Working with food and design in 2020

Joséphine Abou Abdo

Opportunities in Adversity

In a feedback session with our own correspondents, The DIFD has been taking stock of opportunities and new pathways in food design that have opened up during the COVID-19 situation of 2020 and asked how designers have been refocusing their work and developing interesting new initiatives.

Opportunities in Adversity no.1: Anastasia Eggers

The shift in our behaviour during the pandemic has had an effect on many things: we have had more time to deal with our food – not only as consumers. Baking bread became a huge trend, for example, fostering our relationship to bacteria and understanding of fermentation processes. The contacts and interactions we became isolated from outside of our personal space also needed to be replaced with some other kind of interaction. In a similar way to how traditional methods for spreading embodied knowledge about human communication with bacteria have faded – certain practices are no longer possible during pandemic conditions. So it is up to design to take their place; shaping ways in which bacteria might be reintroduced into our food culture and everyday routines.


Opportunities in Adversity no.2: Raquel Kalil

Before COVID-19, zero-waste influencers and sustainably-minded consumers were seeking ways to reduce packaging for their food purchases by bringing their own containers. Since the pandemic, however, hygiene regulations have meant a return to more single-use packaging. Nevertheless, some local producers and fast-food restaurants have taken inspiration from consumers’ efforts and begun to set up new models for providing safe, reusable containers for out of house. In my current role at frog design, I and three teammates partnered with a San Francisco Bay Area start-up called Dispatch Goods to refresh their brand presence and engage with audiences about their zero-waste packaging. What I love about their work is that their reusable containers feel like familiar Tupperware objects we have at home. This familiarity with the objects also nudges consumers to ‘plate’ their take-out meal…it’s a nice gesture and it is gaining more attention with consumers and future food vendor partners.


Opportunities in Adversity no.3: Yue Liu

‘Digitalisation’ and ‘customisation’ are the two keywords of 2020. There have been numerous new applications of advanced technologies, such as AR and VR, in the food industry intended to facilitate daily life, enrich the food experience, or comfort our isolated hearts. An example of this would be Elle Decor Italia’s ‘Fab Food Project’. It is as if the pandemic has closed doors on the real world in which we communicate in a multisensory fashion. Yet it has also opened windows on a surprising virtual world in which lots of undiscovered adventures await us! As co-founder of tofoodesign, I have been refocusing more on the personalised food experience, exploring the potential to improve the quality of our daily lives while also attempting to bring about a higher level of psycho-pleasure during the epidemic.


Opportunities in Adversity no.4: Ines Lauber

This year, I was part of the design team for ‘Food Fictions’, an exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Berlin about speculative food design. Designing this exhibition to comply with COVID-19 distancing regulations was quite a challenge. I also designed an online workshop involving the senses format as part of the exhibition programme. I designed a food box containing five edible artifacts that corresponded to our future food scenarios on show at the exhibition. The boxes were sent to the participants. The artifacts were explained, discussed and tasted jointly during a live online class, which was a great success. It was  great to have the chance to reach many more people, also outside of Berlin, with this special experience. 

Raquel Kalil

"Over 50% of the population switched to farming and emigrated from the city to villages to farm and secure independent produce & vegetables."

Opportunities in Adversity no.5: Joséphine Abou Abdo

For Lebanon, COVID-19 was just one issue to add to the crisis the country was and still is facing: politically with the revolution, the pandemic, the economic collapse, and the horrific explosion that shook the entire city apart in August 2020. Food accessibility has become a dangerous problem. Initiatives and community kitchens emerged to provide meals and food to the most vulnerable. Over 50% of the population switched to farming and emigrated from the city to villages to farm and secure independent produce & vegetables. One of the initiatives I co-founded is: ‘Nation Station’, which started as a post-blast relief centre but is now turning into a community hub and kitchen that involves locals in designing their livelihood. It first started when we took over an abandoned gas station in Beirut (very close to where the explosion took place) and turned the car wash into a fully functional kitchen. It is an example of how crisis raises opportunity and how food is always central and political. 

Another initiative around was ‘The Great Oven’, it began in 2018 as a much-needed social movement that builds giant, decorated ovens, and sends them to places in need: mainly refugee camps, cities in crisis, and war-torn communities.  The project began as a rehabilitative cooking, music, and art programme for former child fighters. The oven was later sent to a refugee camp in Bekaa Valley. Following the explosion in Beirut, the team realised that there’s an immense need for them to be present here too.

Anastasia Eggers

Yue Liu

Opportunities in Adversity no.6: Steph Marsden

The pandemic has meant for me that I have had to be more innovative and quick-thinking in projects for others. It has simultaneously reinforced the need for connection and joy – both with others through laughter and touch, and with food as a medium. This connection has reached down to the earth and soil, with people planting seeds and growing futures – a real back to basics for many, with opportunities to slow down and appreciate the little things. 

