Meet our Portugal correspondent Karen Lacroix

“Food is used as a primary channel of experience and knowledge.”

Karen Lacroix is a Canadian illustrator, designer and publisher based in Porto, Portugal. She taught visual narratives at Richmond University (UK) and works for an eclectic range of clients such as Bright Ivy, English Touring Opera, Saffron Hall, Bishopsgate Institute, among others. After concluding an MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art, she founded Uncanny Editions, an illustration publisher and studio exploring different modes of publication practice, collaborating with institutions such as the National Portrait Gallery, The Photographers’ Gallery and X Marks the Bökship. Her work is represented in collections such as MoMA (US), University College London, London College of Communication (UK), Serralves Foundation and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (PT), among others. She is the founder of the Illustration School, a nomadic pedagogical platform that investigates the expanded field of illustration & food, and is co-director of the design research centre Shared Institute.

As a correspondent, what will you focus on writing for The DIFD? 

As an illustrator and educator, I am interested in investigating the expanded field of illustration and the role of the illustrator as researcher, editor, publisher and working across media. My aim is to explore a variety of different approaches to illustration by combining them with the study of food as a primary conduit of experience. Food is an important vehicle and tool to produce visual narratives, allowing fiction to take shape, between recipes as spaces to confront lists of ingredients to the illusion of programmable outcomes, or the cooking process as a space for debate. It is therefore a connecting element between multiple disciplines and useful tool as a pedagogical device.

My focus as a correspondent for The DIFD focuses on research about projects on food & design, revealing how food ‘contaminated’ aspects of the design process, and how food is used as a primary channel of experience and knowledge. In this sense, my contributions will reflect this expanded use, appropriation and manipulation of food—not only the part we experience or eat, but also compost as tools to produce content and construct new worlds.

"Food, the way we eat, but also its cultural and social contexts have a key role for our survival."

How would you describe the field of food and design? 

The global crisis has had an important impact on the field of food and design for the past 10 years, its development and possibilities. Re-thinking new ways to see, eat and experience food within new limitations have become the main focus of an evolving sub-field within the design discipline. Researching old ways to feed, in community contexts for example, and re-thinking sustainability by allowing new generations to reconnect with lost heritage and its importance on tradition and survival, are just a few examples. Western A. Price, a Canadian-born dentist, wrote a paper on Nutrition and Physical Degeneration ‘A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects’ (1939), in which he was certain that poor nutrition could explain not just tooth decay and heart disease but just about everything else that was bad to humankind, including the collapse of civilization. Food, the way we eat, but also its cultural and social contexts have a key role for our survival.

Why does food and design interest you and do you have specific examples? 

Food and design interest me because of its connection to educational and social identity and their proximities. Food is a powerful tool that brings people together to communicate/ educate despite different social and educational backgrounds. It teaches us about context and culture in their various dimensions, but also about history and heritage. And because it relates to anyone: it has this ability to be used as an educational tool.

Do you think designers working with food need to address politics and social issues and why? 

Food is political, whether it’s intended to be used as a political tool or not. Its origins, circulation, presentation, disposition, consumption and all its many dimensions and implications make it inheritingly and unavoidably political. The artist Mirna Bamieh, from Jerusalem/ Palestine, runs the project Palestine Hosting Society, which seeks to examine the culture of food in Palestine and beyond. She argues that ´food has always been a representation of class, time, and power. A shared meal can become a space of reflection for socio-political realities, attitudes, fashions of the time, and even the suppressed elements of history.’

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Read more about Karen on the Illustration School or Shared Institute website, or Instagram.