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food design

sOnJA sTuMMerer MArTin HABlesreiTer

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sOnJA sTuMMerer MArTin HABlesreiTer Cover: cover of food design Xl photo: stummerer | hablesreiter | kรถb (2009)


PeOPle sHOuld PlAy wiTH fOOd MucH MOre.


sOnJA sTuMMerer MArTin HABlesreiTer

where do honey & bunny come from? We are both architects. We studied in Vienna and London. Then, in 2003 we founded honey & bunny Atelier here in Vienna, doing design and architecture. Actually, in the beginning we weren’t sure what we were going to do but then the food design project came along and that just snowballed. Now more than fifty percent of our projects are related to food.   And the name, honey & bunny? It was just a joke – but people remembered the name so we stuck with it!  

"transportation" out of food design Xl photo: stummerer | hablesreiter | köb (2009)


all photos: performance food tools | stahl und form | vienna credit: Kollektiv Fischka (2011)

How did that first food project come about? It was a coincidence. Sonja studied at the AA in London and everything was so digital and Deluzian… and posh. She decided as a kind of provocation to write about food and not Derrida or his effect on Architecture or whatever. But when she started this short essay she found there were literally no publications on the design of food – worldwide. And at first it was like, "is that possible?"   so you decided to publish your own take on the subject? Yes, we tried to analyse food as designers. We are not chefs or authors. So we said okay, let’s research the design of food. This was around 2000. And couple of years later, our first book came out. It was surprisingly successful.    After that we did an exhibition about food for the Design Forum in Vienna. Then there was a documentary film for French TV. And things just kept on coming, till our latest book, Food Design XL.  

fOOd design didn’T eMerge during THe indusTriAl revOluTiOn. iT’s Been ArOund fOr THOusAnds Of yeArs.


There's obviously a lot of research gone into the new book. was this challenging given the lack of published information? Basically, yes. At the beginning it was really difficult to get information. There were no publications on food design so we couldn’t just go into a library and study.   So we started visiting companies such as Barilla, the pasta company in Italy, because they have a huge archive about the history of pasta.    Initially this was really tough. The companies wouldn’t open the door because they thought we were journalists after a scoop. But once the first book and the film were on the market people started to say “okay, let them in. They are not dangerous!”

pasta surface 1 | out of food design Xl photo: stummerer | hablesreiter | köb (2009)

pasta surface 2 | out of food design Xl photo: stummerer | hablesreiter | köb (2009)


bubbles? Normally if you fry potatoes they have bubbles on the surface, like regular crisps do. But Pringles don’t. We ask, “why not?” And what did you find once the doors were opened? lots of food designers There's a serious point here, eager to tell their story? isn't there? Not really. Basically there are no design- What I always say is that I think the ers involved at all, and for us that’s a most influential and important design big problem.  products we have worldwide are food.      We discuss telephones, chairs, cars and Everybody needs to eat, everybody just about every other product. But we just creates something when they eat. accept what these companies produce Even the poorest, they create their behind closed doors. We have no idea meals. Often much more than rich how they create food products.  people. But no designers worldwide   have attempted to enter the world of There are food scientists, marketfood design so we accept completely ing people, chefs. Sometimes it’s just what the industry serves us.  the owner of the company. But it’s not creative at all. And it’s not obvious what they do. They have these huge labs and nobody knows what goes on there.  For example, why don’t Pringles have pasta surface 3 | out of food design Xl photo: stummerer | hablesreiter | köb (2009)

And where they choose to serve us? That too. The idea of having a family meal every evening, it’s an ideal but does it really happen? Today in the US around 30 percent of meals are eaten in the car. Specially by kids. And the market is getting more and more into the idea of food you can eat in the car or on the street. The only real surprise to me is that this didn’t happen twenty years ago. People have always eaten in the street or on transportation. Take the Cornish pastie – it was developed for the miners in cornwall. The idea of designing food for special situations has been there for ever.   


so the food we eat tells us something fundamental about society. what is it saying right now? Well, the myths we have now are all about health and energy.   A big market is the design of the body. We have creams and sports equipment and cosmetics to help us. We also need to eat the right things. But we have no idea what works!  Take Actimel, it says it makes us healthy and yet it has a lot of sugar cubes in every little pot. Imagine how much sugar you’re consuming if you just have one per day!   And on the other side there’s the organic stuff. It’s like the Holy Bible of eating. People think they’re saving themselves and the world at the same time through diet. It’s not new but it’s more political. These are religions!   And religions need icons. call the designer! They already have them! Broccoli, that’s an icon for the organic movement. And in Europe not so long ago, the Dutch Tomato was the bad icon number one. The icon of artificial food. People stopped eating tomatoes.    Similarly eggs. People stopped eating eggs because we were told they weren’t healthy. But the reason we are told this is that the mark-up on unprocessed food is too low – sellers prefer processed foods because that’s where the money is.    Selling natural products through a supermarket doesn’t make the cash.   