This year, I’ve really enjoyed seeing the personal and playful explorations of self and food as a material, such as Laila Snevele‘s ‘natural synthetic’ creations, and Chloe Rutzerveld’s ‘Edible Anatomical Votives’ – I love the tomato soup version!  I’ve admired the expression of terroir in design in work such as ‘Matter – Decoding Material Emotions’ by We Crave Design, and Pascal Baudar’s combination of wild food creations with his wildcrafted ceramics. It was also a joy to see Maria Roy dig a deep trench in her back garden during lockdown in order to create and fire a set of vessels. Additionally, Ana Gutman and Andrea Aguirre’s engulfing and transformative food landscapes in ‘MatamorFOODsis’, is COVID-19 “comfort food”, but not as we know it. 

Closer to home, I’ve loved seeing identity expressed through food and design, from Sarah Kwan’s ‘East Meets West’ illustration series of iconic Scottish produce and Tomorrow’s Kitchen by Küche, which  is a beautiful graphic novel with food stories and recipes from novelists, food writers, chefs, playwrights and activists, from all over the world. 

Despite such a difficult time for creatives, it’s been heartwarming to see collaborative illustration projects such as Ida Henrich’s mural on the famous Rogano restaurant in Glasgow, which recently closed its doors after trading since 1935, as well as regular inclusions of paid artwork in Vittles, a food newsletter for “novel times”, set up by Jonathan Nunn at the beginning of lockdown.


Opportunities in Adversity no.7: Kia & Raffaela from BRIK

Since April we have discovered that as each of our products has its own story, so too do the reasons behind our customer’s choices. We can see the chance for a more tailor-made market based on humanity rather than profit. COVID-19 has been the biggest opening in years – a tipping point to shift priorities: humanity before profit and before exploitation of both resources and people.

We have got much better at direct contact with our customers since adapting to selling through our website instead of doing events and workshops with clients. We have been able to move our experiences online, which means we can reach more people with our ideas and methods. We are also working much more closely with local businesses around us, which is creating a strong network and a unique space for multidisciplinary fields to merge and grow.

This year has made it abundantly clear that we ALL need to up our environmental game and do better. We have partnered with like-minded companies on ways to reduce our waste by creating new products with them and offsetting our carbon footprint. We have also expanded our range using antioxidant rich superfoods like sea buckthorn and reishi mushrooms and other good-for-you stuff to boost the immune system – while eating chocolate!


Opportunities in Adversity no.8: Jashan Sippy

Our interaction with food during the global lockdown was transformed: supply chains suffered, but digital means for sale and delivery of food skyrocketed. People turned to food for nourishment, sustenance and even entertainment.

At Sugar & SPACE, we are wrapping up a project on how food can improve every stage of a woman’s life – from PMS to PCOS, fertility, pregnancy, feeding and menopause. We’ve been able to reach a broader global customer base, as more and more people are online. We have also had a larger number of F&B brands reach out to us to help deliver better experiences to their customers at home.

Along with Nicole Vindel, a Barcelona-based food artist and designer, I have also co-founded Food Design Nation, a global platform for food creatives to work together and build better futures of food. With citizens based in over 20 countries and specializing in 35+ areas of expertise, we are excited to interact to bring tangible change to the urgent issues facing our food systems and climate change. Nicole and I met through a series of virtual events hosted by Maud from Salty Studio earlier this year. If it wasn’t for COVID-19, we may not have interacted so much, or even be working together right now.


Opportunities in Adversity no.9: Yuval Yancovitch 

Our current diet is a product based on revolutions. Discovering fire, the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions are some of the events that shaped our diet today and inspired me in my project ‘Evolving In Vitro’. Whilst I was working on the project before COVID-19, people seemed to have difficulties accepting and understanding the idea of cultured meat. This all changed when the global pandemic began – suddenly the scenario of moving away from our reliance on animal-based nutrition and replacing meat from animals with meat grown in vitro became more realistic than ever before. COVID-19 has forced people out of their comfort zones. The Coronavirus seems to me to have acted as an accelerator for the acceptance of new meat alternatives, which might help us, mankind, embrace it faster.


Opportunities in Adversity no.10: Neeraja Dhorde

During the pandemic, I moved to a remote village in India and started working with the local food producers. We  speculated and created a framework for future agricultural practices in the 2050s. During the crisis, I decided to shift from material making to system design which is heavy on research. I was introduced to a number of food cultures around the world through my project and got to meet a number of stakeholders in the food systems. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I would still be in the studio, probably designing food-related objects. 

When the crisis hit i was just starting a communal eating project called ‘Eatable Editions’, I could not halt the work, so decided to move the research online, and connect with people over a virtual dinner session. I did a call for participants and got an overwhelming response to the Virtual Dinner Party to initiate a dialogue over food and cultures. After five successful virtual events and then there has been no looking back. We had participants from the UK, USA, Japan, India, Denmark, Netherlands, China and France. We are now relaunching under ‘Eatable Editions’ and facilitating the virtual dinner parties across the globe.


Opportunities in Adversity no.11: Giulia Soldati

I strongly believe that this moment is a design challenge to rethink the way we gather together around a table to share a meal – and how much we miss it – or the time we spend cooking and transforming ingredients. I was amazed by the fact that the same action was occurring simultaneously in so many parts of the world. The whole world was baking – and eating at home. Two ingredients, flour and water, and the most primordial tools, our hands, to create what in most cultures is the symbol of communion: bread. Food has again the amazing power to unite us.