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Reshaping Our Relationship With Food:
Meet Eating Designer Marije Volegzang
by Mona Bavar
"I think that making ourselves aware of our own ability to shape our lives, to shape our world and to shape our freedom is at the base of changing the food system."
~ Marije Volegzang
Marije Vogelzang is the Eating designer who is changing our perception of food. A graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven and head of its new Food Non Food department, as well as the founder of the Dutch Institute of Food and Design, Vogelzang creates projects inspired by the origin of food as well as the preparation, etiquette, history and culture around it.
Vogelzang began her career by launching two experimental restaurants before moving on to food-related projects, which range from installations and exhibitions to social experiments and innovation. She has developed a seven-point food philosophy in order to help designers and creatives better understand the board scope of Eating design. Her aim is for everyone to appreciate the power as well as the emotional influence of food.
DLISH spoke with Vogelzang about the changing landscape of food and food design, what it means to be an Eating designer and the importance of establishing a profound relationship with our food.
Sharing Dinner by Marije Volegzang
Mona Bavar: You started working with Food and Design in 1999. What was your inspiration?
Marije Vogelzang: I was interested in working with organic materials more than the 'regular’ designers’ materials back then. I liked the idea of food because it was very instant: you could cook something rather quickly. With food, you don’t have to make sketches or moulds before. Then, when creating something with food, it is not just a visual piece. It has a scent, a taste, a texture and a life cycle. It can be digested and become part of the body. It can be shared in a ritual and it can rouse forgotten memories. Food is so much more than what’s on a plate. Food shapes our landscape, our hospitals and our social behaviours. I can’t think of any other material that’s so deeply connected to everything in life.
MB: What challenges have you faced during your 20-year journey in the Food and Design world? What have been the rewards for you?
MV: When I just started it was hard to explain what I did. It took me lots of time and energy and also the practical part of working with an ephemeral source was hard.
Now, I see many rewards! There are so many people in the world now that want to contribute to a healthier, more sensible, more poetic and sensorial food culture trough creative thinking - that makes me very excited. I think more and more people are starting to understand that the way we deal with food right now is too limited and there are many more ways to redefine our relationship with food.
MB: What is the exhibition you are the proudest of?
MB: How would you express the real value of food?
MV: There is no single expression as everybody is different. We all have different cultures and bodies and climates we live in. So what the value of food is differs for everybody. And with my work, I try to provide a platform on which you can re-shape your personal relationship to food. Regardless of where you are from, the connection is made in a very simple way. Sometimes the food starts talking, like in my SEEDS exhibition, and other times your tongue starts talking, like in the Food Massage Salon. And there are times when you connect with another human being. The base is very simple. We humans are diverse but we all have our imagination and through the lens of imagination I create a new connection between you and the food you eat so you can reshape your own values.
MB: You have said that there are many alarming issues facing the world of food: food waste, lack of biodiversity, food allergies, obesity, etc. In your opinion, are we doing enough to make the world aware of these issues?
I’m not sure if making the world aware is a very helpful thing to do. I think that making ourselves aware of our own ability to shape our lives, to shape our world and to shape our freedom is at the base of changing the food system. As long as we feel grasped by stress, by the rat race, imprisoned in our own thoughts, then we are not powerful enough to change anything outside us. So the first step is to get in touch with our own senses again. With our own freedom and calm focus. Then we can start playing and using our imagination in order to make different choices.
MB: What do you think the impact of COVID-19 will be on the future of food? Do you believe that we may be facing a food crisis?
MV: I think that we live in abundance and that COVID-19 made us more aware of the possibility that things can change, and for some the changes are already there. Still, I wonder if the change after COVID-19 will be sustainable. I see that the situation created a lot more creative ways for the hospitality industry to cope and local initiatives are being strengthened. I think that crises are superpowers in the sense that they force people to change direction. For now, I wonder if the effects will be very big.
Future of Food by Marije Volegzang
MB: Are you worried about the world of food post-COVID?
MV: Not at all. I think it has taught people that they can come up with more creative ideas than they thought, and I believe people become more resilient in times of adversity. In the developed world, there is so little we really need to do to stay alive, yet a lot of people feel stressed. We believe in an illusionary life where we feel we can be eaten by lions every day, while in reality nothing really happens. Because we are not faced with real problems of surviving, we don’t know how to really deal with things. COVID-19 can reassure people that they are able to survive, even the unimaginable.
MB: What can we start to do differently in order to decrease the effects of what’s to come?
MV: To not think about the past or the future but to just think about today. Ask ourselves: how can I reshape the relationship I have with food today? What if you would start to talk with your food and understand that the food that goes inside your body will become part of you? Perhaps you want to get to know it a little bit better (like you would want to know someone a bit before you have sex :)
Using our sense of imagination when we interact with food can help shape our relationship with food and from there bring us to the next step. It’s all about little steps!
MB: You believe that we have not reached the full scope of the possibilities that exist in Food & Design. What are some future potentials that you imagine?
MV: The potential is endless! If you imagine how limited the kinds of food are that we actually eat while the range of items that is actually edible is much bigger. The way we eat in restaurants is very uncreative and almost everywhere around the world the same. There are endless opportunities to make the dining experience something different.
The world changes and our lives change. We can create new rituals using food to connect with others and with the world. The way food is produced is rather one-sighted. What if food production would be developed in a way that we wouldn’t have waste anymore? Instead, it would be more sustainable and more durable in an economic way. What if we would grow food that nourishes the soil instead of depletes it? What if we would create food for healthy people instead of medicine? What if we would create new food cultures where we would use all our senses and imagination to experience food? Really, the opportunities are literally ENDLESS.
Eat Love by Marije Volegzang
MB: Are you currently working on any project you would like to share with us?
MV: I have been focusing a lot lately on education. I am doing online courses on food and design. I really like that because I get to help people with their practices (whether that’s creative or in hospitality) on a very practical and direct level. Instead of designing something for one client, I help people to think in a different way so they can come up with their own ideas. I think that’s much more sustainable and they will all have an effect on the world around them. They are from all over the world so every effect is very unique to them. It’s proven to be a very successful course.
Alongside this, I have also started something new. In these times, in particular, I saw many colleagues and creatives losing their work and experiencing a lot of stress. I thought, I always talk about the result: Food and Design, but I use a lot of strategies in my life to maintain my creative vibe, to feel calm and focused, and to create my life in balance with my 3 kids, my travels, my body and mind. So I decided to start sharing these strategies in an online member's group called Creative Strategies for Sensitive Pirates.
I know how it is to feel stressed, overwhelmed and even anxious, but I also know that life doesn’t have to be like that and it is not the purpose of life to suffer. By using these strategies, I know I can help people feel free again. Especially creative people who possess a superpower – sensitivity. We shouldn’t feel burdened or overwhelmed by this sensitivity.
I am also in the process of developing a project around hunger and imagination.
MB: Any last words for our readers?
MV: You can always decide to change your relationship with food. You can do it today with the next thing you eat. You don’t need to wait for something. You don’t need to go and buy organic or vegan food. You don’t need to cook complex dishes or hold a big party. You can just sit with your food. Look at it and imagine the food is another being. Something alive. Ask your food: ‘Who are you? Where did you come from and what would you like to do inside my body?’ Just play along if this feels funny. You used to think like this when you were a child. Just allow yourself to be a child again, just for this moment. Enjoy listening to your food and eating your food. This will not instantly change the whole world. It is simply the first step towards a new relationship between you and food.
Click here to learn more about Marije Volegzang's philosophy.