"Quirky, surprising, beautiful, revolting, tasty, synthetic, thought-provoking, eye-brow raising but never, ever dull."
The co-founder of Women In The Food Industry, Mecca Ibrahim, went along to Food: Bigger Than The Plate - the new exhibition at the V & A Museum in London on the public opening day18 May to see the museum's take on the politics and pleasure of food.
The exhibition bills itself as having over 70 contemporary art and design projects, plus exhibits relating to food from the museum's own collection which "brings together the politics and pleasure of food to ask how the collective choices we make can lead to a more sustainable, just and delicious food future".
It is split into four areas: Composting, Farming, Trading and Eating. Composting is designed to change our perceptions of waste and in the first area, you are greeted by a beautiful display of edible mushrooms growing from plastic bags filled with something or other & used coffee grounds. She had grown these herself from "low tech mushroom farmers" GroCycle in brown boxes at home. But seeing them hanging in the V&A like alien pods from Star Trek made her wonder how many coffee shops did anything with used coffee grounds, other than throw them away?
She spent the longest by far in the Eating section. "Not because there was lots to eat there, there's hardly anything to eat in the exhibition, but because it was the most sensory part of the exhibition for me." she said "I could have spent hours alone looking at the collection of cookery books. There were current recipe books from best selling authors like Jack Monroe, but also hand-written family recipe cook books, kindly lent to the museum. Foodie internet stars including Italian Nonnas talking about pasta through to Instagram stars like Symmetry Breakfast were all represented in the room."
In this section is a project by the Center for Genomic Gastronomy where you could select a range of "values" that were important to you from food systems, and a bespoke menu and a micro sample of food was created based on those values.
But perhaps the most notable or at least talked about project was an installation by Selfmade on "human cheese". As food writer Ruby Tandoh said in The Guardian "anyone who has ever walked past a supermarket cheese counter will have smelled, the bacteria present on human skin, from noses and ears to feet, have much in common with those in the cheese we eat". Selfmade takes this a step further. A collaboration between Food Busker John Quilter, biodesigner Helene Steiner, and scientist Dr. Thomas Meany, it is based on an idea originally conceived in 2013 by smell researcher Sissel Tolaas and biologist and artist Christina Agapakis.
Visitors are "treated" to a display of cheeses cultured from bacteria samples taken from the armpits, noses and belly buttons & other body parts of willing celebrities. There is cheese made from cheesemaker Alex James of Blur; British rapper & keen cook Professor Green; Ruby Tandoh (as already mentioned); Madness frontman Suggs; and cheese made with Heston Blumenthal's pubic hair. Would you eat it? We are asked. By the grimaces of the faces of almost everyone reading the captions & looking at the cheese, the answer's a resounding NO.
After leaving the exhibition you'll find yourself very close to the V&A's beautiful restaurant - the world's oldest museum restaurant with its stunning period details and stained glass windows. At the coffee bar is a reminder of those oyster mushrooms grown from used coffee grounds we saw at the start. The museum's restaurant & cafe sell over 1,000 cups of coffee a day and those used grounds go on to grow the mushrooms which are used in some dishes on sale there. She concluded "This circular use of wasted "food" going on to produce "new" food was a very fitting end to a show that truly makes us explore & think about each stage of the food system".
Food: Bigger Than The Plate' is at the V&A Museum until 20 October 2019 and is co-curated by Catherine Flood and May Rosenthal Sloan. You can read the full review at Women in The Food Industry where there are also details of a limited early bird 40% discount off advance tickets.