Meet Lotte Meeuwissen: our Food, Empathy & Design correspondent

Photo by Matthew Nichol

“I am interested in those intuitive moments”

Lotte is a Dutch food designer based in Barcelona. She invents culinary interactions which focus on the social nature of food. She uses play as a tool to enable her audience to focus on means rather than ends; the act of play allows people to try out new things, to revise, modify and explore.

How would you describe the field of food and design?

I would describe the field of food and design as emerging and dynamic and finding itself in the pending process of “to be defined”. The fact that “food” and “design” are such contrasting means; food being a natural and primal form of life and, design being an act in which we intentionally create a plan for the construction of objects and behaviours in our world, makes it a field highly open to experimentation. At this moment there is a huge desire for change in every single aspect of food. And because every radical change finds its start in the artistic world, I do not think it is a coincidence the two (food and design) came together so recently.

The influence of climate change, demographic problems and economic changes makes us question the future of food more than ever. Uncertainties about whether there will be enough food sources available in the future and how the way we deal with food impacts the environment are one of the biggest worries present in today’s society. We want to find new ways of eating and we want to change the way we look at food. I believe as food designers we have the responsibility to share our dreams and radical ideas to inspire farmers, chefs, scientist, food businesses and individuals working with food, for change.

Why does food and design interest you?

Food design is an in-depth study of people’s behavior. The fact that eating is a personal act that we perform everyday makes food design find its origin in the deep roots of cultures, routines and rituals. It makes food a very intuitive medium, which fascinates me. Not only is food an intuitive way to nurture your own body, sharing food is also an intuitive way to create social bondings.

The sharing of food has always been a part of the human story. Evidence found in the Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv uncovers a hearth in which families prepared their meals and gathered to eat together more than 300.000 years ago. Also when looking at our own experiences we can find lots of social food effects; we probably all have memories of moments in which the sharing of a meal buried anger or provoked laughter. Or a childhood moment where sharing a sweet with a friend sparked the feeling of intense closeness. In everyday food situations I am interested in those intuitive moments where we leave space for the unconstructed and the uncontrolled, where we let the magic of emotions and memories flow.

Muddle - dishes by Jaimie van Heije - photo by Julia Sterre Schmitz

"My analytical mind took over and the only answer I was looking for was why and if my project would fulfil my aspiration to change the world."

What went terribly wrong but taught you a lot?

I am an intuitive maker, which sometimes brings me to new pieces without knowing the why behind the project. At the same time I have an analytical mind which is always in search for the why and practical means of a project. The two can go very well together if you are able to find a balance, and in the (ongoing) process of finding this balance there has been some failures.

My biggest struggle until now was during the long process of my graduation project and had everything to do with me trying to control my own intuitive process. My analytical mind took over and the only answer I was looking for was why and if my project would fulfil my aspiration to change the world. This completely blocked my intuitive self and kept me from being proud of my final project. After this period I took a long time to reflect on this process, and actually this moment of reflection has been life changing for me.

It taught me that the why of my project was actually coming from the struggles and frustrations I went through during that time. It taught me that I do not want to go from A to B via the short straight line, but instead to take the longer yet most adventurous route. It made me understand what it means when people say that it is the most important to enjoy the process. It sounds a bit cheesy but it is true, when I look back at it I am always grateful for failures because when you open yourself up to these insecurities and, most importantly, share them with the world around you, you can learn a lot.

"Muddle smelling spoons" installation 2015 / 2018

"Squared" installation 2014

What position in the food and design field is underexposed?

I feel like food innovations are nowadays focussed a lot around the trend of efficiency. This is actually a logical consequence because one of the biggest worries of today’s society circles around the idea of not knowing whether we will have food to eat fifty years from now. Efficiency is an important point to think about, but I believe at this moment it is also very important to understand better the way people connect with and through food.

Technology is great and has brought us a lot of great advantages, but the social impact it has on our society worries me. The fact that it is normal nowadays to eat your lunch fast and alone behind your computer, or that all our phones join a family dinner makes me wonder how we can excite people to connect with each other again through food. I think we should be more aware of how food triggers social and psychological processes in the mind and between people.

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

Yes, we definitely should. The way we deal with food can be seen as a mirror of society, changes in society are often firstly present in the way we deal with food. However, I see food and design more as a form of silent rebellion. When we are smart enough and create new food habits which addresses those issues we can create a strong movement where we create daily awareness to changes in society.

Can you tell us about the developments in food and design in your correspondent area?

As a Dutch food designer living in the Catalan city of Barcelona I have positioned myself between two very different cultures. I like to compare cultures by looking at the pace of life and the differences in the perception of time. I am fascinated about how this perception of time is mirrored in a culture’s food behaviour. For instance, I did a small research asking people about the average time spent on lunch during a normal working day. In Barcelona this is one hour, in The Netherlands this is thirty minutes. I think these insights can tell us a lot about the way people look at food in different cultures.


Read more about Lotte‘s work on her website or instagram.