On Food and Education: Marije Vogelzang

For our five-question series on food and education at The Common Table, Sophie and Orlando Lovell ask experts about their strategies and practices for a healthier relationship with food. Here: the Dutch eating designer Marije Vogelzang, former head of Food Non Food at the Design Academy Eindhoven, one of the world’s first food design degree departments.

Marije Vogelzang: Sharing Lunch Tokyo; 40 strangers connected by the tablecloth and by sharing food, 2017. Photo: Kenji Masunaga, courtesy Marije Vogelzang.
Marije Vogelzang: Sharing Lunch Tokyo; 40 strangers connected by the tablecloth and by sharing food, 2017. Photo: Kenji Masunaga, courtesy Marije Vogelzang.

The Common Table: How would you explain your perception of food as an educational discipline or tool to someone who might think that means just cookery lessons?

Marije Vogelzang: I would ask them to imagine everything about an apple besides its taste.

For example:

  • The tree it grew on
  • The landscape and soil that the tree is in.
  • The farmer growing the apples.
  • How much money this farmer gets for their apples.
  • How particular apples are advertised in favour of others in a political system.
  • Whether the farmer used any chemicals to grow them.
  • Whether there were enough bees to pollinate the apple tree’s blossoms.
  • All the apples that don’t get harvested in time and that are being wasted.
  • The apple’s variety and place in the history of apples.
  • Tales in which apples play an important role.
  • The experience of eating an apple.
  • The sound of eating an apple.
  • The social setting in which you eat this apple.
  • The physical effects that eating an apple has on your body.
  • And how that works with food allergies.
  • All the memories you have about previous experiences with apples.
  • Artificial apple-flavoured products
  • Etc.

I would say, imagine all these things and see how they could be combined with creativity so that you could make:

  • Body products from apple waste
  • New landscapes around apple trees that serve pollinators well
  • Sound experiences to pre-taste in an auditory way every apple you can buy in the supermarket.
  • Artificial flavours made of almost extinct apple varieties to make a series of pens in green-yellow-red  (the corresponding apple colour) with the flavour of the apples
  • A storytelling guided tour about the juicy history of apples 
  • An apple shop, dedicated to apples only
  • A blind date service where you share apples and your memories of apples through smell and taste
  • A future food proposition imagining what we’ll eat when we don’t have apples any more 
  • A way to make apples more resilient to warmer climates and salty soils
  • A proposition to reforest cities with unique varieties of apples and make an annual apple harvesting festival for the inhabitants.
  • Etc.

I’d tell that person that I just used the apple as an example but that all food could be viewed in this way. So basically, using a lot of examples will help people to understand. I see many academics talking in a very abstract way and I think it’s not helping to make things more clear. The word “design” is especially confusing for people. In the minds of the general population, it is still understood to refer to something that is both pretty and expensive. This perception is really counterproductive so it is important to take a bit of time to explain and show examples of how design can be incredibly useful.

Marije Vogelzang: Sharing Lunch Tokyo; 40 strangers connected by the tablecloth and by sharing food, 2017. Photo: Kenji Masunaga, courtesy Marije Vogelzang.
Marije Vogelzang: Sharing Lunch Tokyo; 40 strangers connected by the tablecloth and by sharing food, 2017. Photo: Kenji Masunaga, courtesy Marije Vogelzang.

The Common Table: What are you doing/have you done to change understanding related to food?

Marije Vogelzang: I use very simple food in my projects and I link it to people’s imagination. For example, I  might make food that talks to you or change the narrative about food. I did a tap water tasting project in 2019 where people could taste tapwater from all the different provinces of The Netherlands and compare the taste. People here don’t talk about the taste of tap water. They might talk about beer or wine but water is overlooked. When you change the context of experiencing tap water in a culinary way, you also change people’s understanding.

When you change the context of experiencing tap water in a culinary way, you also change people’s understanding.

I have also been teaching food and design to a large variety of people, design students, culinary arts students, and the general public through online courses, which help change people’s understanding of how to view food. I do this as an exhibition curator as well.

The Common Table: Who are you trying to reach and teach and why?

Marije Vogelzang: I used to reach people inside the design world but now I aim for a more general audience because I feel food should be for everyone and we all have minds that are capable of imagination. I also feel it’s important to reach more people than just design students in a college. With my book Lick It: Challenge the Way You Experience Food I am all for addressing a wider audience and making food subjects more inclusive. Even though the philosophical concepts in the book are profound, the language is very simple and understandable. I use a lot of humour in the book and my work in general. 

My latest production is a theatrical experience where the blindfolded audience hears an audio story and their tongue starts talking to them. They carry a tiny pillbox with compartments and every compartment contains something edible which becomes an actor in the play. Your mouth becomes the stage and your mind starts to fill in the visuals. The experience takes 45 minutes and can be done with an audience of up to 100 people. With the use of hypnotherapy techniques, you’ll feel as if you’re one with your senses.

The Common Table: Where would you like to take your work in this field; what are your goals?

Marije Vogelzang: Studying food is not about food but about studying the eating human being, so I want to help people open their minds and develop their creative approach to food. I want to write more books like Lick It, I’m working on a podcast and doing things like a five-week online challenge where anybody with an internet connection can develop their own creative experience with food. I believe that when you engage with food more, you will value food more, and if you value food more, you will behave more consciously and sustainably in a fun way.

Studying food is not about food but about studying the eating human being.

The Common Table: What is the big-picture perspective in terms of the future of food education and where is it coming from?

Marije Vogelzang: More and more people are stepping into the realm of food and design and this is very much needed. There are endless graphic designers, web designers and UX designers but there are still very few food designers. I see that the world of food is in a state of despair and needs all the creative suggestions it can use, not to solve the problems but to bring enough better alternatives to create a tipping point together.

Marije Vogelzang is a Dutch food, or eating, designer who focuses on how people design their food habits, ways and rituals. (Her 2017 Volumes project, for example, focused on the design of eating devices which help eaters think their plates are fuller than they are to reduce overeating.) She regularly works as a designer for organisations and as a food industry consultant. She became the head of the food department at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2014. In 2019 she launched her first live online course called Food and Design Dive. And in 2020 she expanded her online courses to cover creative strategies.

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