Experimental Production

Experimental Food Design for Sustainable Futures

Experimental Food Design for Sustainable Futures was a two-day workshop organised as part of a long-term design research practice of the Feeding Food Futures (FFF) collective. It experimented with food as a biodesign material and socio-culturally potent, sensory-rich starting point from which to reflect on social and ecological uncertainties.

Acknowledging that human-food practices are key drivers of climate change, the workshop prompted participants to co-create scenarios and collages imagining alternative food practices that prioritise eco-social sustainability and consider more-than-human perspectives. The workshop outcomes were compiled into a collaborative More-than-Human Food Futures Cookbook presenting eleven experimental food futures recipes that aim to provoke imagination and inspire critical thinking on how human-food practices could be different – supporting relational flourishing.

Taking place on July 6th-7th 2020 and situated at the Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) conference, the two-day workshop invited interdisciplinary exchange among food-oriented researchers, designers, and practitioners interested in working towards eco-socially sustainable food systems and practices. The aim with the event was to provoke co-creative engagements as well as long-term collaborations among interested participants within the ongoing FFF network program.

Each workshop day focused on a distinct theme. Day one – titled Fantastic(e)ating Food Futures: Reimagining Human Food Interactions – examined interdependencies between food, eating and social practices, and critically engaged with future flourishing through food-tech innovation. Technology is often hailed as a change-maker but it may have ambivalent impacts on food cultures. Food-tech propositions, such as cooking with smart kitchenware or high-tech farming, are contested areas navigated by multiple human and non-human stakeholders. Day one activities thus sought to examine:

  • What changes do food technologies bring into everyday life?
  • How might we incorporate more-than-human values into food-tech futures?
  • How might we leverage imaginative design approaches to scaffold the development of fantastical and sustainable food-tech cultures?

Day 2 – Designing with More-than-Human Food Practices for Climate Resilience – reached beyond the food-tech focus to engage with more-than-human food practices in a broader environmental sense, exploring food futures as nature-culture entanglements. The day-two activities drew on a rich variety of existing projects tackling food sustainability, observing that many of these projects fail to acknowledge multispecies plurality. Participants were invited to reflect on these examples and imagine ways of including muti-species perspectives in sustainable food transformations. Through four hours of collaging and exchange of food experiences, critical reflections, imaginations as well as boundary objects, participants unearthed a rich variety of intriguing dilemmas:

  • How can we rethink hierarchies in food systems?
  • Why are non-humans not credited for their contributions to food processes?
  • Can fermentation & human-microbe care provide a model for change?
  • How would slugs design food policy?
  • Doesn’t more-than-human also imply less-than-human?

While originally envisioned as an in-person event in Eindhoven, Netherlands, the workshop was shifted into an online space due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Moving the originally proposed – embodied, co-creative, sensorial – food activities such as foraging and cooking into an online, remote context brought about various challenges but also a chance to explore new ways of working together, while physically apart. The workshop authors used the Zoom video conferencing system and experimented with Miro boards as the main co-creative playground to connect all 33 participants who were joining from countries across Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Australia.

The custom-made Miro boards designed for the workshop include various interactive elements such as ‘picnic areas’ for collective reflection and ‘food pantries’ stocked with examples of more-than-human food practices across five food system areas. Together with a deck of Food Tarot cards and various food-based boundary objects brought by participants, these Miro components and artefacts served as ingredients for the co-creation of experimental recipes.

Prior to the workshop, participants were asked to record short videos introducing themselves and their food boundary objects that were compiled into a video loop and shared in one of the Miro boards. At the workshop, the loop served as a ‘shared table’ where everyone introduced themselves and the foods they brought along. Apart from working with (representations of) food materials in Miro, workshop participants engaged in foraging walks in their home kitchens to bring more ingredients to the table and worked in small groups to combine their food objects, experiences, and imaginaries and piece them together into the experimental, more-than-human food futures recipes.

The experimental recipes resulting from the workshop include a wide range of proposals: from slug-driven food governance to a picnic meal reimagining the human body as a resource. All eleven recipes were collectively turned into the More-than-Human Food Futures Cookbook. These recipes don’t provide exact ingredient lists or precise measures; they are not step-by-step guides for cooking up better futures. Rather, they reflect on existing food issues and present proposals for alternative approaches that embrace values of inclusivity, multi-species pluralism, and eco-social restoration. By voicing these intentions, they serve as a provocation to rethink human-centric hierarchies in food systems.

The collaborative Cookbook was released in an online, interactive format and as a downloadable PDF. The book was further published in the Responsible Research and Innovation Tools collection (April 2021), in the Aalto University publication series ART + DESIGN + ARCHITECTURE (July 2022) and as a printed zine booklet (May 2022).
In June 2022, the More-than-Human Food Futures Cookbook was awarded a Special Award of the Jury at the Umeå Food Symposium 2022.

The Cookbook zine and online website were exhibited at the CreaTures Festival in Seville, Spain (June – July 2022) and at the Helsinki Design Week 2022 – Designs for Cooler Planet exhibition in Espoo, Finland, as part of the CreaTures project showcase (September – October 2022). A short 5-minute video presentation from the Seville event can be watched & endured here.

The ExP presentation at the CreaTures Festival in Seville, Spain.