Millimeters

It’s week 20. I’ve handwritten 20 cards so far in 2014. They’re hiding on Instagram. And boy, I love this project. While writing and drawing, I learn a lot. That’s to say: I meet newness. This story is about materials.

San Francisco

In San Francisco, I made the long haul to the MUJI store, located amongst – I could have guessed – a collective of homeware,- and furniture stores. I didn’t realize American city centers apply the mall philosophy to most of their retail. The advantage: it’s a massive MUJI.

MUJI sells stationery, but also clothes and furniture, cooking utensils and bathroom necessities. All in the name of simplicity. Naoto Fukusawa and Jasper Morrison are two designers who have openly contributed to the MUJI collection. Most designers are anonymous to the purchasing public.

Supernormal

In their book Super Normal they point us to those objects, often overseen by the conscious, yet subconsciously greatly valued. The same holds for my MUJI pens: 0.38, 0.5 and 0.7 mm. Each pen makes me draw and write differently. I didn’t expect a tenth of a millimeter difference would inspire new words and images.

The new is so incredibly close.

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Conferentia

Witnessing the design of the annual TEDxAmsterdam-conference since 2009, I’ve seen how the role of conferences is changing. Speaking to conference connoisseur Monique van Dusseldorp one day, she told me that “conferences used to mark a single opportunity to access the latest insights from a field of expertise”. Today, ‘the latest news’ does not require a conference-visit. Nor does linking to fellow professionals, hobbyists or aficionados. We work the web for that.

What then, takes us to conferences these days? A keynote speaker? An impressive guest-list? A business-promise? Maybe (not). I believe it’s the quality of hosting. With that challenge in mind, Pepijn and I accepted to design a conference for a sustainable packaging company.


Photos: Bibi Veth

As a complementary team (he: design, bits-based infrastructure – she: concept, communications), we kicked off the design process with internal workshops to evaluate past conferences and sense needs and expectations. Not to say the past determines the future, but it provided a benchmark for our conference.

We aimed to offer the company and its guests inspiration and practical guidance to prep their businesses for a sustainable future, because “what we practice, is what our future will be” (Toke Moeller, co-founder The Art of Hosting). That included inviting engaging speakers, who shared their entrepreneurial zest, such as Mark Aink and Ynzo van Zanten.


Practical guidance also meant bringing stakeholders in conversation and collectively harvest solutions for a sustainable supply chain (the theme was ‘realizing circular concepts’). Of course, sufficient breaks with local and delish food were one way to go.


Another was to invite Anne Walraven, a young social entrepreneur who collects questions. She then takes these (local, personal) questions to thought leaders across the globe. During her talk, the guests formulated a question for Chinese advocate for international collaboration on sustainability, Peggy Liu.


This way, the conversation of a single moment leads to an answer in the future (and new questions, of course). ‘Realizing circular concepts’ thus included evoking a conversation that continues in people’s minds and hearts after the conference.

‘Conference’ finds its etymological origin in ‘bringing together’. We noticed that, with conscious hosting, people are invited to take responsibility and move “their issues and ideas into wiser actions and innovative solutions that last”.

PS Watch Peggy Liu’s answer here:

Food That Moves

Sounds scary, right? Food that moves, moving food. But what if you take it a little differently? Food that moves you. That gets you into eating more consciously and a whole lot healthier. Although salad bars are a default street corner take-away in parts of the Americas (here’s a Guide To), the Dutch wouldn’t really get it. Salad remained something leafy and too light for our sandwich-loving bellies.

Luckily, salad has now moved up and is definitely more than the finishing touch to a ‘broodje gezond‘. Health-conscious and creative entrepreneurs help pave the way in Amsterdam, many of them are in some way related to the Youth Food Movement. But not all of them. Such as salad bar SLA.

SLA is the creative offspring of Nina Pierson (PUP Concepts) and Jop van de Graaf (DJ, and more). Both experimental eaters gifted with a knack for entrepreneurship. A couple on a mission, inviting you to see, taste and experience how good food can change your life.

Funny, I just copied a sentence from their website, and didn’t feel really guilty. That’s because I was responsible for SLA’s copy. From tagline to tone-of-voice, manifesto to menu and online website to offline packaging. Along the way I discovered how I enjoy conversations with entrepreneurs, or ‘brand-owners’ and support them in bringing their ideology and values to their, in this case, eaters. To get food to move the world.

