Embodiment and the Senses in Food and Fashion
While feeding our dressed bodies, we ‘fashion’—give meaning to—our nourished selves every day. We engage with food daily through embodied practices of eating, tasting and cooking. And we engage with fashion through everyday practices of dressing and wearing clothes. We buy aesthetically pleasing foods in the supermarket, and beautiful fashionable clothes in branded stores. We buy what looks nice, but do we know where the vegetable seeds or cotton were planted, and by whom? Did it exhaust farmland soils and affect local ecosystems? Do we know where the animals we consume lived and how they were treated? Were they injected with growth hormones? Did they have names or numbers? Do we know the makers of our clothes and their stories? And if we knew the answers to these questions, would we still want to nourish and dress our bodies with these foods and clothes?
Similar questions and frictions exist in the fields of food and fashion. As industries, as systems, and as socio-cultural phenomena inextricably related to contemporary (consumer) culture, both food and fashion are directly related to the body and the senses. As Otto von Busch demonstrates in his article ‘Fervent Pharmakon: Food, Fashion and the Haul,’ both food and fashion are closely tied to emotions and to our biosocial beings, offering ‘sweet tastes of aesthetics and sensory pleasure.’ He argues how quick consumption—in these industries of fast and mass production—has paradoxically led to unhealthy addictions (to food and/or social affirmation and self-esteem) and to hunger and emotional starvation. Cooking together or making clothes collectively could, as von Busch suggests, form more intimate and social bonds, as well as healthier relationships with food and fashion. This potential intimate relationship with and the current emotional detachment from the human beings, animals and material objects in food and fashion is also at the heart of the essay ‘Living-With and Dying-With’ by Hanka van der Voet and myself. This essay highlights the urgency of moving beyond current processes of de-humanisation and de-animalisation. In doing so, it argues for the importance of engaging with food and fashion in their radically material forms, as active and affective—living—matter that we sensorially engage with by also including the underprivileged senses. This is a way to move beyond the visual, which is so often privileged in the (symbolic) production of fashion.
Starting from similar observations in the field of food, in their creative practice and design research Paris Selinas and Mark Selby aim to create more awareness of the embodied processes of making food that include the underprivileged senses through actual material engagement. As they point out in their creative practice contribution ‘Action Recipes,’ food—just like fashion—is very much aestheticised in our consumer culture, creating a distance from and reinforcing a hierarchy of the senses (often privileging the visual) in our engagement with the material world. During the ‘Food Friction’ conference,1 they guided a participatory workshop to explore the unrecognised aspects of embodied knowledge when cooking recipes, while creating new video recipes based on instances of embodied cooking actions. In doing so, they aimed to draw more attention to the role of embodiment and sensory engagement in interacting with ingredients, specifically when cooking. The concrete, embodied actions of, for instance, cutting vegetables, tossing salads or stirring soup resonate with the embodied knowledge of, for example, pattern cutting, sewing and stitching clothes. As such, Selinas and Selby’s embodied design research methods could offer interesting possibilities to further explore the embodied and material practices of making and wearing clothes.
All three contributions highlight the importance of further exploring the various relationships between food and fashion. While this has been done, among other ways, in terms of comparing slow food to slow fashion, the contributions here show the opportunities of further exploring these relationships, both in respect of their socio-cultural and systemic similarities and also from sensorial, bodily and emotional perspectives. All three show how embodied research and creative practices in the fields of food and fashion can offer concrete tools to transform how we treat natural/material resources and other living beings. Being out of touch with these sensorial and material matters, these embodied practices help to reengage with the sensorially nourishing matter of food and fashion while potentially strengthening social bonds. This allows us to understand how forming intimate bonds and affective relationships—through collective, participatory embodied practices of making—helps to rethink and redesign more healthy ecosystems.