365 days easter | out of food design Xl photo: stummerer | hablesreiter | löckinger (2009)


opportunities | out of food design Xl photo: stummerer | hablesreiter | löckinger (2009)

so what we need is food designers who can redress the balance. But isn't the science a barrier for creative types wanting to work with food? No, you can learn anything. It’s not so difficult to learn about food science. Not everything involves nano-tech or gene therapy. It’s like any process, you need experts to create a product. You need an engineer to design a car.   It’s the same with food. You do research, make models or sketches. The only difference is that you integrate food into your body so you have to take care of smell, acoustics, flavour and so on...   

so should designers be coming into the field? Designers with good ideas should enter the field. The process needs to be opened up. It’s not acceptable that twenty-five companies worldwide control what we eat and we know nothing of their production processes.   But food design has one big advantage and one big disadvantage: The advantage is that it’s a market which doesn’t exist. The disadvantage is that it’s a market which doesn’t exist.   

so it's a catch 22 situation. But is your work helping to create that market? I hope so. Normally the students we talk to they are convinced fairly quickly. I had a lecture recently in Eindhoven. There were 600 students and they were convinced within minutes. They had no idea before they sat down but they understood what food design could be by the end of the talk.   Afterwards a crowd of students came up to ask how they could become food designers. I told them: Just start!  


And perhaps one day problems like obesity could be designed out of existence? It’s not something that will happen overnight, obviously. But I think so, yes.   We were discussing this with a doctor here in Vienna, an obesity expert. We need to find out more about the cultural backgrounds of these problems because the only solution is to create diets which these people will eat.    And that’s where designers come in. They can bring new ideas about nutrition into a cultural context.   That’s what people like Philippe Starck or Marc Newson do, they create for cultures. They bring new ideas into cultures. I think designers could really help solve these food problems.   

we wAnT TO MAke PeOPle THink ABOuT wHAT THey’re eATing.

food as symbols photos: stummerer | hablesreiter | löckinger (2009)


THe MOsT influenTiAl And iMPOrTAnT design PrOducTs we HAve wOrldwide Are fOOd.

Okay, so you might be able to interest designers but what about the art world. will we ever see fish fingers in a gallery setting? Actually, it’s really important that food be recognised by galleries and museums like MoMA.   Bread for example. For me, this is one of the most relevant design products ever. And it is a design product. Mankind has been doing bio design for thousands of years.    Rome would never have existed without bread. They brought tons of wheat every day from Egypt to Rome. And in the harbour there were huge industrial bakeries. The first city in Europe worked because of this design product – bread.  Food design didn’t emerge during the industrial revolution. It’s been around for thousands of years.   


symbolic bread | out of food design xl photo: stummerer | hablesreiter | kรถb (2009)

how to eat | out of food design xl photo: stummerer | hablesreiter | kรถb (2009)

symbolic bread | out of food design xl photo: stummerer | hablesreiter | kรถb (2009)


On previous page: performance APPly TAsTe! ArT, MAk vienna photos: stummerer | hablesreiter (2011)

you've done some art projects with food yourselves, haven't you? Yes, we have done a few projects. We call them Eat Art. The first one we did was at the Viennese Museum for Applied Arts.   We made a steel structure in the shape of an animal. It was huge – over 4m long and 2.5m high. We filled it with sausages and covered it with dough. Then we baked that with a bunsen burner. It was very abstract.    in a museum, that must have been strange? That was just the start. The people at the show had to slaughter it. And they went crazy. It was like 300 wolves descended on this thing. They ate everything! We were not expecting that reaction at all.   Anything else we should know about? We did a picture called “Table manners” for the Biennale in Guangzhou last year. And for the Salone del Mobile this year we did a two hour performance where we demonstrate the stages of food design.  First we appeared as designers. (This was ironic, obviously). Then we were

