18 Food and Cooking as Art

Chantelle Warner

WBP Festival ´13, Christian Leitner is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Level: 

Beginning/Intermediate

Keywords:

description ⧫ adjectives ⧫ food ⧫ cooking ⧫ preference & habits

Summary: 

This multi-day lesson explores our relationship with and habits related to food. In particular, the role of food in our lives as aesthetic experiences, which engage our five senses. This creates opportunities for students to reflect on their own preferences and how those are shaped not only by nutritional needs, but through cultural influences and personal predilections. On the first day, students reflect on these more generally. This sets the foundation for the students’ explorations of how art can make our relationships with food and eating visible through the use of different compositional designs. Whether or not students have access to an art gallery for this set of lessons, they can consider how different media convey various dimensions of what food means for us and for others.

Learning objectives: 

  • Can talk about eating habits and preferences
  • Can reflect on the ways in which our eating habits and preferences are influenced by health and cultural factors.
  • Can describe the dishes in detail using all five senses.
  • Can, in connection to these functions, read simple texts, analyze and draft, for example, restaurant review, web pages.

DAY 1: Food as Culture

This first set of activities is designed to invite students to use language they will typically have learned in a chapter on eating and drinking to begin to reflect on their own habits and preferences and the ways in which those are shaped through culture and society. 

Discussing our eating habits

This discussion can be done first as a pair or small group activity in class or as a homework assignment to be brought into class. In online and hybrid classes, it also works well as a discussion board. Important is that these individual responses build in some way towards comparisons and ultimately toward a sense of commonalities and differences within the class. For example, this can be done by gathering answers on a board in the classroom and asking students to create graphic organizers representing the classroom trends. 

A. What do you eat? What do you drink?

Discuss the following questions with your partner.

  1. What do you like to eat? What don’t you like to eat?
  2. What do you like to drink? What don’t you like to drink?
  3. What do you like to eat or drink for breakfast?
  4. What do you like to eat or drink for lunch?
  5. What do you like to eat or drink for dinner?
  6. What do you like to eat or drink for dessert?
  7. Do you have a favorite dish? If yes, what?
  8. Do you have a favorite drink? If yes, what?
B. What do we eat?

Compare your answers with your classmates. Which similarities do you see? Are there typical meals for our class? Which dishes do we consider to be our favorite? Gather your answers in the following table.

Food category Answers
Meat dishes  

 

Noodle dishes  

 

Vegetable dishes  

 

Seafood/Fish dishes  

 

Soups / Stew  

 

Pizza  

 

Potato dishes  

 

No favorite dishes  

 

C. What do they eat?

The following list shows how Americans responded to the question “Which dishes do you consider to be your favorite?” What do you notice? Compare the answers from the list with those of the class.

Americans’ Favorite Foods 

  1. Mashed potatoes 85%
  2. French fries 83%
  3. Grilled cheese 83%
  4. Hash browns 82%
  5. Hamburgers 81%
  6. Corn on the cob 80%
  7. Steak and baked potato 80%
  8. Cheeseburger 80%
  9. Fried chicken 80%
  10. Southern-style fried chicken 78%
D. What does the world eat?

These descriptions can be written first as in pairs or small groups in class or as a homework assignment to be brought into class and compared with peers. When sharing their descriptions, students can be pushed to elaborate with adjectives, which also helps to set them up for the museum activities on Day 3.

Die Fotoserie “Hungry Planet” vom amerikanischen Fotograf Peter Menzel (The photo series “Hungry Planet” by american photographer Peter Menzel) shows what people around the globe eat in a week. Look at the photos from the US (page 19). Describe the photo. What do you see? What does the family buy? Try to guess, where do they shop?

N.B. You can also include images from other countries either by inviting students who come from outside the US or who have family ties with countries outside the US to describe and discuss photos from those places and/or by divvying the images between the class. 

Now look at the photo from Germany (page 15). Describe the photo. What do you see? What does the family buy? Try to guess, do they shop?

Compare the two photos. Which similarities and differences do you see?

E. Why do we eat this way?

Today, what, when and where we eat, depends on relatively few biological constants like digestibility and tolerance. Different diets are rather historical and cultural.

Look at the photo from the US once more. In what ways do you find the eating habits of this family typical? Which cultural influences may come into play here?

Look at the photo from Germany one more time. Guess which cultural influences may come into play here?

DAY 2: Food in Art 

This next set of activities takes learners into the museum, but these could also be adapted to a virtual art exhibit. The aim is to use the visual depiction of food in the works of art to push learners’ descriptions of food as a multisensory experience. This then builds towards a discussion of our aesthetic relations to art, which is continued on the third day. 

