BE GOOD: THE STUDIO USING DESIGN AND MARKETING TO TACKLE CRUCIAL FOOD ISSUES

“We need a new narrative for people who don’t carry that luggage with them”, explains Food Cabinet’s Helen Kranstauber of labelling green proteins as ‘meat replacement’, ‘substitute’, or ‘alternative’, unappealing propositions for those who are entirely comfortable with the concept of meat.

The Amsterdam-based, change-oriented project and campaign agency take a different approach to most on helping promote awareness of how your eating habits can affect the environment: at a pop-up cabbage restaurant, the agency Kranstauber –founded with Sebastiaan Aalst and Samuel Levie – served up what they called ‘the ultimate burger’. A popular choice – although some complained the ‘meat’ hadn’t been cooked enough.

Herein lies the singular approach Food Cabinet have taken to marketing unsexy foods: as people are resistant to change and find educational approaches off-putting, in treating something like cabbage as a wanton indulgence, the Dutch studio seize the attention of those who’d run a mile at the thought of a ‘meat alternative’. A seismic shift in culture and attitude is needed. Food production and consumption are increasingly considered to be unsustainable, and agriculture is having a profound impact on the earth’s finite resources (over 50 per cent of the world’s crops are used to feed animals and not people) – and the sort of non-preachy, forward-thinking mindset brought to the table by Kranstauber and co. is an invaluable cog in that wheel of change.

Melksalon pop-up with Sietske Klooster. Photo by Nichon Glerum
Melksalon pop-up with Sietske Klooster – by Nichon Glerum

“To truly innovate and create more sustainable systems, we need new perspectives, new values and reflections on the existing system”, said Kranstauber on the occasion of her studio’s Melksalon (Milk Salon) pop-up in collaboration with Dutch designer, Sietske Klooster. Inviting visitors to contribute to the debate about dairy farming’s impact on the environment and landscape, the price of the product, and the meaning of milk in Dutch society, the collaborative event represented a design-led approach to kindling important conversation – a device that Food Cabinet employ time and time again.

“Designers bring in fresh perspectives and ideas. I think we need to facilitate the cooperation of agri and design in a good manner – these are two different worlds with two different languages”, Kranstauber says. Bringing the familiarity of big-brand advertising to vital food consumption issues, Food Cabinet harness those fresh perspectives to communicate pressing matters. Take their Apple to Share campaign, a short video that plays on our smartphone dependency and poses the burning twenty-first century conundrum: have we forgotten what it’s like to share something IRL?

The studio has an expansive portfolio of such projects – from their Big Bang Broccoli campaign that apes the iconic marketing of brands like Apple and Nike and lends a youthful desirability to the cabbage-family green, to Power to the Pieper, a lifestyle cookbook that positions the humble potato as its protagonist – and combines these self-initiated campaigns with managing events like The Future Food Design Awards and The Embassy of Food. These were projects undertaken at last year’s Dutch Design Week, which again encourage the cross-fertilisation of designers and food-thinkers.

Big Bang Broccoli. Photo by Maartje Strijbis
Big Bang Broccoli – by Maartje Strijbis

“You have never been taught about food”, says Food Cabinet director Sebastiaan Aalst in a concise statement that gets straight to the root of our alarming relationship with the substances so integral to our daily lives. Food is intrinsically linked with each and every thing we do, yet most of us don’t appreciate its true value. Starvation is rife, yet many more of us are overweight than underweight; one-third of the world’s food is wasted; and the next 40 years will see us demand more of it than has been produced in the previous 4,000 years. It is about time we are taught.

Bringing learning and experience from other realms into a world that has frequently been bogged down by hippy preconceptions or over-scientific confusion, Food Cabinet make a better understanding of food sustainability and its environmental implications as clearly elucidated as the new iPhone. In a world where Coca-Cola can often be more accessible than clean drinking water, society needs the latter’s marketing nouse to speak directly to a world easily led by the messaging of clever creatives. If we are to truly address the growing problems with which we are faced, the world needs more Food Cabinets. Fast.

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James Davidson
James Davidson is a contributing writer for THE SHIFT and editor-in-chief of We Heart, an online design and lifestyle magazine that he founded in 2009 as a personal blog and now receives over half a million monthly views.