blue collar workers producing the food, then scientists. We had several changes of costume! Finally, we dressed as doctors and performed an operation with zucchini and some Gummy Bears.   so you enjoy playing with your food? Yes! People should play with food much more. One of the most successful products of the last thirty years is Ben & Jerry’s. And to me, that has been one big experimental game.    They ask themselves what will people accept? What is the most creative name we can come up with? And it worked. They sold the company to Unilever for something like $ 500 million! And the factory is tiny, it’s less than 1000sq m. It’s always a mistake to take things too seriously.    Are you trying to make a point with your eat Art projects? We want to make people think about what they’re eating. On one hand we do the research, the films and so on.  But we also always try to use humour to make people think about their behaviour and their cultural impact. 

That is one of the big surprises in your book, the relationship between culture and taste. You learn almost everything about food when you’re a child. Almost everything is cultural. There is no instinct against insects for example. You learn they’re somehow disguising.   In the US they learn that you don’t eat kidney or liver. But the funniest story is that chocolate is different between the UK and the rest of Europe. It’s much more crispy in Britain. For them, continental chocolate is too slimey. But this is just learned.    You are integrated into your culture when you start eating different tastes and recipes. Austrian children grow up with Milka chocolate and in the UK it’s Cadbury’s but all these companies are owned by Kraft foods. It’s Philip Morris. But they can’t globalise the recipe for chocolate because people wouldn’t buy it. 


Has globalisation met its match? If you want to design a product which is the same for the worldwide market it will take more than a decade. Like Coca-Cola, that took almost a century of marketing. Are there lessons here for other forms of design? Yes, I think so. Imagine trying to design a product for the whole EU. It would be almost impossible. But then, why should you? It makes much more sense to integrate with local culture.  One of my favourite stories is about CupNoodles. They have to vary their recipe because people all over the world eat their soup at different temperatures… But everywhere the noodle has to be done just right! It has to be al-dente but at a different temperature. In Japan they like soup at 92 degrees. Here we like it at 80 or so.   

performance food operation 012 hackedmilan (2012)


everyBOdy needs TO eAT, And everyBOdy creATes wHen THey eAT.

what about food colour, is that learned too? We thought for ages that this was instinctual but colour is also cultural. Psychologists told us for ages that we prefer red foods. There’s the story about Gummy Bears – they always double the amount of red bears in each pack because people say the red ones are the best. But in blind tests it’s the white ones people like. And anyway, in Japan they say that the instinctual preference is for white foods, not red. Maybe this is because in Japan the main food is rice and the best rice is very white.    There's quite a lot about Japanese food on food design Xl, was that a particularly interesting area to study? We had a special relationship with Japan because we lived there for a year and had some strange experiences relating to food. Like the chocolate cake that was sliced the wrong way – there’s a picture in the book. This really happened to us.    is it even possible to slice a cake incorrectly? Well, we brought this cake into the office where were working and someone took it away to be cut up. But when it came back they had sliced it from one side to the other and not from the centre!    At first, we were like, "how can you do that!?" But then we started to wonder why we do it our way. This lead us to research how food is divided...  

Actually, they think completely differently about their food in Japan. For example, we always eat one, three or five pieces of something. Whereas there, it’s two, four or six. They are not circular, they are rectangular. That’s far too artificial for us.   Someone said that this is because the system of hierarchies differ. In Europe we try to be egalitarian at mealtimes. Everyone is the same. But in Japan, when they sit down to eat, they like to show the hierarchy off.  so it's not just production, consumption of food is cultural too? Yes. Actually, that’s the subject of our next project: Eat Design. We want to find out how our table manners appeared. Why do we use table and chairs? Why do different cultures use different cutlery? Right down to what we wear at the table and how the hierarchy works. The only thing is, this research is making it hard to train our kids to sit at the table!

colors | out of food design xl photo: stummerer | hablesreiter | löckinger (2009)


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Sonja Stummerer & Martin Hablesreiter

28 November 2012, 6.30 pm Mudam Luxembourg

11.28 FOOD_FLYER 148x148.indd 1

06/09/12 11:44

This catalogue is published for Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter's lecture at Mudam Luxembourg on November 28, 2012 organized by Design Friends.

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Sonja Stummerer & Martin Hablesreiter  

According to Austrian designers Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter, “People should talk about food as an aspect of culture, as the most...

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