Food Friction


Scientists are eager to find out all they can in their field and become ever more certain about their discoveries. The knowledge they produce serves to provide clarity on what we humans are dealing with, including ourselves. Food scientists want to fully understand nutrition, digestion principles and eating behaviour. 

Artists are curious in their own right about aspects of reality. They give expression to things that intrigue them. This can evoke inspiration, questions and even quests. Surprising perspectives on cooking, water, cauliflower, squid, swallowing and moving stoves, to randomly name a few things, is what they bring forward. 

Designers propose concrete applications of scientific knowledge that can point the way to new research and to the development of new phenomena. A designer may come up with sea weed fizzy drinks, giant chopsticks, or a simple vacuum preservation device for lettuce. The invent the seeds of future food and plant them if they’re called for. 

In any case, cooperation between professionals with different affinities is essential. 



Food concerns all. Everybody has an understanding of it. Some people know more about food than others. People cherish different assumptions on food. Absolute certainty does not exist, but assumptions, right or wrong, provide a vision of what we can expect. Assumptions grow from a mixture of tradition, delusion, knowledge, media perception, fear of death, recklessness, mood, hearsay, earlier research outcomes, experience, intuition, strategic brand influence, habits and probably more. A gluten allergy is far less common than diabetes. Nevertheless, consumers are less inclined to avoid sugar than gluten. Indeed, the market offers gluten-free paint, shampoo, which is pointless, and ditto meat, which is trivial.  Markets thrive on lay assumptions. Scientists are not always aware that their own assumptions underpin the knowledge they publish. The other thing is that they often don’t realize that their assumptions on public knowledge define the way in which they inform the outside world. Edibility of spinach, or shrimp is not self-evident. 


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Communication about food is disturbed by omnipresent expertise of mixed and often wrongly edited quality. Everybody eats. Everybody publishes. Everybody sees. Everybody reads. Everybody believes. This turbulent information mix is a compelling issue. There is little focus in addressing food information. One day, coffee is healthy, the next it is poisonous. Every day of the week a different foodstuff optimum is launched. Food is subject to fashion. Natural, artisan, home-made, traditional, conscious, basic, original, organic, fair, pure: these are just a few magic food words. 

Languages are cultural. The cultures of general public, science and government are different. Oxygen is E948 is simply what everyone breathes. Understanding health gets lost in translation, mistrust and media convenience. The precision of scientific knowledge is non-committal. Policies are abstract. Everyday food is a continuing story. Design can clarify. 


so smart

The limits to what we can do with food are fading. It is not that we can do so much more. The first characteristic of change is increasing precision. Next quantity is growing. Thirdly food is getting better. Not necessarily in that order. We have yet to master waste. 

Technology is subject to fashion. Robots may replace us, but then they may not. Artificial Intelligence understands us by studying big data, or maybe it doesn’t. 3D-printers create the unimaginable: the beauty of a chocolate hollow dragon. What they make is just a bit different. Biotechnology provides radical change. We’ll have to try and see. 

Genetic technology holds promises. It is not all that new. Look at all the pets and cattle and tulips. The advantages concern reduction of pesticides and quality improvement. The disadvantages concern monopolies and lack of transparency.   

We can grow meat without animals. That could be a solution of some kind. On the other hand, it could also be a gimmick. We’re so smart. 



Farming is torn between extremes. Food grows on extended stretches of land. Food grows in the ocean. Food grows in back yards. Food grows in greenhouses. Food grows in urban machines. Farms become tourist attractions. Agriculture is a balancing act. 

There is a market with desires. Health imposes minimum requirements. The climate enforces limitations. Financial systems are ruthless. Farming is also a beautiful painting. Austere men and women work the land providing us with grain, fruit and meat. Or they are strong men handling nets on rough waters. We eat romance. 

Most food is sold in bags and boxes, transparent or with clear pictures on them. Imperfections are not allowed or turned into gimmicks. The task of food is contributing to your identity. Food origin gets blurred in the process. We consume packaging. 

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No this is not a matter of recipes. Maybe we need an evolving three-dimensional map, to monitor what’s cooking and where. Everyone involved can react in their own way. Scientists can extract research themes. Designers can propose applications. Consumers can wonder. Artists can turn everything around. Everybody eats anyway. 

The map shows where and what and why and how. The map shows success and failure and all in between. The map is a joy to look at. 


Culture and identity generate small differences between remarkably similar groups. What people eat depends on where they live and how much they can afford. The more people can afford the more varied their diet will be. Increasing variation tends be detrimental to contrast. Globalization renders us both richer in style and poorer in compelling extremes. 

Transportation allows one to eat out, on holidays very far out. Food travels too, very far and very fast by airplane or slow and nearby with delivery services or food trucks.  Food and people are getting closer. Transportation and effort go unnoticed underneath a blanket of appetite and satiation. Waste disposal does this as well. Handling abundance is standard procedure. 

Fragmentation is all the rage. We have countries, groups, tribes, families, individuals. Eating behaviour follows suit. You do your own thing. You are obliged to be yourself. Addicted to screens people eat alone. Food grows in refrigerators. Harvest and heat and eat. Salads don’t need heat. They’re considered healthy.