Man Only Dines #2

For each of us there will be a restaurant, cafe or takeaway that we went to for the first time without parental consent or instruction. At the age of thirteen, McDonald’s was the venue in which I chose to commemorate this independent decision making.

The act of using chopsticks symbolises my current passion for oriental cuisine and embodies the knowledge and experiences I have acquired over the past nineteen years. The act of bookending my dining decisions hopes to highlight the conflict between my teenage preferences and the adult choices I make today.

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Getting over the slump

I’ve been a bit stuck the past couple of days, unable to see truth or purpose in any of the work I have been making. In order to move on from this I’d like to summarise what I know about eating culture and what I have been able to observe and determine from my research?

  1. Convenience food is dominating lunch times.
  2. Convenience restaurants are suited to ‘on the go’ lifestyle; quick service and public (bench) seating.
  3. Convenience food is fast.
  4. Convenience food is eaten off premises.
  5. Convenience food is eaten on premises in disposable packaging.
  6. Convenience packaging is single use.
  7. Convenience food is mass produced.
  8. Convenience packaging is mass produced.

 

  1. Ceramics remains prevalent at home and full-service dining.
  2. Ceramics is being replaced in all other places aside from those mentioned above.
  3. Ceramics is often used with a table cloth.
  4. Ceramics is often used with slow food.
  5. Ceramics is often made for Michelin restaurants.

 

  1. The knife is disappearing from English eating habits.
  2. Paraphernalia is used to match the culture (chopsticks, spoon, hands, bread) when dining out.

 

  1. I love eating out.
  2. I love cooking.
  3. I use paraphernalia to match the cultural roots of the food (chopsticks etc) even at home.
  4. I set out a full place setting but often the knife goes unused.
  5. I cook dishes from different cultures and chefs.
  6. I’m currently interested in Yotam Ottolenghi – his food is great and his cultural capital is vast. (Gay Jew from Jerusalem, string of London restaurants, recipe books, writes for the Guardian)
  7. Cooking food from chefs I perceive to have integrity adds to my cultural capital.
  8. I tell people about recipes they should attempt.
  9. I cook nothing from Anthony Worrall-Thompson or Gary Rhodes.
  10. I have a guilty pleasure for McDonalds and KFC but cant face eating it publicly.
  11. I buy my food from Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and local independent retailers.
  12. I feel comfortable telling people I buy from the aforementioned retailers. 
  13. I’d love to be vegetarian.
  14. I can’t digest vast quantities of dairy without embarrassing myself.

 

I dont eat:

  1. Dairy from cows – cheese, milk, ice cream, butter.
  2. Cucumber.
  3. Black pudding.
  4. Olives.
  5. Cold cured meats like salami.
  6. Pork.

Potential ideas from this reflection on action

  • Ceramic food in disposable packaging – slip coating disposable packaging didn’t work as mentioned in the previous post. If the packaging cant be ceramic, maybe the food can. 
  • Portraits of people from what they don’t eat; highlighting the middle class obsession with dietary disorders and the  moral high ground of food origins. (Veganism, buying local, responsible products)
  • Highlighting the connection between the remaining constant link of ceramics and tablecloths. 

Chopsticks and Signifiers

When I began making my own press-mold porcelain chopsticks (from previous article), I thought a pair of two same length sticks would be enough to quantify as chopsticks.

The pair of porcelain sticks perform exactly like chopsticks (as seen below), they can lift food from one place to another. But they are difficult to recognise as chopsticks when not in action.

So what signifiers does a chopstick possess that informs the viewer of its authenticity?

This video, following the making method of wooden chopsticks provided some key insights.

In this video the man makes two chopsticks cut from a tree on his own land. Important stages in this process include:

1) two lengths of the same material

2) two lengths the same size

3) tapered ends

4) decoration (somewhat minimal)

So if I am to produce objects that can be recognised as chopsticks I must achieve all four signs.

Potential, and ultimately minimal, decoration could be achieved with a simple enamel glaze in the traditional porcelain style of blue and white.

Similarly I am attempting methods to refine the tapering process in order to achieve desirable objects. Potentially these objects could bring opportunities for ceramics to be used in conjunction with convenience meals.

I’ve never been to China, so why do I use chopsticks?

In my previous post You Are What You Eat I suggested the following reasons why British people use chopsticks in place of a knife and fork:

  • Oriental meal – etiquette, the proper way.
  • Authentic – despite the challenge.
  • Demonstrates cultural awareness.
  • Social pressures- being seen to be doing the right thing.

I have spoken to a lot of people about this act recently; I wanted to get a grasp on what using chopsticks meant to a breadth of people. I asked a diverse bunch, some cosmopolitain city dwellers and some traditional types. It is no surprise that the traditional types rationalised the use of chopsticks as simply showing off,  pretentious even; however, interestingly so did a few of my more cosmopolitan chums – people who I’ve seen use chopsticks. Theirs wasn’t such a blunt offering of pretentiousness, but more discreetly suggested as showing that you know about other cultures, or demonstrating more cultural awareness than one actually possesses.

So for some the simple reasoning that as a non native culinary tool, chopsticks are rationalised as being more difficult to use and therefore the drive to use them is more than simply getting food from plate to mouth.

