Photos by Nick Helderman
Words by Silke Bender

 

Marije Vogelzang describes herself as an eating designer. She transforms the act of eating into a holistic, sensuous and sensory experience with a political message.

 

 

 

Dordrecht, 20 kilometres from Rotterdam, is a charming little toytown, with picturesquely crooked canal-side houses in red brick with classic roadster bicycles parked outside, narrow streets and lanes where cars are prohibited to protect the ancient cobblestones. An old warehouse at the heart of its historic centre is home to the experimental laboratory of the world’s first eating designer, Marije Vogelzang. It’s easy to find; the way is flagged up by a modern self-service vending machine for hand-made ceramics, embedded in the 17th-century masonry. The ground floor of the laboratory is crammed with sizable worktops, ovens, stoves and vaporizers. Every corner is filled with off-beat objects that reveal something of her work; the pyramidal shelf standing against the wall is a remnant from Eggchange, a project created for poultry producer Twan Engelen in which visitors were invited to buy fertilized or unfertilized eggs as if they were investing in company shares and make business decisions with their newly acquired capital. By illustrating the chicken and egg question, Vogelzang cast a light on the production chain behind our food industry and also questioned the ethics of our economic systems. The spacious room with its heavy beamed ceiling is a combination of artist’s studio and kitchen, where Vogelzang is in her element.

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Ms Vogelzang, how do you explain to people what you do?

oki sato

As soon as people hear the words design and food, they immediately think of birthday cakes shaped like Barbie dolls, or slicing sausage with faces in it. After all, isn’t that what designers usually do–create new forms for things? The thing is that I don’t want to give food new forms because nature has done such a good job already. Instead, I want to reshape our experience of food and expand our awareness of everything that accompanies it. Where does the food we eat come from? Do we share it enough? What happens to the waste? Food and eating aren’t ­only about cooking or nutrition; they also involve psychology, agriculture, politics, transport, education, religion, culture, environment, social interaction. And they involve comfort, love and reward, which are very direct emotions. I incorporate all this in my work by creating new types of eating, so that makes me an eating designer, not a food designer.

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But why does the world need a new way of eating?

oki sato

Food is the most important industry in the world, and the direct fundament of life. We could manage to live without petroleum, mobile phones or electricity, but we couldn’t live without eating. But there’s plenty wrong with the globalised food industry. What I can do as an eating designer is to hone our awareness, to change the way we treat food. The way we lust after meat without sparing a thought for dead animals, the way we perhaps go in for excessive self-indulgence in our daily eating because food is cheaper than ever before. The way we throw away much too much food. To our ancestors, the food we consume today without a second thought would once have been a special feast.

 

 

 

Marije Vogelzang holds pasta dinners in a sauna and serves Christmas dinner at a table where complete strangers have to eat by sticking their heads and arms through slits in tablecloths suspended from the ceiling. Plates containing a single element of the menu are divided into two halves, making sharing–and thus contact and communication–into a constituent element of the meal. But these playful-sounding events also contain a strong political element. Vogelzang launched a project entitled Make Food Not War in Lebanon in 2008 and another called Eat Love in Budapest in 2011. In the latter, participants were seated in small tents which Roma women had decorated with personal texts and photos. Invisible behind the canvas wall of the tent, the women fed the participants with their favourite foods and regaled them with stories from their personal lives. The act of feeding offers a very intimate way of encountering another person, explains Vogelzang. At the same time, the protagonists are screened from one another; this provides a measure of protection while encouraging them to approach each other. At the start of this year she travelled to the Interior Design show in Toronto to create a similar project. The installation SEEDS, designed for quartz surface manufacturer Caesarstone, also focused on feeding, on sharing food and proximity, and on a holistic multisensory experience. In mid-June she will hold a Food Massage salon at C/O Gallery Berlin, where participants will be invited to be touched and fed by strangers while swinging gently in hammocks and guided by headphone music and stories. This trEATment with a difference will also take place in Eindhoven during Dutch Design Week in October and at the Melting Conference in Porto in November.

 

 

 

What does the new Food Massage event involve?

Marije Vogelzang

Over and over again, I realise that we spend most of our lives behaving like inhuman machines. We mainly use our brains, our eyes, arms and legs to click our way through digital and virtual worlds –but we neglect all the other senses our bodies are equipped with, and let them wither and atro­phy. Before we can seriously embark on developing urgently needed solutions for our food-­related problems in the future, which still seem so abstract to us in our affluent society, I think it would be beneficial to focus on ourselves. What do all those sen­ses actually do to us, what effect do they have on our bodies? What might happen if we finally start using them more fully? What if doing so would allow us to re­program our mindset and replace ­barren consumerism with a more meaningful, more sensuous relationship with food? We could al­ready achieve a lot today by ac­cord­ing a higher status to food and eating–resulting in less consumption, less food waste and healthier bodies.

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Do you also create projects that extend beyond experience and performance-style events?

Marije Vogelzang

Yes, and very practical ones. I work for a hospital in Gouda where doctors have come to realise that good nutrition supports the healing process. To give you just a couple of examples from my very wide-­ranging programme there, I invented a little cartoon figure that accompanied every meal with short messages and served to connect the people working in the kitchens with the patients. In addition, overweight patients were given smaller plates while thinner patients got bigger plates; the portions were the same in each case, but the larger patients had the feeling of being satisfied, while the patients that struggled with their appetite did not feel overwhelmed by the food. The programme has been successful; so much so, in fact, that it’s long since been extended to other hospitals.

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