New e-zine uses food to explore life

13 September 2017 - 14:26 By Christa Dee
In the first issue of Chips!, artist Buhlebezwe Siwani writes about the chicken's role in spirituality.
In the first issue of Chips!, artist Buhlebezwe Siwani writes about the chicken's role in spirituality.
Image: Chips!

Editor of the new online publication and occasional printed zine Chips! Alix-Rose Cowie relates how conversations about food open up an avenue for sharing how we live our lives.

What is Chips!?

It's a quarterly publication - with a new issue every three months online and, occasionally, a published printed zine. Food is used as a theme to talk about things like culture, life, travel.

Why is writing about food a good way to open up conversation about other topics?

The food world can be pretentious, but everybody eats. We're interested in what food says about our lives. Nowhere is culture more apparent than at the table.

Through food, the first issue of Chips! touches on (however lightly) converting to Islam, parenting, adoption, travel, pop culture, history, immigration and gender roles.

Chips! is published by Studio H, designed by Kinsmen. I edit the zine and shoot the photo stories.

What is Studio H?

A culinary-minded, multidisciplinary design studio specialising in experience-based design. They run food conferences, workshops, installations and experimental dinners that play with sensorial perception or imagine the future of food.

Studio H is also the team behind the annual Street Food Festival, held in Johannesburg last weekend and in Cape Town the weekend before.

The first issue, Hol(e)y, starts conversations about food and religion. What was the thinking behind that?

Our initial idea was: ''The chicken or the egg?" which we thought was an apt beginning. We liked the idea of going beyond the food (chicken or eggs), using the theme to talk about origins, or an unsolved argument, or choosing sides.

But then Lucky Peach, an international food magazine that had a big following (and is now no longer in publication) came out with their chicken issue and their cookbook All About Eggs.

We liked the idea of Hol(e)y because religion is something you're not supposed to talk about at the dinner table. People are just supposed to accept the various rules around food and religion.

Religion has been a major factor in determining what people eat or don't eat - so much so that customs around food and religion have become cultural and/or behavioural norms. We also liked the playfulness of food with holes in it.

As Matthew Freemantle writes in Issue #1's Holey Bagel: "You don't look at a slice of rye bread or a rusk and feel the same way you do about a bagel, for instance. Round things are fun and, when they have a hole in the middle, they're more than that - they're funny."

The theme Hol(e)y allows us to be serious and tongue in cheek.

You feature stories from South Africa and other countries. You also combine writing with videos and styled shoots of food. How do you curate an issue?

Food is multi-sensory so we try to recreate this experience as far as we can by using different mediums. We hoped to create texture through publishing stories from different places in a range of voices and deliveries.

Your contributors?

They wrote and sent images from as far as Prague, Bangkok and Visakhapatnam, India and as close as Johannesburg and Cape Town.

You don't have to be a food writer to contribute to Chips! We welcome art writers, fashion photographers, novelists.

The future of Chips!?

We want to be an alternative voice on food culture and to present food in an exciting new way through photography. We want to give the world a taste of South Africa through Chips! We want to keep things fun.

Money, or dough, is the theme of the second issue of Chips! It looks at the multifarious food culture in Johannesburg, the city of gold - and migrant workers; how global politics influences the seasoning in Havana; and (visually) the great common denominator between the rich and poor in Hong Kong: street food.

A writer hosts her first stokvel and finds value far beyond the monetary, and Chips! celebrates the humble bread basket for the (complimentary) hero it is. -

• This article was originally published in The Times.