It seems that the drive to use chopsticks instead of a knife and fork is driven more by social standing than it is about getting food to your mouth. Therefore the chopstick is a tool loaded with potential cultural gold. Being able to use chopsticks says so much more than simply demonstrating your ability to transfer food.

Many-chopsticks

From top to bottom: Taiwanese melamine chopsticks, Chinese porcelain chopsticks, Tibetan bamboo chopsticks, Vietnamese palmwood chopsticks, Korean stainless flat chopsticks with matching spoon, Japanese couple’s set (two pairs), Japanese child’s chopsticks, and disposable “waribashi” (in wrapper)

Interestingly, most of the people I asked have never visited China or any other Asian culture. Likewise, I have never been to Asia so there has been no real need to have ever learned how to use chopsticks; and yet I have.

Learning to operate a tool which is much more difficult than ones native culinary tools carries with it some kudos and if you’ve learnt how to use chopsticks then you must have had a lot of experience with oriental food. These are all the subliminal messages carried by ones proficiency when using chopsticks.

Artistically, I am interested by this notion of different lengths of chopstick. In Britain more kudos and value would be given to being able to master the bigger, longer tool. What if the length of the chopstick demonstrated ones cultural understanding? The bigger the better? 

Contestant-Cody-Candelario-during-a-chopsticks-challenge-on-Food-Networks-Cutthroat-Kitchen-1024x683

The Issue with Chopsticks

I came across this issue with chopsticks as part of my Man Only Dines research.

The use of disposable chopsticks has long been a preferred method of eating in China for convenience and sanitation; particularly since the SARS outbreak in 2003. Normally the use of wood instead of plastic would be advocated, however it is estimated that China produces 80billion chopsticks a year. Thats equal to 20 million 20 year old trees, placing considerable impact on the natural environment.

discarded-chopstic_2507961b

Since 2006, China has imposed a 5% tax  as a deterrent to using disposable chopsticks, however it is Taiwan that is taking up the BYO chopstick mantle; as demonstrated in the following images.

In an article called  Think Before You Use: The problem with disposable chopsticks, Emily Kuo states that:

We need more creative ways to encourage people to switch from disposable chopsticks to reusable ones.

She lists a range of plastic, screw together options (similar to those shown above), but none come close to using a familiar, natural  material when compared to plastic. The natural answer feels to make the chopsticks out of ceramics, an unusual but pre-existing process.

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Ceramics can be decorative, easy to clean and has permanence. The ceramic chopstick could be the answer to China’s problem.

 

 

 

Man Only Dines #1

Mrs Beeton once said that all creatures eat but ‘man only dines’. In a bit to explore the ability to transition between different social tribes by understanding cultural expectations I have produced a video piece.

Using the chopstick as a marker for a pre-existing social transition, the video documents the (clumsily and sometimes repulsive) eating of a Big Mac – two bookends for my diet; from uncultured teenager to culturally aware adult.

This video is the start of an experiential learning process and is not demonstrative of a final polished piece.

MOD screen shots

 

You Are What You Eat

This famous phrase forms the bases for my new line of inquiry. We live in a world obsessed by what we eat – whether you’re addicted to junk food, whether you overshare great restaurants and recipes on Instagram or are just simply confused about which products suit your ethics. Food is a big part of our contemporary society in the UK.

Today I ate:

  • Porridge with blueberries, sultanas and nuts.
  • 2 slices of toast with peanut butter.
  • Mackerel and broccoli stir-fry with rice.
  • 9 chicken McNuggets
  • 1 McDonald’s Hamburger
  • 1 Big Mac
  • 1 small fries.

The last four helpings were all in the name of art, I promise (more to follow shortly). I can still feel the last bite of the Big Mac trapped somewhere. But what I have just offered up is an opportunity to judge me, and we all do it. We define ourselves by where we eat and what we eat.

At my birthday meal last week everyone at the table was using chopsticks proficiently. Being proficient is one thing, but chopsticks are still more difficult to operate…so why use them in place of a knife and fork? I use chopsticks at every oriental meal, I even used them for the mackerel stir-fry I ate earlier…at home. Yet still I was surprised that ten people elected to use chopsticks over a knife and fork.

 

Reasons for using chopsticks:

  • Oriental meal – etiquette, the proper way.
  • Authentic – despite the challenge.
  • Demonstrates cultural awareness.
  • Social pressures- being seen to be doing the right thing.

 

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Now, living in a multicultural city is clearly the most obvious reason why every guest at the meal had learned to use this authentic method of eating. Exposure to different foods etc is common in the city. I will normally dine out at least one night a week. One night in a month will easily be pan Asian…and I will use chopsticks.

However, what interests me is that I didn’t need to learn this skill. A knife and fork is nearly always offered alongside chopsticks. I only ever used a knife and fork back home on the Isle of Wight and likely it it is still the same for many people today. In most rural areas around the UK it could even be considered pretentious to use chopsticks.

The chopstick is quickly becoming an object that speaks of my cultural journey over the past fourteen years. It highlights the differences between my rural upbringing and my present city life, through the food I eat and the tools I use.