Investigating the ways in which we can engage with various senses, probing various means
through which we can enhance our relationship with food,
to consume more mindfully.


︎ Introduction
︎ Structure
👁 Sight 
👂 Sound
🤌 Touch
👃 Smell
👅 Taste
 🏠Home


Ontological Relationships





Food shares a crossmodal multi sensory shared perception with our body. It is experienced in cohesion with each sense overlapping with one another. While it is helpful to know this, it might be useful to probe the relationship of one food with another. Food is partially a socially constructed reality and occupies an ontological niche as both objectively real and culturally constructed. We have observed the objective reality of experiencing food through various senses of a human body. Although, food metaphysics help us identify the food relationships. Food by definition is a source of nutrition to another living thing. Until something is picked up and brought closer to ones mouth, it is just a fruit, a leaf, an insect or another organic matter. “Edibility” and the potential of “been eaten” are not properties of a particular food but rather characteristics of it (Kaplan, 2019).


Kaplan discusses (p. 14, 2019) food only becomes, once it is in relation to something else. To become food—to perceive the ability to become edible by making it palatable and delicious, implies that the organic matter has gone through a series of relationships, through biological, natural and cultural processes. This could be within the soil in which a mushroom has seasoned through years of deforestation (Anna T. Sing tells us the story of Matsutake mushrooms thriving on ruined lands of deforestation) or where factory workers process raw materials to be consumed for the market.


“Nothing is intrinsically food, and things are food in relation to others.” 



The symbiotic relationship of one food to another helps us understand how multiple cycles of food function within each other simultaneously. I investigated one such relationship of food as a last experiment to thoroughly understand food relationships not just through senses, but also in relation to one another and how this impacts us in various ways. The relationship between the life cycle of a dairy cow and parasitic cysts that live and reside within and around the cow is interesting when observed simultaneously. It helps us identify, ontologically, how all organisms seek out others and assimilate them as food.


SENSORIUM


 THE                                                                                                                                                               MAGCD
 SENSING
 ROOM                                                                                                                                                               2020

                   

The Sight





“beautiful but disgusting food”

“I want to eat it, but I also think it has gone off.”

“How does it look visually striking if it seems to have rotten?”
Ricatti (p. 37, 2019) in her PhD studies visual system development about how cross modal interactions are primal to multi sensory perception. Visual information will always trigger your decision making abilities when choosing to eat any food. But science explains that visual sense is not a singular sense but a binding of many senses. The colour of the food along with its texture activates neuronal circuits that stimulate aroma, taste and tactile perception as our senses work in harmony with each other associating with past memories. The texture, shine and colour of a strawberry will determine if the strawberry is sweet and juicy or otherwise. An overly ripened strawberry which appears to be mushy and wrinkly will instantly develop a feeling that the fruit has gone off. Although our visual sight may indicate otherwise, over ripe fruits are always sweeter as the starch is converted into sugar making it softer in effect.





If the texture and visual appearance of a meal is not what the diner expects, the food can be perceived less delicious, despite there being no evidence of variation in its actual taste. Ricatti (p.37, 2019) explains that the reasoning behind this is that food texture plays a key role in delivering gustatory information because our senses are connected at a neuronal level.

In the experiments related to sight, the images (fig. 1, 2 more experiments can be found on website) attempt to capture the essence of food, in the becoming of its almost waste stages. Through textures of photography, exploring how one can eat mindfully. The images attempt to interrogate the raw essence of food, and the reactions it generates with it. The ingredients in the images hitting the flashing glares off the camera lens bind shine in between the shutter speed. While striking conversations through these images with various peers and faculty, it generated responses such as— “beautiful but disgusting imagery”

“I want to eat it, but I also think it has gone off.”

“How does it look visually striking if it seems to have rotted?

There seemed to be something visceral about the images that made the viewers question the edibility of it. The aesthetic appeal of the images leaned towards generating empathetic questions about the wastage of food. Visual cues play an important role in our flavour perception. Over 200 studies (Spence and Piqueras-Fiszman, 2014) document the fact that changing the colour, context and appeal of the food can alter its taste in an individuals mind.

Can we rethink edibility by reiterating the concept of taste? If visual sensory modes have the ability to create illusions around our perception of perfectly fine tasting food, does edibility get a chance to redevelop the perceptions around it? Recognising that edibility has ontological connections can help us understand how we recognise certain foods based on our memory and pre-existing knowledge that we develop through our understandings of culture of food. The images change the concept around edibility by capturing the essence of food in unexpected stages.

