"Relationships between the hand, the food and the land."

Collages based on the thesis Hand.Food.Mouth by Raquel Kalil

“I’m fascinated by how creatives reimagine materials and immerse people into new rituals of eating.”

Raquel Kalil is a San Francisco based UX Researcher and Service Designer with a foundation in Architecture and Interaction Design. Besides UX design and research, Raquel's creative practice explores gestures and rituals around eating which culminate in a body of work regarding the future of eating. She collaborates with artists and designers to communicate sustainable possibilities through gastronomic experiences.

How did you come to food and design and what intrigues you about it? 

My interest with food started when I came across an article about Space 10 and their visual imagining of the future of the meatball. At that time, it was my first or second year of grad school and I was learning how to leverage design to create scenarios and artifacts. I was intrigued by the process of futures thinking and using design to demonstrate form factors and value systems that might change over time. This expansive thinking gradually led me down the rabbit hole where creatives were using food as a material to communicate complex topics such as waste streams, eating behaviors and environmental impact. Design has always been a catalyst for me — meaning, I’m constantly looking, thinking and making something in response to a curiosity. 

I’m fascinated by how creatives reimagine materials and immerse people into new rituals of eating. It’s an experience that is utterly captivating to me because in order to appreciate this work, you have to be in it, you sense and consume the idea. Food Design is like a co-creation experience, it is an immersive activity that transports people into possible futures which I find creatively satisfying.   

"Cradle" an exploration of form and eating rituals, photo styling by Summon Design

"(…) to create work that lies at the intersection of environ- mental and human needs."

What was your favourite food design project to work on?

One of my favorite food design projects so far was a collaborative effort with Monica Martinez and Illya Haro. Earlier this year, we worked together to design a culinary experience with edible insects. As three Latina artists, it was imperative for us devise a visual and material language that we believe would present insects as an ingredient that connects people with the past and the future. Throughout this collaboration, I documented our thinking and developed a conceptual framework called La Tierra de Comida, which describes the relationships between the hand, the food and the land. This framework continues to define my practice: to create work that lies at the intersection of environmental and human needs, centering on eating to express value systems. 

Social Critique developed with Ruijin Zhang and Yichun Wang

Fog Glass for Sea to Sutro with Future Farmers

Do you feel studying Architecture and Interaction Design brought you to food or do you wish your education would have had a food focus?  

It’s kind of beautiful to have participants from different backgrounds enter the food space — it delivers a fresh perspective and rich conversation that we might have otherwise missed! Given that, I believe my food focus came out of the ethos of CCA: make what matters. At our school, each student is tasked to think critically and to respond to the things we care about. Food gradually arose for me because it was both a complex and familiar material that we are all intertwined with. In a design and context class taught by Mara Holt-Skov, my world was flipped when she brought in a collection of different breads and explained the various constraints, histories and processes used to make them. My “aha” moment was when I realized that food could be used as a material to communicate complex ideas. It was then that I realized I could use my architectural foundation to leverage spatial design and systems thinking when talking and designing eating experiences.  

I think it is absolutely fine to not have a food focus education — but I do believe that it should be a topic that students have access to. I also think it is important for design students to learn to seek out experts in topical fields and to conduct research so that their work is grounded in a process of looking, understanding and contextualizing interactions. 

While studying at CCA, I grew a lot from collaboration. I find that we become inherently connected when we learn each other’s perspectives and find ways to balance one another — which, is similar to plating a meal: incorporating and blending flavors to present something that is deeply rooted and yet new and fresh. Like food, collaboration is just another way to think about how we seek ways to communicate to each other. 

How you experience the food & design scene where you are and how it is developing (or not)? 

Here in the Bay Area, we have a lot of amazing hybrid folks (creatives wearing many hats) who are working in the food space in various ways: from incubators, startups, dinner parties and art installations, everyone is trying to address food futures in one way or another. As I begin to carve out my role here, I am constantly impressed by the efforts our community is taking to use food as a microphone for communicating political issues, value systems, and cultural identity. There are groups as well who are challenging our perception with meat production and presenting protein alternatives that is equally exciting. 

Right now I am actively developing new relationships with our food & design community to develop experimental dinners using site-specific locations to inspire the material and language of the eating experience. I will gradually reveal more information as the work develops. 

The biggest opportunity I see is how we can help food services disrupt consumers food-waste habits – thinking more specifically on take-out culture and fast-food packaging. 

During my MFA Design thesis Hand.Food.Mouth., I learned about those in the zero-waste community who actively seek out ways to reduce their own waste. I believe these efforts could and should be recognized by businesses so that they too could become waste-free agents that cultivate ecological stewardship. 


Text by Raquel Kalil

Read more about Raquel’s work on her: 

Website: raquelkalil.com

Instagram: @Kaliko_

Twitter: @Kaliko__

LinkedIn: Raquel Kalil