Defying simplistic categorisation in food / by Paula Hardie

Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe are Cooking Sections, a duo based in London with backgrounds in urban design, architecture and performance. As spatial practitioners, Pascual and Schwabe employ practice-based research, installation, performance, mapping and video to explore geopolitical issues through the lens of food.

A recent interview with Assemble Papers queried the pair on using food as a medium in communicating messages of ecological detriment as a result of geopolitical conditions. One work that demonstrates this was Under The Sea There Is A Hole (2015) which saw twenty five dining tables map out risk zones along the Dead Sea shoreline that had resulted from dam construction in Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, date palm plantations exhausting underground water resources, and the extraction of minerals from evaporation ponds in Israel and Jordan.

A large part of Cooking Section's work is identifying the human influence on surrounding environments and how that influence affects agriculture, food and animals.

The simplistic view we have on food procurement – like food labelling such as 'fair trade' and 'seasonality' according to four seasons regardless of the climate (and climate change) – buries the stories of farmers, soil and animals who become burdened by the marketisation of 'doing good' and 'eating seasonally'.

How do we define what is 'fair' trade in the first place? Pascua implies perhaps not by standardised and expensive certifications...

"When we were in Granada, we met someone who ran a farm who said that there’s a series of economic burdens for them to even apply for these sophistications. Most of the time it’s not affordable – these rules prioritise big farms over small ones – so for him it was more ‘fair’, more ‘organic’, to avoid the labels and initiate a relationship of trust with the supplier in the UK" (Assemble Paper, 2016).

This is a common story among farmers and producers in the South East Queensland area. Understanding that not all growers are certified in one particular way or another, even though they may be growing in fair conditions, allows consumers to think beyond organic.

Removing the marketisation of food – trends, fads, fashions – introduces a new logic of communication and awareness that could be used as a way to redirect food consumption to counter the geopolitical and ecological issues surrounding them. For example, in order to mitigate the invasion of the lionfish in the Atlantic Ocean, traditionally an aquarium fish species, Pascual and Schwabe proposed the adoption of lionfish in everyday diets.

"So instead of thinking of a very fixed vegetarian diet or carnivore diet, we propose that we need to become a bit more flexible; we might need to eat lionfish for three years until the problem is solved. That constitutes for us a new approach to seasons, precisely because of all these disruptions in the environment caused by urbanisation forces" (Assemble Papers 2016).

There is no absolute understanding of what is fair, what is seasonal, or what is ethical because our surrounding economies, ecologies and climate are in a constant state of flux. Speaking to this, Cooking Sections curated a dinner performance called Climavore (2015) which proposed a temporary diet that adapts to the world's states of unsettlement due to climate change. Five food reactions to climate events consisted of the Forever Fertile Season, the Drought Season, the Invasive Season (mmm, lionfish), the Ocean Cleaning Season, and the Desertification Season.

A culinary response to the simplification of food labelling, climate change and geopolitical conditions, all
 shared through a very thought-provoking meal, indeed.

Image taken from Cooking Sections

Image taken from Cooking Sections