The visuals ooze and mould, making a person’s gustatory senses incline towards juiciness yet at the same time make them wonder about the liquid texture separating food ingredients causing them to go mouldy—indicates that we are able to toy with the perception of expectations of taste. Various images from the series capture varied emotions. The images with shrimp, salmon and meat coupled with layers of foil bouncing the light into the scales of the fish—give a perception of the food being laid out on a silver platter, but the parallel blue polythene bag around it confuses the viewer if the food is ready to be eaten or not as a crumpled plastic bag gives out a preconceived perception of waste. The tiny glowing flares illuminating the images creates an illusion of the food being aesthetically appealing. What is aesthetically appealing to the mind is instantly appealing to our gustatory perception.

“Eroticism of disgust” to explain how we are both compelled and repelled by life, death, and organic matter,
in general.

These unsavory things, somehow, make food taste better.



Korsmeyer explains in her paper (Korsmeyer, 2002) about delightful, delicious and disgusting food. She considers how we can enjoy off-putting foods such as caviar, offal and blue cheese. She argues that disgust has a “hidden aesthetic resonance in food, even in the finest cuisines.” Korsmeyer’s discussion points of that food pleasures are learned and interpretative. Repelling concepts of death and decay are not things we always avoid but sometimes we might hold onto. In her paper, she follows the theory of Aurel Kolnai and his theory of the “eroticism of disgust” about how we are equally compelled and repelled by death, and organic matter. It is from this observation that provides a rational explanation to help us understand how the images in the experiments are an insight of unsavoury things that somehow make the food taste better.  





The Sound


There is no language for food—if so, how do we communicate about food?

Listen 

How would you describe the act of biting into a cucumber? The act of savouring a strawberry? What is it like when you squish a caviar between your teeth? Or a bite of juicy chicken?



If food had vocabulary, what would it be? It is impossible to listen to the sound of food, without feeling hungry. From the deliberate juicy crunch of candied strawberries to the satisfying crackle of sea grapes. The cumulative effect is one worth coming back to, creating a newfound appreciation for certain foods (McNeily, 2019)


There is no one universal language for food—if so, how do we communicate about food?

    How would you describe the act of biting into a cucumber? The act of savouring a strawberry? What is it like when you squish a caviar between your teeth? Or a bite of juicy chicken? How do you describe these actions, the feeling that is felt when you ‘hear’ each of these actions. In a conversation with a peer, Julian (2020) he described the act of biting into a cucumber with a German word, “knackig”. The English translation of the word is crisp or crunchy, while Julian disagreed that “knackig” perfectly describes the feeling of biting into a cucumber and crispy or crunchy is not the apt translation of the sound of the bite.

    Taking this into consideration, I made further enquiries into this to probe ways through which we could describe the actions of consuming and tasting food. A group of twelve participants (names are kept anonymous for confidential purposes)  were asked to record voice notes to interpret in their own language, voice and noise the following four actions:
    1.  Describing the act of biting into a cucumber
    2. Describing biting into a strawberry
    3. The sound of eating a chicken
    4. The sound of eating caviar 
    The results were a mix of sound interpretations in their own languages and using words to describe the act using their first languages. The action of biting into a cucumber by one of the participants was described through a metaphorical Urdu word—“Taaza” or “Taazgi”, which translates to freshness. Other participants used words like hard crunch and made gushing noises into their microphone (Voice notes will be attached on the website running parallel).

    Biting into a strawberry was associated with words like—“rass bhari” (Urdu), “raseeli” (Hindi), “croque” (French) and metaphors of juiciness in people’s own respective languages like Turkish, French and Polish. The acts of eating chicken was interpreted in voice translations of the sound heard while literally eating a piece chicken. On the contrary eating caviars was interpreted by the visual form of it. A lot of the translations had bubbling and popping noises, while the words used to describe it were associated with the value of the food—“shandaar” (Urdu, translating to larger than life and rich), lavish, “prodiguer” (French), “śliszt” (polish).

    Simply put, words do not do justice to the act of experiencing food.



    None of these acts exactly or rather perfectly describe the actual sound of the food. Hence, (Kaplan, 2019) hermeneutics is helpful here to interpret the acts of food language and sound. The acts of interpretation help in critical thinking. The imaginative and creative language can tell us more about something than a straightforward description can. It may not be literally true but it can be revealing and, in a strange way, truer than non-fiction.

