Food for thought

One of the first pictures in Food: Design and Culture illustrates clearly the connection between design and popular food. The shot features jar upon jar, and pack upon pack, of nostalgic-looking jams, spreads, cheeses and condiments.

One of the first pictures in Food: Design and Culture illustrates clearly the connection between design and popular food. The shot features jar upon jar, and pack upon pack, of nostalgic-looking jams, spreads, cheeses and condiments.

Only on closer inspection does it become clear that all the products are made by just one manufacturer – Kraft. There are enough packs on display to keep a packaging design consultancy afloat for months – and Kraft has competitors too, meaning yet more packs and more cheese.

But the most interesting element of the shot is the way it illustrates changing fashions. Would you buy Cheeze Whiz now? Or Kraft Grated Canadian Cheddar blended with powdered skimmed milk?

Edited by exhibition curator and writer Claire Catterall, the book collects essays from contributors such as designer Ettore Sottsass, photographer Martin Parr and architect Will Alsop. Each takes a different view on the importance of food, and puts in context the now familiar concepts of designer restaurants and designer food.

Critic and commentator Stephen Bayley points out that Pizza Express and Habitat – leading popular influences on taste in food and domestic kitchen equipment respectively – opened their first branches in the same year, 1964.

Fashions in food have been mirrored in home interiors as our shared experiences of dishes and cooking accessories filter from the restaurant, and the cookery TV show, to the home, Bayley says.

Photographer Parr uses just pictures in his look at the British and the way we eat. There are no clues as to when they were taken, but they appear to be quite recent. They show a Britain of bacon sandwiches, dirty fingernails, white bread, sprouts and pink novelty cakes. These are a world away from Bayley’s view of a Conran-ised society, but tie in with the transport café shots in Alsop’s essay, An angel at my table.

Alsop, too, is concerned by the “trap of fashion” involved with eating out, and he questions the necessity for design where his food is concerned. He confesses a fondness for picnics, and small menus. He has a sound reason, though. “I know that a wide choice means the likelihood of the microwave increases,” he says.

Among the wide range of illustrations we see TV cooking duo Fanny and Johnny Craddock, but are unfortunately not given a glimpse of their legendary presenting style. Those of us too young to remember the Craddocks have been told tall stories of how Johnny would turn to camera to offer encouragement to viewers. “Well, I’m sure if you follow the recipe correctly your bread and butter puddings will look every bit as edible as Fanny’s,” he would apparently say.

But, as the authors point out, fashions change. We now have a wider selection of cookery programmes – apparently there were 43 weekly shows on terrestrial TV in 1998 – but less variety. Perhaps it’s time for another change in fashion.

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