Food is the ultimate connector, a dependence for all human beings. It provides us with means of survival, it connects us to nature and its ubiquitous influence is felt across the world in culture and identity. This exhibition identifies these connections, but makes note of how food has contributed to many of the global challenges that we face, whether they be related to climate change or public health. We currently find ourselves in a movement where many are calling for a more sustainable food system that utilises the rapid advancements of the technological age. Bigger than the Plate is split into sections that reconsider the farming, trade, eating and disposal of food by showcasing the projects of the chefs, farmers, scientists and artists that are inventing and developing ideas that could transform our relationship with food.
The first section showcases projects that aim to improve our food system by rethinking our perceptions about waste. If you eat, you create waste, both as part of the digestive system and also as by-products of processing food, such as the grounds from your morning coffee. This exhibition wants to highlight the fact that we have moved away from the natural cycles of reproduction, where waste is returned to the soil. Instead we discard our waste to places far away, whether that be landfill or even the ocean. In this section, we see work from the likes of Daily Dump, Fernando Laposse, Alice V Robinson, and GroCycle as they attempt to shift the idea of waste from being solely the end of the line, and instead viewing its potential to exist at the start of the food journey.
Farming has always been an essential human activity that dictates what we eat, how we use land and how we impact the natural world. With industrialisation and globalisation, our methods of producing food have changing significantly, with the workforce of industrialised countries moving from the farms to the cities. Food has become less localised, with the idea of growing your own food becoming a more abstract concept. Despite this, the impact of farming cannot be overlooked. Farming is a key player when it comes to climate change and resource depletion. This section of the exhibition stresses the importance of more sustainable farming by developing ideas around urban, open-source and social farming projects, whilst also exploring how new technologies might change the way we grow and farm the plants and animals we eat.
Projects relating to the trading of food take up the third section of Bigger than the Plate. The ambition of this section is to: ‘pose questions about more transparent and diverse ways of buying, selling and transporting food’. Visitors are presented with historical examples and information about trading history against contemporary projects that are actively reimagining supply chains. The projects on exhibition provide a great transparency to their enterprise, inviting the audience to evaluate issues surrounding the buying, selling and transporting food. Company Drinks, a community enterprise based in East London brings people together to pick, process and produce drinks. They present a short documentary film alongside a bar where visitors can try some drinks. They had a particularly nice rosemary based drink that was available during my visit, you should definitely swing by their bar on the way through.
For many, the best part of food is, of course, eating, and throughout this exhibition, the deliciousness of food is considered as important as anything. However, it is acknowledged that our understanding of food and eating must go beyond deliciousness, exploring the realms of global hunger, the sacredness and role of the table, and how we can push the boundaries of cooking. It is absolutely necessary for eating to be the final section of this exhibition because it is vitally important that we appreciate all stages that lead up to food actually being consumed, so that food systems can truly be understood and then reimagined.
Before you see any of the exhibition, right at the start, the final sentence of the exhibition synopsis reads; “Nothing is off the table”. This sentiment is strongly felt from the diversity of ideas and approaches that are displayed throughout the exhibition. Bigger than the Plate provides us with an outlandish, but absolutely necessary attitude if we are to achieve a sustainable food system and redevelop our understanding of food.