    Sound is synaesthetic. Sound primes us to see. Hence, some of the metaphorical explanations by the participants helped them describe the actions better. Kaplan explains (p. 18, 2019) how sommeliers are known for their metaphors. Words such as velvety, buttery, and delicate to describe features that are not literally perceived from tasting a wine, but sipping wine will actually make you feel the presence of those words in the wine. Creative language lets us speak more when ordinary descriptive language may fall short of doing justice to the explanation.

    Similarly, sound is one of the senses that can impact the diner’s experience of food. Furthermore, a growing number of chefs are now starting to make their dishes more audible by using everything from popping candy to the latest in digital technology (Spence and Piqueras-Fiszman, 2014).


    The nature of food cannot be separated from its relationships and how it is experienced. It depends on how you look at it, what you make of it, and what kind of language you use (Kaplan, 2019).


    Creative language lets us say more when ordinary descriptive language may fall short of doing justice to the explanation.





    The Touch





    Indian culture demands the diner to indulge with their hands. Eating is done with a circular movement of the hands, as the diner gathers the rice with his fingertips or tears off a piece of bread and then uses it to scoop up portions of the other foods. The licking of fingertips to binds two senses together at the juncture of the food in-between touch and taste.


    Touch is amongst the three bodily senses that penetrate the body. The body’s feeling of perception through touch can make us feel the prick of a thorn and the only way to escape the sensation is by detaching yourself from it physically. The receptors in our finger tips gather hyper-detailed data about the things we touch. The sensors on our finger tips can determine the depth of objects much in much more detail than any other part of the body. The touch of a finger in relation to a touch of elbow can help one pick out various levels of detail. For example touching a bag of rice with your hands versus dipping your elbow in it can reveal the texture, volume and size of the bag in much more detail as opposed to the elbow. Touch is layered, you can feel things like the density of a bread and wetness of water.




    Through ancient times, and folklore people have used their bare hands to dig into food. It is not unreasonable to imagine that one of the first early acts of human life would have been reaching out a cupping hand in a pond to drink water. Yorke discussed (p.56, 2019) in Rome 12 AD, people reclined on cushioned couches drinking plenty of wine (of course) while plucking at food with their fingers. Knives made of bronze or wood with iron blades were used to cut meat and spoons carved from bone, bronze or wood were used to drink soup. Albeit there were no forks and the Romans ate with their hands.

    Irrespective of ease of eating, different cultures play a dominant role in determining how people eat. In some cultures, we are taught not to eat with our hands at all. In others, touch acts as an edible medium in the form of tortillas or dal rice and these traditions come with some interesting logic and long tales of folklore behind them.  Today, eating with the hand seems to be growing more uncommon. It took a thousand years to discover a non-reactive metal that didn’t make food taste bad, and then through colonization the culture of cutlery spread around the world (p.56, 2019).





    Indian culture demands the diner to indulge with their hands. Eating is done with a circular movement of the hands, as the diner gathers the rice with his fingertips or tears off a piece of bread and then uses it to scoop up portions of the other foods. The licking of fingertips binds two senses together at the juncture of the food between touch and taste.

    According to Spence and Piqueras-Fiszman (p.174, 2014), for many eastern cultures, the practice of eating with one’s fingers offers a genuinely multisensory approach to dining and one that provides the opportunity for a more sensual, tactile/haptic experience. Of course, as fine dining becomes ever more adventurous and playful however, a growing number of chefs are starting to consider course-specific alternatives to the knife and fork, that is, to traditional cutlery. For example, at the famous El Bulli, you were expected to touch your food before you put it into your mouth.








    On the contrary, in Italian culture cutlery holds the great importance in their dining experience. It is considered rude to eat with your hands. In today’s dining culture, eating with fork and knife is perceived to be well behaved and using hands to eat food is frowned upon. This food etiquette creates boundaries between our sense of touch and food. If senses are cross-modal, then why is there a barrier between touch and taste while eating. Why don’t we touch our food, if research suggests that touching food increases our perception of food tasting better.


    The experiments done with the illustrations and images represent these insights, playing with the symbolic gestures created while handling three yolks. They express the intimate relation food shares with hands. Touching food emphasises you to interact and pay attention towards the food. Yorke (p.56, 2019) explains touching food could perform as a fresh set of “eyes” before we taste and after we see and smell. Similar to our lips, our fingers contain masses of nerve endings, and this would cumulatively contribute to the anticipation of food.




