FOOD XX review by Studio H

Using taste, smell and sound to create a safe space.

12th of Feb this year saw the launch of Studio H’s latest project, FOOD XX. Imagine hanging out with a group of your closest girlfriends to chat about everything that you cannot talk about at the office or at home – that’s kind of what FOOD XX wants to be for womxn in the South African food and drinks industry. The whole idea about FOOD XX is that we talk about current injustices and find solutions together, whilst simultaneously redressing exclusion and tokenism of womxn in the past.

The day was carefully planned with a bunch of collaborators with the main aim to create a space where womxn would feel safe and comfortable to let their guards down. Various sensory triggers and installations were used throughout the day to achieve this.

A bread installation in collaboration with the District Six Museum focused on the unifying power of food. District Six is a former inner-city residential area in Cape Town, where over 60,000 of its inhabitants were forcibly removed during the 1970s by the apartheid regime. Different types of bread (steam bread, mosbolletjies, raisin bread, bakbread and bagels) were displayed, each linked to a personal story by a former resident from District Six. Breads, wrapped in cloth the traditional way, were connected with string so that at least two people were needed to access bread without it falling on the ground.


Bread Installation / Smell Installation

The perfumer Tammy Frazer worked with us to develop a smell installation at the entrance of the venue. Zig-zagged paper curtains were installed as turnstiles and perfumed with a bespoke perfume reminiscent of our mothers. Tammy’s perfume, Universalis, contained top notes of vanilla, the most typically pleasant smell with universal appeal. This can be explained by the fact that vanilla is a volatile flavour component of human breast milk as well as many milk formulas. Vanilla is associated not only with warmth, softness and caring, but also has connotations of purity and simplicity. Other fragrance notes included cocoa butter, coconut, vanilla and almond. It was also important that all the fragrance notes were edible flavours.

The conference was opened by clinical psychologist Carly Abramowitz with a mindfulness exercise to be used as a tool to combat stress, anxiety and mental fatigue. A bite of Intention chocolate (vegan superfood chocolates based on the intention to love your body through what you eat), guided guests to come back into their bodies and out of their heads, into the present moment.


Don’t Panic Room / Intention Chocolates

Studio H and VISI magazine worked with Johannesburg-based chef Khanya Mzongwana, who focuses on cooking for mental wellness to design a (Don’t) Panic Room – a space where delegates could take a quiet mental break from the proceedings. The room was fitted out with plush soft carpets and seating, anti-anxiety mind exercise and grounding techniques, a special brain food menu, a calming sound track and a haze of pink lighting.

Don't Panic Room

A donkey milk station provided conference goers with the opportunity to taste donkey milk, the closest mammal-produced milk to human breast milk.

An interactive exhibition of gendered food products prompted delegates to question the packaging and design of our everyday supermarket products, often with very strong gendered messaging, that we’ve been so conditioned not to notice anymore.

A tea bar with handmade ceramic cups by the Studio H team (under the guidance of Jade Ruijzenaars / Jade Ceramics) provided much-needed comfort and hydration. Coffee was deliberately omitted from the menu, due to its tendency to over stimulate adrenal glands, the fact that it negatively affects sleep and increases cortisol release.


Some of the feedback we got afterwards:

Tshepang Molisana @TshepiMolisana: “No person is your friend who denies your silence or your right to grow. – Alice Walker”

“Thank you for your safe spaces, #FOODXX. Honoured to have sat besides giants. Thank you for your poise and power. Thank you for leading our panel with grace @IshayGovender.”

Thando Moleketi @jozifoodiefix: “The team had created a space that allowed for honest conversation. We can only hope that it triggered some call to action to audience. Or at least gave them a glimpse at the other side. I look forward to the next one!”

Once I decided that I wanted to launch FOOD XX, the following were non-negotiables:

– You have to check your privilege all the time
– Focus on making sure that everyone has a seat at the table
– Create the optimum environment that would make everyone feel safe and encourage to share
– That our approach would always be solutions-driven and our tone optimistic and supportive
– To be as inclusive as possible and to remove barriers to entry (for this reason we launched a Booster ticket system where more privileged guests could sponsor a ticket for people who do not have the means to buy their own ticket
– To listen to all stakeholders and opinions
– It is impossible to please everyone all of the time, so follow your gut instinct and believe in yourself and what you are building

Our dreams are:

To have smaller get-togethers year-round
To workshop topics in-depth in smaller groups
To host a FOOD XX Symposium in Johannesburg before the end of the year
To create a global FOOD XX network

We have learned many lessons and need to learn so many more along the way. But we would love to share the power and the love and we would love to spread the FOOD XX network far and wide across the globe. So if you would like to launch a FOOD XX branch outside of South Africa, please contact us and let’s make it happen! After all, the only way we can grow and get stronger is if we do it together.


Text by our correspondent Hannerie Visser from Studio H.