Cooking Sections or On Food and Art in the Climate Crisis

The artistic duo that wants to change our approach to food (and art)

Reading time: 5 minutes

Among the five collectives selected to compete for this year’s edition of the Turner Prize, Cooking Sections makes its appearance on the list. This duo, composed of Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe, was founded in 2013 in London, stemming from their common interest in architectural research linked to social and environmental dynamics, experienced during their study at Goldsmiths University.

Their artistic production is various and entails different media to convey strong answers to climate change and socio-environmental issues that affect the sphere of the contemporary. It’s difficult to encapsulate single projects into a main artistic medium: Cooking Sections’ bodies of work can be understood as either performances or installations, social architecture, or documentary journalism.

Their most striking ongoing project, CLIMAVORE, dates back to 2015 and questions the recent increasing change in dietary regimes and the usual tripartition in omnivorous, vegetarian, and vegan. The creation of this new term to define a diet implies the avoidance of a moral judgement of an alimentary regime based on the percentage of animal origin products consume  and encourages the consumption of food that pertains to the world during climatic change, as long as it is locally sourced and creates a positive environmental effect.

The Headquarters of the project consist in a social architecture placed on a tidal zone on the island of Skye in Scotland. It is composed of a table and benches made of metal and acts as the point of contact between tidal species (algae, mussels, oysters) and humans. On the site, during low tides, Cooking Sections organise lectures, symposia and meetings with scientists, politicians, professional cooks and activists with the aim of discussing important issues regarding the island and sustainable development of fishing industries.

The project Salmon: A Red Herring that was recently hosted by the Tate Modern in London can be ascribed to the CLIMAVORE program and focuses on the marketing narrative of Scottish Salmon. The diffused brand of this particular fish is at the core of the critique of the collective. They focus mainly on visual aspects, in particular on the colour of the flesh of farmed salmon, claiming its artificiality induced by the feed containing red colourant, meticulously dosed in order to obtain a uniform and salmon-colour resemblance in its tone. Their idea comes from the research by Ai Hisano, professor of History at University of Tokyo, that connects a “capitalism of the senses”, based on sensorial perception of quality, to food consumption. Starting from Salmon they recognise a pattern in human history that is the colouring of the world in its natural colour, following an artificial modification of the original colour. A striking example they provide is the colour orange, recognised and named after the fruit. But what happens if oranges do not turn orange? Consumers won’t consume such a product, so growers (the example given is California) developed a way of dyeing the skin of oranges in orange so that unripe-looking fruits could be sold more easily. Lately, examples of this procedure became countless, virtually any comestible product might be affected sooner or later by this artificial modification. Their scope is to oppose these changes, even if it they appear innocent and not harmful for the ecosystem because even slight modifications can cause in years’ distance an ecological crisis.

Other projects included the study of ecosystems and ancient agricultural techniques, often in hot and dry areas of the planet, carrying out research on how to grow plants with little or no water, and on which species are the most suitable to become the food of the future and how to recuperate useful knowledge from ancient societies.

All these questions and topics might have appealed to the jury of the Turner Prize; this duo may become the future winner thanks to the vastness of their inquiry and audience that they might interest, compared to the other participating collectives. Eating and inhabiting the planet are two universal “actions” or assumptions and their implementation within a sustainable framework appears as urgent and necessary as ever. The idea it’s not to learn how to farm salmon in a sustainable way but rather finding species or alternative food systems that can be suitable in a world on the edge of collapse, threatened by climatic changes, deforestation, extinction among other symptoms.

“What next?” one might ask. We could follow the steps of Tate Modern that, after having hosted the Installation Salmon: A Red Herring, removed salmon from their menu substituting it with a climavore alternative, an action emulated by more than 21 institutions in the UK. In this case the change generated by this type of art is tangible and the concept is already spreading across the Great Britain and beyond.

It’s common to spot similar trends and artistic practices around the globe due to the urgency and relevance of the mission. One example of this virtuous practice operating in the venetian lagoon is Marco Bravetti that within the collective/project “Tocia!” is trying to bring together people in a convivial setting, offering high quality food, locally sourced and in support of the lagoon environment, focusing on the culinary product with artistic and performative undertones. The connection with Cooking Sections appears immediate thanks both to their radical engagement within the artistic sphere (“Cooking is a revolutionary act” is the motto of Tocia!) and to their communal interest in tidal zones, barene in the venetian case, an intermediary geographical area between sea and land, a hybrid space of contamination that can be easily poeticised and that has to be taken care of if we want to preserve it against future destruction.

Sources and suggested reading:

Ai Hisano’s Book “Visualizing Taste”:


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