SLA
Photo: SLA

Experimental Gastronomy

When I met Martin Kullik for the first time, he was exhibiting recycled men’s fashion in one of Amsterdam’s design-wise hottest hotels, the Lloyd Hotel. Martin runs the project space (Steinbeisser) in the Lloyd with Jouw Wijnsma. And, since food is en mode, his next project would be a cooking experiment.

He coined it Experimental Gastronomy and challenged himself, Jouw and his friend Alexander Gehrsberg (experienced vegan chef) to cook with only bio-dynamic and local ingredients. The quest for the right ingredients resulted in a collaboration with the oldest bio-dynamic farm in The Netherlands, Land en Boschzigt, who supplied the vegetables, and wine (amazingly flowery!).

Three days in a row, Martin and Alexander cooked a 5-course meal for a maximum of 20 guests. In a small hotel room with a kitchen. There were no tables, but many chairs, a boxbed and stairs to sit on. The far end of the room was an open kitchen – and everything was prepared in sight. On the other side, a large round table exhibited cutlery from jewelry designer Maki Okamoto. Maki loves the shape of spoons, and designed fusions of spoons and forks for the dinner. The fork shown on the picture below reminds me of a pitchfork – increasing one’s awareness of your food’s road from-farm-to-fork.

Not surprisingly, it turned out to be a true challenge to limit oneself to local and bio-dynamic ingredients. Martin and Alexander explained how they had to compromise on the use of certain oils – to guarantee a desired taste palette of the dishes.

Anyhow, the boys succeeded in inspiring all the guests to cook more vegan. Here’s an incomplete list of what tickled our tongues: nettle soup with thyme, cucumber and daisy flowers (yes, they’re edible!); pumpkin flower (the green part is the best as an after-dinner refreshment); nasturtium blossoms; falafel balls (Alexander is partly Isreali) from kidney beans with parsley, summer savory and chard; pelmeni (Alexander is partly Russian) and a strawberry-sweetened oatmeal cookie with gooseberries (full of vitamin C, fiber and potassium)..

I look forward to the next series of no-frills vegan inspiration!

My First TEDx!

Whilst I’m working on a new version of Living Antenna, things are happening in the meantime – that also contribute to a better idea of what it could, and should be. So in this under construction phase I did not want to withhold this from you: my first TEDx-talk! I was invited to speak at TEDxWageningen, the academic and business food valley of The Netherlands. The theme was “The Emergence of Bio-Based Economies”.

It was exciting to think of what I’d like express to an audience of critical strangers – and amongst some other really inspiring speakers. I decided it’d be best to speak from personal experience, and from what I’m passionate about. And that is – no surprise – about everything typically Living Antenna. In other words: how I believe food, design and sustainability relate, and contribute to each other.

Click here or on the picture to watch the talk!

Unfortunately my microphone was switched off the first three minutes, so I’ve included the first paragraphs for you to read along:

“I’ve got a terrible disease, and my disease is that, in certain areas of my life, I can experience a deep sense of joy, wonder or disappointment. At those moments, I am moved to feel at dis-ease. It happens to me all day long, and the way to cope with that dis-ease, is to ask questions and that is what feeds my personal and professional life. This story is about the symptoms of my disease, and the ideas that result from it.  

The first idea is about what I think is the missing link in (effectively) tackling sustainability issues, then I move on what in our daily lives is one of the major overlooked elements on the road to realize a sustainable future, and I’ll finish by why you, sitting right in front me, can make a difference without any effort whatsoever.

My first observation concerns the whole production and consumption system, where sustainability thinking mainly focuses on optimizing either the pre- or the post-consumption phase. Pre-consumption includes energy efficiency, fair trade and logistics, whereas post-consumption deals with materials, waste and emissions.

But our daily routine of using the products and services we buy, is hardly addressed in present sustainability thinking. It seems as if this consumption phase is a foggy, grey box that we don’t want to look into.

And that is an example of what made me feel at dis-ease, because a substantial part of “unsustainabilities” are hidden in these daily routines. In our standards of normality. The power of standards is that you never question them. Apparently, it’s next to normal to shower for ten minutes, to throw away your boiling water, to only eat perfectly shaped veggies, to turn your home into a tropical paradise in the middle of winter. To me, these standards of normality are an unquestioned opportunity to contribute to a sustainable future.. “

For more, it’s best to just sit back, and watch the talk. I’m really curious what you think of it, so feel free to comment or contribute to the ideas.

