Last night we were invited to celebrate the plenty at the third edition of the Neo-Futurist Dinner series at Mediamatic in Amsterdam. This time, the night was hosted by Dutch artist and curator Arne Hendriks, who teamed up with "shaman chef" Thorwald Voss to dish out a radical gastronomical experience that entailed serving 50 attendees the same thing, over and over again: cabbage.
Think of eating not as an act of consumption, but as a productive activity. With each morsel of food we put in our mouths we shape the landscapes and food systems around us.
Now who would have thought that such a humble crop could be so versatile? Turns out, cabbage can be served both in very theatrical and modest ways, especially when the meal is well-orchestrated across nine courses with dishes from eleven different countries.
An elegant display of white candles and small-sized rectangle wooden boards set a curious tone. On view: single raw pieces of white cabbage sitting on top of every board. Dinner was served.
The dinner guests were invited to inaugurate the feast by performing a rather symbolic, yet unexpected act. Each chunck of raw cabbage was meant to be chopped by attendees into fine strips, and added to the big sauerkraut pots distributed along the table. Almost as a rite of passage, we evolved from being 'just consumers' to producers of future sauerkraut, destined to be served at the same restaurant over the coming few days.
In following, the parade of exuberant dishes commenced. Each one accompanied by a distinctive melodic tune to enhance our senses. From sauerkraut croquettes and white cabbage fattoush, to Hiroshima Yaki pancakes and roasted white cabbage nigiri. We even got to taste cabbage that had been cooked for no less than six hours under a heavy crust of salt. For dessert, white cabbage banana ice cream and a strikingly savory sweet bon bon made from - you guessed it - cabbage.
Why so much cabbage? This winter, fields ended up with an extremely good supply of prime organic cabbage surplus, around 60.000 to be exact. Unfortunately, this agricultural over-abundance only meant bad news for farmers like Krispijn. Cabbage had completely lost its economical value, as the market was no longer interested in accepting more of this product, neither purchasing it for a fair price.
Arne refused to let all those perfectly edible vegetables go to waste or be sent straight to landfill. He decided to join forces with chef Thorwald, among others, to challenge the disturbing effects of food surplus and find an alternative way to re-instate the value of white cabbage.
He elaborates on how Krispijn’s harvest was saved and taken in to be served at Mediamatic between the months of December and March. This is how cabbage became the protagonist of the organization’s unique Winter Programme, during which Mediamatic offers an ongoing batch of cabbage soup everyday at cost price. And there's more. Apart from various coleslaw-related workshops, Mediamatic has set up a growing database of simple and high-end cabbage recipes for you to enjoy.
Arne Hendriks, whom you may know as the “father” of The Incredible Shrinking Man, often involves himself in speculative investigations. Like others, he dreams of an alternative economic system that can serve both planet and mankind. He believes there must be a way to embrace abundance, and confront its consequences in the current market economy. With this peculiar dinner, Arne envisions a more balanced relationship between supply and demand, abundance and scarcity, desire and satisfaction.
A desire for less, a desire for small, a desire for simple but good, a desire for depth, not width
How to redesign the current food system? What necessary changes do we need to make? Arne brings these and other urgent questions to the dinner table. In fact, simple things like getting together to share a meal can be a good starting point to revert ‘zero economic value’ and transform it into extra value. Thus, abundance dinners along with other initiatives emerge as positive forces capable of transforming our current food system. But it will only work if we do it together.
The night unfolded like the dream Arne had envisioned. Having the dinner table function as a unifier; a place of community to reflect upon over-abundance, to restore and indulge the true value of the most humble of crops.
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