Playing With Your Food

Most of us I suspect were, at one time or another, as children accused of playing with our food. The implication being that either we were avoiding eating it or we were not taking eating seriously enough, and in any case that we should be eating the food place in front of us. I also suspect that most of my readers who care for a child have extended the chain. After watching a TED talk by Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche I am wondering if this has a greater impact than we know.

The talk starts with a tale about their creation of a piece of paper that tastes like a maki roll, and follows with tales of their increasingly complex attempts to make food which restores the interest of diners who have lost interest in food that is merely printed. I enjoy cooking and dislike giving up, so continued watching; however I was beginning to feel they were boasting about cleverness for cleverness sake. I am glad I did.

The concept of making something taste like something else is not new to me; I have been using smoked paprika to make vegetarian dishes that evoke the same satisfaction in non-vegetarians as eating bacon for many years. However, I had not moved onto the next step: turning vegetable matter from your immediate surroundings into a replacement for rare or distance produce. The possibilities for reducing food miles and pressure on food stocks amazed me.

It was unclear from the talk whether their recipes required the addition of manufactured compounds or how well they could be reproduced without years of experience, so it might not be a perfect solution for day-to-day food in the western world. Even so, a product that can turn local vegetation into a more edible form might offer a way to cut the volume of supplies needed for disaster or famine relief.

I planned this post as a piece on how dismissing chefs for seeking to make flavoured paper, and by extension anyone seeking to do something just to see if they can, potentially wastes the opportunity to have that aha! moment that gives you new ideas. While I was writing it I realised there might be another issue.

Despite being a good cook it took me some time to move beyond looking up what works in books and just putting things that feel right together to see what happens, and I am not alone. One of my friends is brilliant at producing vegetarian fusion buffets containing many dishes in a tiny kitchen; however, when serving it to the table he instructs all the guests in which order and volume they must put the various fillings in their wrap. Watching the talk has made me wonder how much of an obstacle in later life to experimentation being told not to play with our food can be.

I do not believe that we need to encourage children to play with food; however, I do think that considering why we might be the way we are can only aid us in building on the past, both for self-development and future generations. If nothing else this speculation might make it easier for me to tolerate other people’s children in restaurants.

Are there activities you mock without proper consideration? Do you think play (or its adult mask experimentation) is sometimes without benefit?

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Homaru Cantu and Ben Roche Brings mberry to TED (


4 thoughts on “Playing With Your Food

  1. I’m not sure that I can imagine play ever being without benefit, unless it was harming someone else (like running up to a stranger and playing with *their* food) or playing with someone’s reactions to your words or something like that. But playing where it is safe, where we are with our own “toys” or whatever the equivalent is- musical instruments, pen and paper, food, paint – I feel like without that element of free play, true art would perhaps not really exist.


    1. I definitely agree playing with non-volunteers is less beneficial than personal exploration.

      Oddly the social legitimacy of each seems often to be the other way around. For example, prank-shows (e.g. secretly filming someone using an exploding ketchup bottle) are legitimate and the victim would be mocked for not being a good sport, but art for art’s sake is widely mocked.


      1. That’s a good point! I didn’t even think of that. For some reason it reminds me of Bansky’s art- it’s like he found a way to play with the third party without being invasive, but through the art, your mind is truly touched.


        1. Graffiti is a great comparison. I am often conflicted by beautiful graffiti, as it can make a building look better but at the same time attack the owner’s attempt to present their property as they choose.

          I feel there are two types of graffiti: art that is added to existing structures instead of more traditional canvases, and tagging out of a feeling of disassociation from traditional methods of obtaining attention. Banksy for me does not feel like he is forcing the work onto bystanders because it comes from art and not attention-seeking.


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