The connection of food and art has a long tradition. From the fruit bowl in still life to fotos of food fetish photos on Instagram, we make artworks out of food. And today, we don’t just eat to get full or to stay healthy, but to also enjoy an aesthetic experience. While eating, all our senses are needed and demanded. The first thing we often notice and what whets our appetite is the visual.

A. Experiencing Food in Art

This activity can be done in pairs, but allowing students to explore the art works individually allows for a greater variety of responses and a richer diversity of sensations. 

Look at all the pictures in the exhibition and choose one picture you find interesting or enticing.

Take a closer look at the picture and imagine yourself standing in the picture. The food is right in front of you. Reflect on the following questions:

  • What do you see?
  • What do you smell?

Imagine yourself tasting the food

  • How does it taste?
  • When you bite in, what do you hear? How is the texture? How cold/warm is it?

Make notes in the table

My picture ________________________________ (Title/Artist)

 

What does the food look like? How does it smell? How does it taste?  How is the consistency?
colorful – fresh – new – old – ripe – mouldy – stale positiv: aromatic –  enticing – aromatic – aphrodisiac; neutral: spicy – cheesy; negativ: stinky – piercing positiv: delicious –  delightful – splendid – savory – colorful – tender – tasty – rustic – revolutionary – vibrant – posh; neutral: spicy- tasteless – sweet – sugar-sweet – mild – bitter – sour; negativ: stale – gross – brazen – boring solid – liquid – wett – foamy – dry – oily – watery – cheesy – creamy – fatty – mushy – hard – slippery – soft – crispy – fluffy – furry – rubbery – thick – thin – dusty – powdery
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B. Food and Aesthetic

This discussion can be done first in small groups, but ultimately it should lead to a whole-class conversation around what sensations are praised and valued in our society. The commonalities will be important to highlight, while moderating the discussion, but individual differences are also important here to show that taste is both personal and culturally shaped. 

Even though the artworks represent food visually, you have already seen how all five senses can be evoked as a result. Which sensory experience do you thus perceive positively?

Compare your answers in the table with those of your classmates. Which visuals, sensations appear frequently in the list? Which ones do you consider positive? What does that say about the aesthetic dimensions of food and the sensations we cherish?

C. Food in Art

This final set of reflections asks students to look back at the art work as a constructed composition, which evokes not only physical sensations but also other feelings, moods, and cultural symbols. The questions can be assigned first as homework or can be discussed in class. 

Analyze the image structure (i.e., the composition of the image)

  • Where do you look first? Which elements attract you? Which elements are highlighted?
  • How are specific visual elements highlighted? Through exaggerated or understated sizes? Through color? Through a particular perspective?
  • Which effects do the colors in the image have?
  • How realistic is the image? Is it exaggerated/understated/fantastic?
  • Which emotions does the image elicit?
  • What does the image reveal about food and/or our relationship to food?

DAY 3: Food as Art

This final day builds off of the reflections and discussions from the second day, but shifts the attention to a more ubiquitous form of food art – the Instagram art post. 

If your class only has two days for these lessons, the second and third day could be reduced by bringing in works of art from online exhibits and then compare and contrast them with the images in the article discussed below.

“One does not play with food!” – but perhaps? We all learned that as kids. But the rules in the era of social media have slightly changed. Food on Instagram is not just played with but also artistically represented. Photos and videos of food are shared, new hashtags generated and a new Food-Community grows.

  • Reflect: Have you posted food pictures online? If yes, why and on what occasion?
  • Which associations do you have with the concept of Foodporn?

In an article from the magazine Brigitte, two artists who turn food into are the focus. Skim through the article and look at the photos: (these artists are turning food into art)  “Diese Künstler machen Essen zu Kunst”

  • What kind of food is depicted in the photos?
  • Which words have been used in the text to describe the photos?
  • Guess: Why has the artist chosen these dishes?

Analyze the composition of the images:

  • Where do you look first? Which elements attract you? Which elements are highlighted?
  • How are specific visual elements highlighted? Through exaggerated or understated sizes? Through color? Through a particular perspective?
  • Which effects do the colors in the image have?
  • How realistic is the image? Is it exaggerated/understated/fantastic?
  • Which emotions does the image elicit?
  • What does the image reveal about food and/or our relationship to food?

You may ask students to choose only one image or to divide the images between the students in order to save some time and narrow the focus of the descriptions.

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