Food foraging

The past year I’ve come across so many emergent, and promising food movements, that I decided to publish a series.  This second post introduces you to the world of eating from the forest. Or local park. Or your neighbor’s lawn.

Although one would not expect the Dutch forests to contain edible food, many immigrants find their way to our forests – Moroccan mothers forage ground-elder, whereas the Polish look for mushrooms and the Chinese visit the Dutch coasts to fish.

In The Netherlands this group of foragers adheres to the adagio “harvest without sowing” (oogsten zonder zaaien). The members are well-organized in sharing what and what not to pick, as well as the locations of rich forests and green fields. The “Food Forage Compass” (Wildplukwijzer) is an online Google Map  that shows fruitful locations for food foraging in The Netherlands.

A food blogger who went food foraging in het Vliegenbos in the North of Amsterdam – calling himself a vinex-hunter, because of his urban environment – writes that people frowned upon him, but that his foraged wild chive and ramson made him “happy as a child.” Food foraging is time-intensive, and there is no sufficient food available to forage for a larger public than the current group of hobbyists, without harming forest ecosystems.  In New York, park authorities are already protesting against foraging, because “public lands are not a communal pantry.” But, you might be able to draw a close with that faraway uncle living on the countryside, or just lend some fertile land through Landshare.

Where do you think you’d find edibles in your neighborhood?

Seduce To Reduce

It’s difficult to decipher why people do what they do – and in my opinion, also not something to strive for. It’s too complex. Instead, do something and see how people (or you) respond to it. Hivos, a Dutch non-profit, took this advice very seriously. They are experimenting. Yes. They learn through trial and error, instead of scientifically scrutinizing people’s motivations, needs and drivers.  These experiments are part of their newest campaign – coined the Seduction Project – to engage people in less energy intensive behaviors. But not through paternalizing current behaviors, but instead through seducing (‘nudging‘) people into energy behaviors Hivos considers desirable.

To walk their talk, Hivos organized a Small Climate Summit, bringing together entrepreneurs, researchers and artists who all put forward one idea based on the principles of seduction. Mirte Becker, a game design student, suggested a Light Gun to switch off lights in a playful manner. My friends from Strawberry Earth explained their ‘green deal’ website, that proves that buying ‘green’ is not enough, if you can also buy ‘awesome’. And artist Matthijs Lievaart initiated the Club of 90, encouraging people to drive 90 kms/hour, because “real gangsters are never in a hurry.”

All 10 seductive ideas are summarized in this presentation:

 

 

I look forward to more sustainability initiatives like this, because who doesn’t like to be seduced?

Everything I Have

Writing a thesis on sustainable consumption makes you inspect your lifestyle. Actually, I look at what I do and buy in gloriously geeky detail. And so far, it makes me want to experiment. Not that I want to downshift, no. But it’ll be interesting to see what value I actually assign to everything I own. Of course, all my stuff seems to be relevant to me. Seems, yes. I’m not sure. In a Facebook-discussion with my friend Justus Bruns, I was pointed to this talk of Bruce Sterling by Alper Çuğun.

In his talk, Bruce explains how you go about such a Relevant Personal Stuff Assessment. Start by dividing everything you own into four categories:

1. Beautiful things. Aesthetics are very important. But is it so beautiful you’d want to show it off? Exhibit it? Do you tell your friends about it? If not, it’s not beautiful. Take a (beautiful) picture of it, get the bar-code in case you’d want to re-buy it and share the picture with your external hard-drive, only. Because, “you weren’t born with it,” according to Bruce.

2. Emotionally important things. Also, emotional attachment is important. But, are you going to tell anybody about it? Does the object carry a narrative worth sharing? Or is it just emotionally blackmailing you? If there’s no associated story, better to get rid of it. Again, take the picture. Write the unworthy-of-sharing story too, if you wish.

3. Tools, devices and applications. With getting rid of tools, you lose nothing. Bruce: “You’re only gaining time, space and health.” If you want to keep tools, make sure they’re of highly technical standards. Do not duck-tape your tools. Or make do with tools. They probably break more than they fix.