    Touching food emphasises you to interact and pay attention towards the food. Yorke (p.56, 2019) explains touching food could perform as a fresh set of “eyes” before we taste and after we see and smell. Similar to our lips, our fingers contain masses of nerve endings, and this would cumulatively contribute to the anticipation of food.







    The Smell




    Smell is one of the more neglected senses of the body which is also one of the other bodily senses that can penetrate the body. It is biological and happens on a physical level. Olfaction along with our gustatory capabilities create a chemical sense when we smell, which requires molecular-receptive binding to trigger perception. Our odour receptors are located along the olfactory epithelium—a stretch of tissue in the nasal cavity, and the odour molecules can reach them in two ways. Odourants can either enter the nose via the nostrils (orthonasla perception) or can be released in the oral cavity and reach the olfactory epithelium via nasopharynx (retronasal perception). There is a definitive interplay between the two passage through which olfaction is released. While the orthonasal route plays a vital role in smelling the food, the retronasal perception is related with the release of odourants while food is being chewed in the mouth (Ricatti, 2019).

    Olfaction is intimately related to how we communicate socially and feel, we choose our partners and recognise family members by body odours. A specific scent has the ability to evoke forgotten memories or emotions. The relationship we share with smell, long-term memory and emotion is not a trivial one and they all overlap. It is established that smell evokes strong memories (Lupton and Lipps, 2018).

    In the experiments for smell, I created a path of sensory smells to navigate through in a space to observe how smells can evoke certain emotions and create memories. In the activity, I asked a friend to place various food items in a space, of which some were perfectly fine and others mouldy and rotted. I then blindfolded myself and navigated across the space to generate a sensory path using only my olfactory instincts.The smells that were recorded followed a distinct path, some even crossed each-others paths. The images explore a sensory map that was guided through my sense of smell.






    The smells recorded in the path were sensed from my perspective in the following sequence—

    1.  It started with a sense of fruity, berry scent, reminding me of fresh pulp of a      
        berry, either strawberry or raspberry squeezed out in a glass. The texture of the     smell was dense and full-bodied.

    2. I then followed the path sensing my smell changing from fruity to something  
        very fresh. It reminded me of a glass of water waiting to be sipped right by the
        swimming pool with some fresh melon slices in it. The texture of the smell was
        very fresh and the density seemed to have lightened up, hence reminding me of
        summer.

    3. The sense of summer strengthened as I moved to my next spot. This smell was
        distinct and it was citrusy, very much like a lemon but the bitterness of a green
        peel was sensed.

    4. There was a complete shift of smells with the next spot, and this was extremely
        repulsive. It was a rotting smell and it made me sick to my stomach. I instantly
        wanted to detach myself from it, as I could sense the density of molecules
       traveling through my body and bringing back some extremely unpleasant
       feelings. It reminded me of a dead rat, it reminded me of rotted fish, it instantly
        gave the impression that being in this space is going to make me sick.

    5. There was a fifth smell, but it was so mild as it was frozen and over powered by
       the rotting smell from the last spot.



    Now let us investigate these recordings and compare them to the actual site map. The space began with strawberries freshly cut in a bowl, this moved to cucumber slices cut and kept on a chopping board and the third spot on the site was of freshly squeezed lemons. The next smell was a mouldy raspberry which was in a refrigerator, hence the smell was not particularly over powering as it was cold. The last food was a rotting pumpkin refuse bag which was opened to let out all the foul smell.

    The observations made at each point were accurate and precise. Albeit, there were a lot of things happening when these recordings were made. Each experience of smelling a particular food was creating descriptive and visual imagery on a subconscious psychological level. It was reminding me of memories and made me long for certain desires such as a vacation in summers. On another note, it was difficult to be able to describe the smells without having to borrow my vocabulary from other descriptive senses. This is explained well by Kant in his Reflexionen Zur Anthropologie. He says, “all senses have their own descriptive vocabularies, such as red, blue, green for sight and sweet, sour and bitter for taste. Although, we loan our expressions for the sense of smell.” We can say that something smells sour or fruity as we cannot describe our sense of smell otherwise (Jasper and Wagner, 2018).



    We loan our expressions for the sense of smell.” We can say that something smells sour or fruity as we cannot describe our sense of smell otherwise.


    Memories play an important role in sensing smells.



