Durable goods

What could be more sustainable than the good old vacuum flask and lunchbox? Fiona Sibley previews an exhibition that explores the social history of design for eating on the move



As the debate surrounding excessive disposable packaging continues to rage, and supermarkets doggedly continue to seal hapless fruit and vegetables into ‘convenient’ plastic bags, here comes a timely exhibition to remind us it needn’t be so.

Take Away is the sort of easy-on-the-eye, Sunday-afternoon diversion you’d expect to find gracing a gallery during the quiet summer months – all pretty examples of classic 1960s Tupperware and portable picnic furniture. You can just hear Cliff Richard humming away in the background.

But the collection has a far deeper resonance, given that much of it harks back to an age before disposability became the norm. This raft of innovative, durable pieces from the early to mid-20th century – designed to satisfy all sorts of specific transportations of food and drink – therefore demands closer scrutiny.

Following in the footsteps of Anya Hindmarch’s I’m Not a Plastic Bag in 2007, could a contemporary take on a 1930s tiffin box become this summer’s man-bag? Might office workers keen to abandon plastic carrier bags herald a revival of the Fratelli Guzzini ‘Pic Boll’ picnic box of 1977 – a vivid red plastic icon from this heyday of modern domestic design? Throughout this exhibition, numerous practical containers, flasks and camping kit – from Swiss Army mess tins dating from 1914 and a 1930s collapsible cup, to contemporary cool bags – offer food for thought.

Curators at the Design Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, who prepared the show, say that it intends to chronicle the social history that has spawned a very 21st-century phenomenon: the fast-paced, eat-on-the-move culture made infamous by McDonald’s and the like. Design has played a huge role in enabling this culture to thrive, with boxes, wrappers and cartons used to advertise and distinguish brands, as well as serving their primary function.

But as our socially conscious tables turn, some of these moretraditional objects might suggest new strategies for replacing throwaway packaging with something smarter, slicker and much moresustainable. And that something could be as old-fashioned andsimple as an erstwhile lunchbox, or a trusty Thermos.

Take Away – Design for Eating on the Move runs from 25 February to 8 June at The Lighthouse, 11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow G1 3NU

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