4. Everything else. Get rid of stuff you never touch. Or haven’t touched in a year.

Amazing project by Simon Evans: Everything I Have

Then, Bruce emphasizes that there is stuff that should be of the highest quality imaginable. Those are objects you use everyday and are physically close to you. That’s a bed, yes – because you spend almost a third of your lifetime in it. Sell Everything else and buy that bed, and a back-friendly chair. And proper cosmetics, because they sit on your cheeks, and eyelashes. Proper shoes. The stuff you wear, and touch on a daily basis. He promises that your “quality of life will skyrocket.”

He even promises that “you will look different, you will act differently – you will become much more of what you already are.”

I have a notebook. And a pen. And lots, and lots of stuff. Time to make some.. lists.

NOTE Although I endorse the idea of getting more value out of less stuff, it is also important to think of what you do with all the books, clothes, crockery and toolboxes you’re going to get rid of. Make sure they get a second life into someone else’s list of Beautiful things or Emotionally important things.

What’s Wrong With Frozen Food?

Most households have one. A refrigerator. Preferably with a freezer tray. We purchase these “time machines” to help us manage  the pressures connected to today’s scheduling and co-ordination of domestic (and work, and social, and.. ) life. We fill them. Sometimes out of necessity, or to cater for those nights you don’t feel like leaving your home. The way you organize your fridge, probably reveals more about you than your Facebook profile.

Originally, I used my fridge as a way to extend the shelf life of some of my vegetables. Not the fruiting ones (such as tomatoes and pepper), but the salads, herbs wrapped in a wet towel and root vegetables (carrots, beetroots). Nowadays, in my small apartment, the fridge has turned into highly valuable space. It is always full. I fill it up for the sake of using all the space I have in my kitchen, for food. And I realize that once the food found a comfortable spot on the back of a shelf, or the left corner of my freezer tray – I totally forget about it.

Don’t they say “out of sight, out of mind”? Well, that definitely holds for me and the contents of my fridge, and freezer in particular. Fridges and freezers make us think food will last forever. But we still throw away more than 30% of the food we buy. Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, even equals “the growth of American refrigerator volume”  to “the growth of American body-mass index”. (Fortunately, my fridge is really, really small.)

To me,  frozen food either needs to become so valuable, or exciting (or pretty – as the berries shown above), that I just cannot forget about it. Till date, what’s on offer in the frozen goods department of many supermarkets does not look appealing. Boxes with squares of spinach, bags with peas and pizza boxes. All catered toward shopping food “we might need”.

Please, learn from Picard! This French food chain specializes in frozen goods. They open gourmet stores in large French cities. Here you find frozen escargots and quiches, instead of peas and pizzas. Frozen vegetables contain more nutrients than the “fresh” vegetables we buy in the supermarket. There are Dutch companies, such as Iglo, who even guarantee that their vegetables are frozen within 24 hours after harvest, making them “field fresh” and thus healthier than what we deem “fresh” produce. Although I can truly appreciate the effort, it won’t suck me into that chilly corner of the supermarket.

So, could you do without your freezer? And your fridge? Or would you die for a see-through fridge, like I do?

Fire Your Stove With Bathroom Waste

As loyal readers might know, I have spent some posts on kitchens before. Well, and the 11th Dutch Design Week only made matters worse. So much food-related design. Philips’ Design Probes designed a larder – or alternative fridge – with storage spaces from natural materials, such as terracotta, which are designed to keep different types of food at different temperatures.

Photo credits: Design Probes.

I very much like the idea of eating amidst your stored food. It reminds you of what exactly you’re eating, how it looked before turned into a meal and it works as a visual reminder to what’s otherwise left unseen in the fridge. The larder also leaves space for herbs and smaller plants, on top. No need to hide them in the fridge anymore. Cooking and eating in your own veggie jungle, I’m excited.

Photo credits: Design Probes.

But there is more. Of course. A kitchen-island, fueled by methane gas, converted from bathroom waste solids and vegetable trimmings. The digester does need a constant supply of waste material and water, but that shouldn’t be a problem. This is using waste from one process as food for another. Literally.

Thanks, Design Probes, for extending my imagination. This should inspire us to design and adapt short-cuts to reduce the huge environmental impact of household resource consumption. As for tonight, I’m off making a cup of tea in my huge electrical water cooker, and taking a shower with perfectly drinkable water. That means there’s still a lot to do.