Think, eat, love

30 October 2013 - 02:09 By Andrea Nagel
DISHY: Dutch 'eating designer' Marije Vogelzang at the Spier Secret Food Festival
DISHY: Dutch 'eating designer' Marije Vogelzang at the Spier Secret Food Festival

A blue egg and unflavoured creme fraise are served with squid ink, chilli salt, goji berries and fresh herbs, and dished up on a once-off Mervyn Gers ceramic plate.

This is breakfast at the start of the Spier Secret Food Festival on Friday, a day of talks about the conceptual nature of food. It's unusual - and delicious - and the right start to a day of thinking about food in a different way.

We hardly ever consider food when we're filling our stomachs, but food is memory, it's a cultural signifier, it's a comfort and a connector.

One of the first speakers, Marije Vogelzang, who studied at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, began to see the food and utensils in her kitchen as design objects.

''It was strange to me that designers didn't work with food. They work with elements surrounding food: tables, kitchenware, restaurants, but not food itself."

This revelation has made her famous for her conceptual approach to food.

Vogelzang says that food is already perfectly designed by nature. She designs from the verb ''to eat", and is inspired by the origin, the preparation, etiquette, history and culture of food. That is why she doesn't call herself a "food designer", but sees herself as the world's first ''eating designer".

What this means is that she scrutinises the act of eating and examines the relationship between food and emotion, memory and culture, and looks at what food does to your body.

''I like to say I design shit - it's true, my design goes right through you."

Vogelzang approaches eating design under eight categories:

  • Psychology: What did you eat when you last fell in love? Why do we reward our children with sweets and produce adults who turn to sugar for comfort? Can you actually taste when food is made with love?
  • Culture: Can food bring people together? Can food create peace? Why is food so large a part of our rituals?
  • Senses: Why do we eat more food when it makes a crispy sound? Does food taste better if you use your hands?
  • Nature and education: Why do children think that milk comes from the supermarket and that the forest smells like shampoo?
  • Action: When was the last time someone fed you? In how many ways can you share food?
  • Science: Does ''in vitro" meat have a soul? Why have we developed more food allergies over the past decade?
  • Technique: Have you ever knitted spaghetti, printed on bread, embroidered lettuce leaves?
  • Society: When do we start eating insects for our protein needs? How often do you eat alone?

She puts these ideas in to practice and the results of her curious mind are fascinating.

''To me, eating design is about creating consciousness about the act. It's a way of connecting, of changing mindsets."

She has created spoons out of sugar (''no washing up"), marshmallow icebergs that float in a coffee sea and gun-shaped lollipops ''to show what sugar does to your body".

When Vogelzang's daughter wouldn't eat her greens she came up with a plan.

''I invited my daughter and her friends to make jewellery from vegetables with their teeth - they made radish earings and carrot necklaces, and now they love vegetables."

One of her most successful projects was with a group of Roma women who were discriminated against in Budapest, Hungary.

A multisensory performance project, Eat Love Budapest, brought together two strangers for the intimate act of sharing food and being fed.

Each Roma woman was invited to anonymously share a personal story with one stranger at a time, feeding her guest with her hands, using foods that had a personal meaning to her, while recounting memories, songs, and stories as they sat together.

As the women shared food and history, the cultural barriers disappeared and a deeper understanding developed.

''As a designer I love using a material that enters the body, touches the soul, feeds the mind and brings back memories," said Vogelzang. ''I love to do work that has the potential to make an impact on every part of the world."

  • To see more of her projects go to