Consumption. That everything is consumed is not the newest of concepts. We all consume food, products, experiences, relationships, and as the title of this magazine mildly implies, ourselves. You are consuming this right now. However, the concept of the consumer usually gets relegated to the realm of mass consumption and the varied hairy effects it has on our global situation.
Though this is important both in its own right and its relation to everything else, due to the grand scale of the subject, the finer points of being a person that consumes things can get lost. They are lost under the grandeur of mass consumption, but perhaps it is because the finer points are inherently grey. For that reason alone they need a closer look.
The Rotterdam based design couple Minale-Maeda, Mario Minale and Kuniko Maeda, have been delving into the world of values and consumption using food as a point to begin the conversation. Their projects Table Manners and Tasteful are full of objects that bring subtle and powerful statements to the veritable everything that goes along with eating. And here we are again at the ubiquitous power of food as it relates to everything else.
TASTEFUL is a project about the relation between consumption and daily life. It analyzes the change in the quality of daily life by research of the three exemplary fields of food, clothing, shelter… the result is a concept to create quality in daily life crossing over the surprising beauty and qualities found in the essential basics…
This is just a beginning to the hopefully growing arena of discourse on the relationship between food and design. When Eating A Wolf caught up with Minale-Maeda to cover where they came from, what they’re doing, and where they’re headed.
The interview follows.
To begin at the beginning, would you care to share where you grew up, your schooling, and how Minale-Maeda formed?
Kuni was born and grew up in Tokyo, Japan. She went to Musashino Art University in Tokyo studying Science of Design BA, graduating in 1999. Then she worked for a cosmetics company in Tokyo as Designer. Then she went to the design academy Eindhoven to do the IM Master and graduated in 2004.
Mario was born in Naples, Italy but his family soon moved to Germany where he grew up. He worked in advertising and then studied Industrial Design at the Bergische Universtat Wuppertal and received his diploma in 2001. Then he worked freelance in brand communication for Carhartt, Germany. Then he went to the design academy Eindhoven to do the IM Master and graduated in 2004.
We met there and officialized our working together in 2005, setting up our studio in Rotterdam
What did you start working on in the beginning? Did any of that work lead you to food?
Looking for alternatives to sleek design. We both were looking for universal values and qualities of daily life, as for example in farmers and housewives. Therein we discovered food as a very strong metaphor for all aspects of life and culture.
How much of the work at Minale-Maeda is done individually and how much is achieved between the both of you?
Actually the work is done together. We are both interested in food partly through our cultures, partly through it being essential in our view of life, where we are interested in essential values.
When did you begin designing food and why?
It began during the studies in Eindhoven as a kind of sickness for the material(istic) world. Food is the most meaningful “material” if you dare to call it that and once we discovered it naturally has nutrition and – interesting from a design point – colour, shape, texture, (of course taste and smell) and a strong history and culture we were fascinated to use it like a designer and to make statements.
Do you have an affinity for food, for the eating of it?
Both due to our backgrounds, Italian and Japanese, two cultures where food has a quite important role and tradition as well as for our own personalities, we like food both eating and cooking it. It is incredibly varied, creative and a culture as ancient as humanity. In that it interests us for its values and qualities. Interestingly we are living in the Netherlands which is a country that is quite proud not having a national dish or a particular interest in food.
What are the difficulties in bridging food and art? What is simple if anything?
Simple is that it is close to us and familiar to the audience, everyone can relate and they are happy to eat! Difficult is that it is a living material, it decays, and there is little previous experience yet beyond the use of food primarily for eating: if you are asked to do an exhibition you have to take time into account and find solutions for that or you have to somehow involve consumption which makes it so interesting for designers which are usually more concerned with making a product than with the product’s end of life.
It seems there is a strong reference to consumption in table manners and tasteful, is this an impetus for the work? What else inspires you?
As mentioned for the last question, consumer culture, (over)consumption, the disposability or limited life of products and ease, convenience, speed and superficiality of material culture is an issue and food is a near perfect metaphor to analyze that. There is not only fast food, fast clothing and fast furniture… Cultural heritage is very important.
When did you move from furniture to food design and why? Do you view them as separate?
We don’t really think in categories of food designers or furniture designers, more in terms of creative opportunity. We research an issue in a multidisciplinary way and discover things which relate to it. Food resulted very inspirational and add to that that it is also a central part of practical life and culture which makes it anyway relevant to design.
Nonetheless once you start deeply dealing with it an affinity comes even just by the experience you get with it. It influences your methods.
How long do the pieces containing food last? Are any of them meant to be eaten?
How long it lasts varies on ingredients, methods of preparation and exhibiting (or should I say serving). You have to be conscious of those choices and the intended use. The statement is central but most of them are made to be eaten or consumed by the audience and that helps to bring sometimes abstract concepts to the real world. It is almost like an universal translator.
Do you design food for restaurants?
Not for real restaurants although we probably would. We have done events and catering.
Have any restaurants wanted to purchase and implement any of your designs? Is anyone using the popular delft pattern toast?
Not restaurants. Maybe it is seen as a conflict of competence. We very much respect the knowledge and skill of a proper chef. The toaster is in development as a product.
Your lace overlays seem reminiscent of plate dusting. Is there any correlation between that kind of stencil work and your place settings?
In the toast the idea was to simply have the plate with the sandwich because sandwich is meant to be carried without plate. For the lace it is interesting how sometimes unforeseen associations happen with the work. We did not specifically think about plate dusting, the idea was that a little care can make the difference between value and the lack of it and plate dusting seems to me very much about care for even the final touches. Although it is a decoration it is related to the dish and even adds to taste. So in hindsight I would say it relates very well, even illustrates the validity of the metaphor.
Where do you see the world of food design right now? And where do you think it will be heading?
It needs to develop into a proper form, forum, audience, as part of cultural discourse. Else there is the danger that part of its potential gets lost if it is only perceived as catering or “designer food”.
Do you plan to continue with food design or are other interests taking the two of you elsewhere?
We are always working on values, culture and consumption and food is an important part of that so even if it is not always the design subject it is always in the research and the methods (and often in tasty sketch models.)
What projects are you currently working on right now?
We are developing a new project dealing with “style”. Don’t open the oven too soon or your soufflé will sag!
And finally for now, what do you normally eat when you work?
We always try to cook at least proper mom-food with an eye to health but as snack Mario loves muesli and custom-blends it and Kuni is a sourdough bread connoisseur and cheese addict.
End of interview.
When Eating A Wolf would like to thank Minale-Maeda for their time and response. The growing interest in food design, as exemplified in their work and with publications like Food for Design and Food Designing, is a relatively new section of the overall discourse on food. It is a discourse that will hopefully lead us closer to exactly why we all eat.