FOOD DESIGN AND BEHAVIOR
Since 2003, Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter, have founded design atelier Honey & Bunny, an interdisciplinary studio for ‘eat art’ and food design. Initially trained as architects, they began their journey with food design almost spontaneously when during a trip to Japan they were inspired by the culture around eating. While food design might typically be linked to producing new products, their practice questions the flood of new products and instead tries to design new ways of thinking about items that already exist.
For Honey & Bunny, food design is about three design parameters: our five senses, function and culture. Hablesreiter cites a new study that finds the human nose can distinguish 278 different smells, while our tongue can only differentiate six flavors. Why is it that in Europe people say the red gummy bear is the tastiest while in Japan it's the white gummy bear, he asks? “It’s all about a strict principle of aesthetics, if we change aesthetics we have an opportunity to change lifestyle” he says.
Food Design XL (2005) researches the origins of food in order to understand how and why we eat the way we do. In the book Stummerer states that “the design of food and eating can determine the lifestyle of entire societies." The collective investigates everything from why pizzas are round, to why fish fingers are rectangular. “Every civilization has conserved, transported, cut, cooked, stirred and combined foods, and these histories still influence the way our food is designed,” continues Hablesreiter.
“Food is the most important daily element of life and only a handful of designers work with it” says the duo. They believe that the design of bread can represent how something so simple can hold entangled, and often contradicting histories. “The origins of croissants?” they ask, could have been created in honor of the bakers who prevented the Turks from infiltrating the city of Vienna. Or maybe it has something to do with eating your enemy! - the croissants as the crescent. Design, performance, and art all intertwine to become the very way they urge us to question our eating rituals.
Underlying their experimental theatrics are performances that poke fun at our current norms revealing them as arbitrary as those being performed by a pair of clowns. In their performance Eat Rules Design, Honey and Bunny, adorned in clown makeup, design a color-coded eating experience on a ten feet long table. The dining experience is governed by an alien etiquette that results in a crowd of people desperately trying to get a seat at the table. Eat Design, published in 2012 is a documentation of interventions and performances where the duo showcase the various ways eating instruments, furniture, and spaces can be redesigned. “Why do we eat with weapons on the table, and eat in restaurants rather than parking spots?” they ask.
Each scenario has the performance artists “doing something wrong,” introducing the possibility of change, and removing the sense of inevitability in the way we eat. The supermarket is Honey & Bunny’s favourite site for a performance. When we are deciding between different brands of rice, or deciding to buy a Kinder egg, a supposedly innovative product, we are making a decision that has the impact to further a harmful agenda. It is in the crowded aisles of the supermarket that they ask shopgoers: “How far are we willing to go to produce these objects?" For them it is through behavioral change that food reform can occur in the industry.
Stummerer and Hablesreiter believe that design can be a very political act as it exists at the intersection of consumption and production; it holds the potential to change systems through objects like food. Hablesreiter believes “it is not about the act of removing meat from our diet. Rather it is a question of what we have to win if we were to eat less meat, drive less cars, and eat more consciously.” Their series Sustainable Eatshow, three recorded performances, explores the potentials of food system reform by inspiring us to consider alternative ways of eating. Sustainable Eatshow 1, sees the duo plucking carrots from the soil while a waiter hovers over them. Juxtaposed by the second video where their bodies and food is completely covered in Seran Wrap. It is in the design of these eating scenarios that individual behaviors and decisions concerning food could contribute to a political reform in the food system.
The collective’s work rests on the belief that changing the culture and behavior around eating can lead to a more sustainable food system. It is through their outlandish scenarios that they change the narrative around climate change, food waste, and unethical supply chains.
Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter studied architecture across Europe. After graduation, they worked in Tokyo before founding the transdisciplinary studio focused on social and ecological sustainability; Honey & Bunny in Vienna. They have directed the movie “Food Design”, had an exhibition called “Food Design Humanity” at Lodz/ PL, participated in numerous international exhibitions, and published two books related to that field, have given many international talks, and they currently teach at the New Design University St. Pölten and the University of Salzburg.