Toronto – At the Kids’ Table involved over 20 Toronto chefs and six classes of grades 4-6 students, meeting for workshops in the weeks leading up to the Festival. During the 2-day ‘performance’, kids promoted “their” chef to the public in attendance and animated the Kids’ Table, a large communal eating space.

2. Future Communities

In 2011, Manchester International Festival started Alpha Farm, an experiment to transform a disused 1960s office building into a vertical farm, with the help and for the benefit of the local community. This project was located in Wythenshawe,  Manchester, ironically one of the original “garden city” planned housing estates which would now probably qualify as a food desert. Hopes for a forthcoming urban harvest were high, and this 2011 video produced by ethical communications agency Creative Concern features experts from different fields drumming up the excitement about the project.

As the building proved too challenging to convert, MIF has taken the lessons learned to start the Biospheric Project in a derelict mill in Salford, right next to Manchester. The focus has now switched from vertical farm to agricultural lab, and the community engagement is even deeper, with many school visits, workshops, talks and open tours to introduce local residents to the innovative growing systems developed by the research team. The project is described as “part farm, part laboratory and part research centre, all embedded in the heart of an existing community”. According to this 2013 Guardian article, it is also intended to be a “legacy commission that will continue its work for at least ten years.” Salford’s Mayor describes the socio-agricultural experiment as a “flagship project” for the city, which is hoping to lead the way in new food growing systems.

The project is supported by Urban Splash, a developer that has led the urban regeneration in Manchester with its iconic warehouse conversions, and is meant to be a resource for the local community, with a wholefood shop that will eventually sell the Biosphere produce. Outside the mill, 70 fruit trees have already been planted, and a worm farm provides another bond to the local community, as worms are sold to fishermen at a low price in exchange for their compost. Inside, diverse growing experiments are ongoing, such as aquaponics (combining fish farming and hydroponics), and the roof top features beehives and chicken.

Project Director Vincent Walsh introduces the Biospheric Project (as part of an interview series):

And here is a quick rooftop tour by local journalist and tour guide Jonathan Schofield, with city views:

3. Future Tastes

It is anticipated that in 2050 the world’s population will exceed 9 billion people. The expansion of the world’s foodprint that is expected to accompany this population increase may exceed the tolerances of our planet’s ecosystems, activating unknown environmental and economic tipping points, and result in extreme food shortages. HOW WILL WE FEED EVERYONE WHEN THE TIME COMES?

By eating bugs, of course.

In 2011, Mammalian Diving Reflex and a host of collaborators presented a Toronto Nuit Blanche installation entitled Farmers’ Market 2050 offering the food of the future: micro-crops and micro-livestock, or, in plain English, algae and bugs. This vision of the future is based on the work of Third Millenium Farming, who are conducting research into cricket farming.

3MF has now partnered with Alimentary Initiatives to disseminate this research in a series of events called Future Food Salon, featuring live music and art installations, cricket-based food (such as burgers made out of chick pea and cricket flours) and a lively presentation by lead researcher Jakub Dzamba exploring urban and home-based cricket farming as a future alternative to current intensive agricultural practices.

This 3-minute video introduction does a good job of presenting problems and potential solutions:

And here is a video trailer for Future Food Salon, presented by Alimentary Initiatives’ founder Aruna Handa:

Finally, here are 5 reasons to eat crickets taken from Alimentary Initiatives’ blog:

  1. Nutrition. Crickets are nutritious. Cooked weight protein rates, gram for gram, are comparable to chicken and beef. They are also rich in omega-3 fats and high in iron.
  2. Sustainability. Cricket farming is more sustainable than 20th-century-style livestock rearing. Cricket rearing is less taxing on water resources, land resources, and produces less methane. Because insects do not produce fur, bones or hair, their ratio of feed to protein produced is excellent.
  3. Distribution. Cricket farming can be managed in a decentralized way. With Dzamba’s farms, which sit on a single square metre of land, and with his new counter-top prototypes, every household could become a producer, feeding their crickets kitchen scraps.
  4. Environment. Crickets are found throughout the planet, so the risk of an environmental disaster through the escape of crickets represents little threat to existing eco-systems.
  5. Ethics. Crickets can be euthanized in a humane manner by freezing them, which causes their metabolism to slow down, so that when they are cooked, they are asleep.

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