This is what we learned at the V&A’s new ‘Food: Bigger Than The Plate’ exhibition

  • Wed,15 May 2019 04:08:33 PM

You will be met with a film of a raw chicken puffing up quite grotesquely in the oven, decadent jellies wobbling and dancing Hershey’s Kisses, at the beginning of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s latest exhibition, FOOD: Bigger than the Plate.

The show, curated by Catherine Flood and May Rosenthal Sloan, looks at the dynamism and ideas of those working and innovating to radically develop how our food systems operate – and how we eat as a result. And with the V&A being the first museum to ever open a ‘refreshment’ room, it’s an apt fit.

“Everyone has a stake in the future of food,” say the curators – and Bigger than the Plate will open up your mind (and inform how your belly may rumble) in the coming decades.

Here’s what we learned…

Human waste could prove really useful. People are working on ways to reuse human waste and get it back into the nutrient cycle. Loowatt have also invented the world’s first waterless toilet, in an effort of sustainability, and to combat the fact 4.5 billion people don’t have proper sanitation.

So much organic waste can be recycled into biodegradable materials – however icky it may seem. Wine labels can be made out of grape skins; coffee cups out of coffee granules; a piggy bank out of Argentinian tea and mycelium; egg cups out of blood. Ceramics can even be glazed with urine…

Closing the nutrient loop is an idea we all ought to get on-board with. This is largely a matter of composting – so our waste goes back into the soil. For instance, the exhibition is using coffee grounds from the museum cafe as a base to grow mushrooms, which can then be used as an ingredient and returned to said cafe.

A Hedge HUG world - spot the cows on the zebra crossing (Ella Walker/PA)
A Hedge H.U.G world – spot the cows on the zebra crossing (Ella Walker/PA)

It’s a reminder that we as humans are part of the food cycle too. Did you know that certain species of moth drink the tears of mammals?

There’s a need to come up with new ways of farming, to solve how to feed everyone, without irrevocably damaging the environment. For instance, the OpenAg™ Personal Food Computer uses robotics to control a table top growing chamber (that could present the chance to build a network of global digital farms); Hedge H.U.G imagine a world where we integrate housing with farming, as a new system of hedging; portable farms could be used in empty containers that have been emptied of fresh produce – and HK Farms are adopting rooftop spaces in Hong Kong to grow veg and keep bees.

It makes you consider where our food comes from. Fallen fruit maps ask you to think about the fruit trees in your neighbourhood and who might have planted them and why, and a video reveals that olives aren’t romantically picked by hand, but violently shaken from trees by farm equipment.

Hungry crockery (Ella Walker/PA)
Hungry crockery (Ella Walker/PA)

Our relationship with what we eat has become incredibly strained and confused. “Most of us now have no interaction with the animals that provide our food, and it is easy to ignore the fact that we depend on other species to survive,” the curators note.

Artists, designers and scientists are coming up with amazing ideas and answers on how we interact with food. Laura Allcorn, founder of the Institute for Comedic Inquiry, has designed a toolkit for hand-pollinating so we can take on the duties of disappearing honey bees (which currently save humans $15 billion a year thanks to their services). Meanwhile, Project Florence have come up with a bio interface that can allow us to potentially interact with our plants (I even had a chat with a strawberry plant).

You can grow cheese from celebrities… These ‘microbial portraits’ are on display, featuring Alex James from Blur (Cheshire cheese), food writer Ruby Tandoh (stilton) and rapper Professor Green (mozzarella).

FOOD: Bigger than the Plate opens on Saturday, May 18. Tickets from £17 (with 200 limited edition edible ones available). Find out more at

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