Comestible: Seven-Day Meal Plan
Pat Badani (Editor, Artelogie, EHESS, Paris, France / ISEA International Board of Directors, Canada/USA)
Keywords: food security, meals, home, intimate place, nurture, sustainability, environment, cookbook, recipes, culinary instructions, health, sustenance, consumption.
The daily meal is a powerful human institution and the family dinner table a site where food and home meld into an ‘intimate place’ of nurture. But, in times when climate change jeopardizes food security the question of ‘what will we eat in the future?’ has become worrisome. With this concern in mind, Comestible: Seven-Day Meal Plan is a cookbook about food and sustainability that the visitor interacts with by turning the pages of a virtual flipbook on a touch-sensitive screen. The seven meals with photos and corresponding recipes (created by the artist with sustainable ingredients) meld together poetic narratives, notations, instructions, and warnings that sum up the entanglements on the role of food in present and future balance. As if at the edge of language, these recipes are ironic propositions departing from culinary directives. Instead, they explore current societal trends over “what we eat”, depicted in recipes appropriately titled “Changing Climate and Your Greens”, “Water Stress”, “Liberalized Trade”, and so forth. Organized with headings habitually found in pharmaceutical products, the recipes are sorted by “Ingredients”, “Directions”, “Uses”, and “Warnings”, implying that food is seen as a “prescription” for health. Concerned with food-insecure homes, ecological health, and concepts of sustenance, consumption, and nutrition, the artist’s food preparation becomes activism and her recipe writing a critical agent. In the spirit that guided the evolution of these recipes, the book invites the reader to travel with the author to new insights, transformations, and actions.
The proposal for Balance-Unbalance 2017 presents an interactive installation about food and sustainability titled Comestible: Seven-Day Meal Plan. The piece is ideally screened at large scale, either onto a custom-built triangular booth or against the corner of a gallery space (Figure 1). Visitors read the speculative recipes and view accompanying photography by turning the pages of the virtual flipbook on iPad connected via Wi-Fi to a data projector.
At first appearing as a typical cookbook, Comestible: Seven-Day Meal Plan shows seven meals with photos and corresponding recipes. That’s where the similarity ends. The visitor reads through whimsical recipes that meld together everything from poetry to children’s rhymes to informed science. Yet these recipes are ironic propositions, departing from culinary instructions. Instead, they explore current societal trends over “what we eat,” depicted in recipes appropriately titled “Changing Climate and Your Greens”, “Water Stress”, “Liberalized Trade”, and so forth (Figure 2). Because I plan to promote awareness and influence food consumption, I’ve organized recipes with headings habitually found in pharmaceutical products. With recipes sorted by “Ingredients”, “Directions”, “Uses”, and “Warnings”, I imply that food is seen as a “prescription” for health (Figure 3).
Food is a unifying element – surrounded by concepts of intimate place and home. Our “everyday” meals function as cultural tools. They illustrate models of behavior indicating the habits, customs, laws, and rituals that bind people together over breakfast, lunch, and dinner (as well as occasions like birthdays, weddings, funerals, and religious festivities). Because meals have a universal ability to connect individuals, foods we eat and their production reflect ongoing social issues…from 1930’s dust bowl scarcity to today’s threat of climate change and its menace of starvation through environmental degradation. The question “What’s for dinner?” animates the minds of an increasing number of people consuming blogs, films, and TV shows about the importance (and deliciousness) of food.
With these ideas in mind (and wanting to bolster my own sense of home around daily meals), in 2010, I embarked upon an on-going kitchen excursion. With carefully selected, sustainable ingredients, I began inventing my own cuisine – photographing each dish before it was eaten. In 2016, these gastronomic creations formed the basis of Comestible: Seven-Day Meal Plan: an illustrated cookbook that is both a “feast for the eyes” and an examination of food’s social construction. Less concerned with feeding the body than feeding the mind, my quirky recipes view food as an instrument; summing up ideas about meals we eat at home and their relationship to environmental sustainability and health.
Concerned with food-insecure homes, ecological health, and concepts of sustenance, consumption, and nutrition, my food preparation becomes activism and my recipe writing a critical agent. I purposely took on recipe writing and found the practice a particularly well-suited literary form for me. My texts center on the sense of transformation inherent in recipes, as well as treating my scripts as calls to action. The recipe form allows me to intertwine an imperative tone with instructions; embedding narratives on existing or challenging new realities about food. Following this logic, if the recipe is a script or set of instructions to be acted upon, then it demands an active reader who will – in mind or matter – complete the dish.
Having produced work in a similar spirit, Tommaso Marinetti and Martha Rosler are influential forerunners.
Marinetti wrote The Futurist Cookbook in 1932. His texts did not contain a collection of recipes for self-nourishment. Rather, Marinetti composed an avant-garde experiment, instigating a culinary revolution that would radically change eating habits – wrenching food out of the 19th Century and bringing it into the dynamic, industrialized, technological, urban 20th Century. Much later in 1999, Martha Rosler wrote Romances of the Meal, critiquing the system Marinetti promoted. Rosler condemned the industrial kitchen – a site of food production away from the home – as a systematized food elaboration process; a space of hardened productivity and efficacy with output consumed rather than celebrated. Comestible: Seven-Day Meal Plan is certainly aligned with Rosler’s position.
The daily meal is a powerful human institution and the family dinner table a site where food and home meld into an “intimate place” of nurture. Further, daily meals are enmeshed with external forces related to the politics and economy of food. Whether visible or invisible to the person who assembles the ingredients for their daily meal, these forces impact human and environmental health. In times when food security and environmental sustainability have become urgent matters, Comestible: Seven-Day Meal Plan acts as a tool to deal with the centrality of food, today. As if at the edge of language, these recipes include poetic narratives, notations, instructions, and warnings that sum up, in a biting way, in-sight and out-of-sight entanglements on food’s role in present and future balance. In the spirit that guided the evolution of these recipes, the book invites the reader to travel with the artist/author to new insights, transformations, and actions.
Figure 1, gallery visitor (simulation) interacting with the book on iPad
Figure 2. The‘cookbook’s’ Index
Figure 3. Thursday’s meal (above) and recipe (below): “Climate Friendly Protein”
Pat Badani is an artist, researcher, educator and editor who draws from the fields of art, science, and technology to create interactive and participatory projects. She exhibits her projects broadly in North and South America, Europe and Asia, and participates in international symposia with her works and papers. Texts have been published internationally in numerous symposia proceedings (ISEA, FILE, Transmediale), in journals (Leonardo, MIT Press), and in thematic anthologies (“Extranjeros en la Tecnologia y en la Cultura,” Ed: Néstor García Canclini, Fundacion Telefonica -2009; “Advances in Visual Methodology,” Ed: Sarah Pink, Sage -2012). Badani has received over twenty awards and distinctions for her multiyear projects such as “Where are you from?_Stories” (2002-2012); “AL GRANO” (2010-ongoing); and “Comestible”(2010-ongoing). The artist (b. Argentina) is a citizen of Canada and the USA, and she has lived and worked out of studios in Chicago, USA; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Mexico City, Mexico; Eastern and Western Canada; and Paris, France. Badani received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (USA) and her academic trajectory include: Integrated Media Professor at the School of Art, Illinois State University; Interdisciplinary Media Arts graduate program acting Director at Columbia College Chicago; Editor-in-Chief of MediaN Journal, the New Media Caucus; and Guest Editor of “Artelogie,” EHESS (France). – http://www.patbadani.net/
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