It seems food is not just for eating anymore. Holly Bradford takes a look at some of its slightly more creative applications…
Fortunately, for us in the western world, long gone are our hunter-gatherer days, when food was a hard-earned reward or indeed, at times, nowhere to be found. Since then we’ve come a long way – an unending, sometimes overwhelming selection of cuisine originating from every far-reaching corner of the world can now be found in any local supermarket at our convenience. At the touch of a button, even. And no longer is the creation of food simply about nutritional necessity; it’s not even just a hobby or a treat on a special occasion. It’s a primary source of entertainment these days – you only have to flick through the telly listings to see that.
Now this deep fascination we hold for food seems to be extending beyond its normal bounds – it has even started to make regular appearances in popular culture and the art world. To be fair, the concept of food as art or decoration is not a new one; fine artists have been painting images of food arrangements since the Renaissance, and let’s not forget the more accessible (and fun!) traditions of decorated eggs at Easter, carved pumpkins at Halloween, and gingerbread houses at Christmas time.
Many modern day artists are also beginning to explore food’s full potential as more than just an edible treat. Liverpool-born Carl Warner creates surreal food landscapes, or ‘foodscapes’, which although on first glance appear to be painted scenes of nature, are actually photographs cleverly composed of layer upon layer of meticulously arranged, delicious-looking foodstuffs such as towering broccoli trees and coconut haystacks (see cornflake leaves, salmon sea and new potato rocks below!)
Another example of this is the (I have to say, slightly less impressive) work of American graphic designer Dinah Fried. She takes well known literary tales such as Oliver Twist and Alice in Wonderland, and carefully crafts meals and table settings which aim to evoke the ambience of the beloved stories. She then photographs these from directly above, giving the resulting images the illusion of detailed paintings.
Perhaps more widely known are the increasingly frequent appearances of food in popular culture in recent years. This ranges from the celeb fashion world – who could forget Lady Gaga’s meat dress at the 2010 VMAs, or Katy Perry’s whipped cream-spouting bra in her video for ‘California Gurls’ – to the programmes we as a nation love to watch every night on television. Cooking programmes have always made for popular viewing, as seen by the rise of shows such as Masterchef and The Restaurant. However, we are also seeing a new, more playful approach to food preparation. American reality show Ace of Cakes introduces us to the unexpectedly creative and fascinating world of cake design, creating everything from impressively monolithic mountain scenes to charming penguin birthday parties (all entirely edible of course!)
Maybe my favourite food-related television exploits in recent years, however, are those of TV chef Heston Blumenthal. 2009’s Heston’s Feasts saw him recreating meals from famous eras and stories from history, such as medieval banquets and even a somewhat morbid feast based on the last meal ever eaten on the Titanic. Not quite as simple as it sounds, though; he scientifically prepared fantastical dishes designed to baffle his guests, such as meat fashioned to look exactly like fruit (imagine the shock on taking that first bite!) and lickable wallpaper (perhaps not to be recommended for elegant dinner parties). Not to mention his more recent stunt on Fantastical Food, which saw him create an entire functioning pub from food – including a pie-crust roof, edible pool table and bacon-flavoured beer.
For what it’s worth, I have been loving this reinvention of food and the way we are being constantly reminded of how much fun it can be. After all, it’s a little sad to think the last time most of us did anything remotely creative with food was probably when we were five years old and making macaroni picture frames for mum! Although I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to quickly wolfing down a bland microwaveable meal when I’m short on time, maybe we all ought to inject a little more whimsy and creativity into our food preparation whenever we can, and remind ourselves how entertaining mealtimes can really be.