Would mass-produced chicken be happier experiencing virtual reality? Would it be easier to eat worms if they looked like a meatloaf? Food Revolution 5.0, a new exhibition in Berlin, explores the future of food.
From May 18 through September 30, the patio of Berlin's Museum for Decorative Arts will be host to an orchard unlike no other: 80 apple trees outfitted with green IV bags. A light source and individual soil containers make up an entirely self-sufficient "urban community orchard."
"We call it a climate machine," said urban planner Ton Matton. The tongue-in-cheek concept removes responsibility from the modern gardener, who is free to go on vacation without watering his orchard, according to Matton. And as climate change encroaches, he said, "We are giving the apple tree the experience it needs to survive in our urban surroundings." It seems we are truly in the age of the Anthropocene.
The provocative work is part of the exhibition Food Revolution 5.0: Design for Tomorrow's Society, in which 30 designers were asked to present their visions for the future of food in a growth-based world where resources are becoming increasingly scarce.
As a raw material that must often be shaped into a certain form, food is one of the first "designed" items, argues curator Claudia Banz.
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Organized together with Hamburg's Museum for Arts and Crafts and the Berlin-based architecture firm Kooperative für Darstellungspolitik, the building has been transformed into what Banz describes as a "laboratory for the future of eating and living."
Her hope is that exhibition-goers will start thinking more critically about food consumption. "I want people to understand that the act of eating and buying food is highly political, and by making a choice, we make a political one because this is all related to land grabbing, to speculation, to the industry, who has power and who doesn't."
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Farm, market, kitchen, table
Works in four themes — farm, market, kitchen and table — make up the exhibition.
Some projects are highly conceptual, such as a VR headset for chickens and an accompanying film called Second Livestock by American artist Austin Stewart. The prototype forces visitors to acknowledge the dreary life of the vast majority of caged livestock. A video simulation shows an imaginary view from the chicken's headset — an idyllic free-range farm life. It begs the question: If a chicken can't live a free-range life, why not give it the appearance that it can?
Works such as this, says Benz, confront a pre-existing situation in a way that's aesthetically attractive and helps drive the message home. "In my experience, people are more open if you tell them something that comes to the point in a smooth, and elegant aesthetic way — this is what many projects in the exhibition are doing."
Not all exhibits for the queasy
In addition to visually pleasing product prototypes like a sleek self-composting container for the home and kitchenware designed from seaweed, there are plenty of intriguing projects that aren't for the faint of stomach.
Designer Carolin Schulze presents Hare from a Mealworm Paste, a project that highlights insects as a valuable source of protein and suggests we could be swayed to eat them if a 3D printer made them look more familiar — in this case, a meatloaf shaped like a rabbit.
Artist Andrea Staudacher butchered a pig and encased its pieces in 60 transparent silicone blocks to demonstrate how far we have come from recognizing the original animal now typically offered in cans and packages.
A food revolution
According to a UN study, one third of the world's food is wasted, while 925 million people are at the risk of starvation. "Food is connected to our world through all channels, says Banz. "Revolution is a big word, but everybody can start the revolution at his own home, with his own buying decisions; reflecting on how much do I really need to buy for eating? What do I want? Do I really need strawberries in winter?"
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Another installation, called To Flavor Our Tears, put out by a research group known as the Center for Genomic Gastronomy was inspired by a Thai moth that consumes the tears of mammals.
"It's a project that attempts to imagine what it would be like if we could begin to put our bodies back into the food system," said one of the group's members, Emma Conley. The idea was to "create an emotional experience where a human can be ok with or respectful of the fact that they can be someone else's food rather than taking the food of others."
To demonstrate, the installation's video provides examples, from a rooftop burial ground to a VR simulation that puts viewers in the role of microorganisms traveling through a human's gut, or as a wolf hunting and attacking a jogger.
"People can have emotional responses to topics like food systems," Conley said, "but it's time to think about how we begin to imagine and talk about these kinds of ideas which are quite political."