Food, ritual and community

I've been curious for some time about how a designed approach to food and mealtimes might generate a sense of belonging and raise important conversational topics surrounding social or ecological challenges that we face.

We've been witnessing a rise in not-for-profits beginning to engage with food and mealtimes as their primary tool for communication. For example, Climate for Change have been hosting dinners where groups of people learn and refresh their knowledge about climate change. On the other hand, The Welcome Dinner Project use mealtimes to support recently arrived Australians by arranging dinners with established Australians. Sharing food and stories provides a means to overcome stereotypes and build friendships. Conflict Kitchen have a similar objective, albeit their political motives are more overt. They only serve food from countries that the US is in conflict with. These examples, combine sensory experience with educational objectives. They appear to provide an environment where ideas are more readily digestible (excuse the pun).

Inspired by many designers that are already working with food (in particular Marije Vogelzang and Cooking Sections) I began experimenting with the idea that a designed approach to mealtimes might facilitate better conversation and create a deeper sense of belonging. Rather than designate somebody as a facilitator or expert to convey information, I am interested in how food itself can tell a story. In other words, can food talk to us? What is needed to animate it? 

The project that was developed as a result of this inquiry is titled The Monthly Feast. The Monthly Feast is a lunch held by The Weekly Service on the first Saturday of every month. (See here for more on The Weekly Service). The Monthly Feast provides avenues to explore the interplay of ritual and food as a means to build community and negotiate transitional times.

I've begun documenting the process of making a feast, which I will detail in posts to follow, however in short I began with an idea for a recipe, which was more conceptual rather than practical. A recipe can also be a ritual. A recipe is a set of instructions, a way to prepare a meal. Additionally a recipe can also entail how the meal is or could be eaten. As a point of departure this project aims to develop ‘recipes for uncertain times’ and forms of ‘edible communication’ that prompt conversation and connection amongst diverse groups of people. 

 The first soup served at The Monthly Feast. The recipe was titled 'A recipe for a new beginning'.

The first soup served at The Monthly Feast. The recipe was titled 'A recipe for a new beginning'.

 The soup was complimented with ingredients that corresponded to each of the seven chakras. Participants were invited to add symbolically to their dish in order to commemorate a new beginning. The meal followed The Weekly Service, where ex-engineer and speaker Tash discussed her relationship with the chakra system. 

The soup was complimented with ingredients that corresponded to each of the seven chakras. Participants were invited to add symbolically to their dish in order to commemorate a new beginning. The meal followed The Weekly Service, where ex-engineer and speaker Tash discussed her relationship with the chakra system. 

 Seeds from the tomatoes were saved, packaged and gifted to the participants at the first feast. 

Seeds from the tomatoes were saved, packaged and gifted to the participants at the first feast.