    For someone who has not smelt a lemon before, the context of something smells citrusy is futile as there is no past memory that is aiding to this interpretation of a citrus smell. Memories play an important role in sensing smells. They can relate to significantly emotional episode and create new ones that are immortal (the Proust effect). In this sense, the act of smelling rotted pumpkins brought back some unpleasant memories and also created new ones, as the next time I smell something rotting or unpleasant, it is going to be heightened by this unpleasant memory of the pumpkins.







    The Taste



    It is established through all the experiments above that taste is not in the mouth itself, although it is a binding consequence of all the sensory experiences coming together to generate one flavour. The knowledge received from eating and drinking is more bodily compared to ordinary knowledge as it happens inside our mouth with the help of tongue, nose and stomach. How we taste things is very different compared to how we perceive things on the basis of their looks and sound (Kaplan, 2019).
    Flavour is not in the food, rather it is created within the brain from the molecules of the food received through our sense of taste. The more we understand the brain, the more it aids to our understanding of how flavour is created. Flavour arises from the sense of smell (as we have seen) by unconsciously building from the volatiles coming from the food inside our mouth when we breathe out (Shepherd, 2019).

    Taste is tactile. The sensation of eating doesn’t stop with smelling, seeing, listening and touching. The touch receptors inside the mouth react with the physical qualities of the food. The movements of our jaw and tongue further help our perception of food as we gather the knowledge of the hardness, granularity and texture of food. Food can be smooth, slippery, gooey, drippy and sticky to mention a few.







    A dollop of butter changes its texture from smooth to slippery as it changes it’s consistency to slowly melt inside our mouth.


    One might also react to food’s physical qualities through its temperature and sense the coldness of a drink to the coolness of a mint. Lupton explains in the book, The Senses : Design beyond vision (Lupton, 2018), this diverse group of responses composes the mouthfeel. The mouthfeel is a somatosensory phenomenon—soma refers to body plus our sensory nerves. The texture and temperature of the food contributes to our perception of flavour residing in our mouth rather than our nose.

    As mentioned in the sight experiments, visual cues enhance how flavour is perceived. Our ability to see colour and texture influences our taste. In the experiments conducted for taste, I deconstructed the anatomy of strawberry, butter and kale through its taste perceptions and tried to depict them visually. Deconstructing the balance of sweetness and acidity which is pertinent to the taste of strawberries and the freshness of the smell, is used to depict through the visuals. Similarly, the smooth and slippery texture of the butter is used to illustrate the melting sensation when butter slides into our mouths.






    Flavour and taste is not just a sensory phenomenon, but a natural connector between food systems and human life. Our history, culture, ecology, biodiversity,
    climate all contribute to
    how we taste.



    Position



    As McLuhan (p.41, 2008) expressed the domination of one sense over the other can alter the way we think and act—and the way we perceive the world. Through various experiments, I attempted to enquire these by probing various means of sensing and using graphic communication design as a means to govern for all senses. This indicates that rather than exiting the visual predominancy, we can deprioritise it by deepening our awareness for various senses and equalise them while consuming. It is useful to ask again, how designing through sensing as a means of thinking has proved to be useful in creating a framework for thinking.

    Through experiments, a new understanding of the food is born which was governed by various methodological iterations. It was observed through these experiments how the food exhibited transplanted characteristics of its source in different ways, which appearing strange and difficult to read. Hermeneutics lends its hand to creativity as a creative framework can aid in understanding the relationships of food. The experiments may not be literally true, but they reveal trajectories which can prove to be visceral and depicting reality through non-fictional ways. 

    Challenging a person (whether while dining, cooking or producing food) by heightening their senses can demand the person interacting with the food to be more attentive towards it. While exploring food based through sensory awareness, there was an uninterrupted connection with the food. Savouring the aromas, textures and flavours, there was a reconnection with the senses. Each experiments lent a hand to mindfully consuming fo food by being in sync with the food through our senses. It was easier to allow oneself to be reacquainted with the pleasures of eating by being mindful. By touching, seeing, smelling, listening and tasting, we allow food and the act of eating food to become more personal.

    In the chapter on ‘Adversarial Design as Inquiry and Practice’ by Carl DiSalvo he quotes Dewey, “Inquiry is the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole.” While investigating my inquiry through this experiments, I attempted to generate a systematic revelation of experiments that would prove to be a tool to rethink our relationship with food. Similar to Carl DiSalvo’s justification, this body of work seeks to be a class of demos that sets as course for future mindful consumptions and relationships with food that are experienced and enacted.