Is food art? That depends. Some will immediately jump the gun and say yes, while others with more reserve will say no. In a full analysis, the nature of food and art would both need to be fully understood in order to identify all the common variables in each. Unfortunately, this would consider us asking the big question “What is art?” which would then lead us on a rabbit chase to nowhere. The same also goes for food, since anything can be put in a person’s mouth and digested even if it should not be— such as accidentally eat quarters when you’re a child or the practice of cannibalism. Faced with two abstract ideas that have no defining limitations, does this then mean that each subject is fluid enough for us to agree that yes, art is food and food is art? Is everything I’ve written so far completely inconclusive and I’m only relying on questions to fill up space for this article which I procrastinated on writing? Hint: at least one of these questions is answerable.
And now here are two stories you didn’t ask for:
1. Two weeks ago, I made fortune cookies for a concept studio project. Each “fortune” had a written observation that I’d made throughout the previous month such as “Today I ran out of milk” and “Today there was a shooting in Las Vegas.” When it was time to present, I corresponded cookie sizes with the level of emotional reactions I had to the fortunes inside of them. On an empty table, I organized each cookie in a grid formation that represented a calendar with one cookie for every day. I had spent weeks with my friends practicing and mastering fortune cookie baking, and I submitted my project as an art piece for a grade. In my own opinion, I consider what I made to be art.
2. One month ago, I went to a Noodles and Company and ordered a pasta bowl. It was disgusting. I ended up vomiting in the bathroom ten minutes later. I would not consider my food nor my experience to be in any way related to art.
The line between these two experiences is faint but to a degree supports my opinion on the debate. While I am not about to delve into what is or isn’t art, frequent hallmarks of art include its ability to infuse creativity in a form or concept that then receives value from the reactions of an audience. While some art plays to a specific community, other art (often found in museums) presents itself for consumption by the masses from every background. Art can incorporate social or cultural influences in its concept, and it’s capable of having complex to weak concepts as a baseline. Just as Chef Gusto states in Disney’s Ratatouille, “Anyone can cook,” art can be created anywhere by anyone. These same characteristics apply to food in its preparation, presentation, and consumption.
When I made the fortune cookies, the inspiration stemmed from the fact that in the afternoons I am hungry and I want to be able to eat something in Concept Studio. Involving food into my project while keeping the project’s concept in mind allowed me to efficiently achieve a two-birds-with-one-stone effect that satisfied myself and my professor. The deeper meaning did not exist until it was critiqued by my peers, but both my friends and professor could obviously see the pan-Asian influences and connected them to the fact that I myself am Chinese-American. On a technical level, the artistry involved in tweaking the recipe until it was perfect, and finding the best technique for folding exemplified the creative problem solving and process. On the day of critique, my peers also commented on the simple vanilla taste of the cookies and told me they all enjoyed engaging with my project.
Weeks prior at Noodles and Company, I ordered my food and paid for it (just as any art collector SHOULD DO) and could see the people (from different backgrounds) behind the counter creating my bowl and adding in the proper ingredients required. Although the dish came from an American company, obvious Italian cultural influences were present in its form and explosion of flavor. As a menu item, it can be ordered and enjoyed by anyone; however, I was not the audience in mind.Ultimately, I value the dish as shit due to the fact that I threw up.
These two seemingly different experiences find a common ground due to their similarities with my definition of art. Nonetheless, my experiences with each still do not definitively allow me to delegate if one or the other or both are really art or its own category. I know there are parts of food and the food industry that I failed to account for, such as chain restaurants, allergies, and the influence of people within the business. The same goes for my familiarity with the entire art industry. But is what I now believe really enough for an answer? Is what you believe enough?