In a small courtyard, surrounded by white walls that glowed in the evening darkness, people stood huddled under a tree and played a strange game. A thela or vegetable vendor’s cart had been painted with red and white squares like a chessboard, with heaps of food acting as chess pieces. Two women played referees, repeatedly telling players, “If you don’t eat, you can’t play.” The name of the board game, fittingly, was Appetite.
Each player would make a move and then eat a slice of cake or a piece of nachos or drink a shot of soft drink. As they played, food — baby corn, cherry tomatoes, packaged apples, cucumber, soya sticks — was removed from the board and piled on a weighing machine that contained a white and red bowl. Only when the last player had finished the last round, did the referees explain the meaning of the game — the red squares represent the corporations who dominate the food industry, while the whites are the farmers.
“The thela embodies the first point of interaction that consumers have with their food in a typical Indian context. The cake, nachos and soft drink represent food miles and carbon footprints that the players consume to move ahead in the game,” says Suvani Suri, one of the referees, who conceptualised the game with Simran Chopra. The two interactive designers from National Institute of Design were part of a residency titled “InContext: public.art.ecology — Food Edition III” at KHOJ Studios, Khirkee Extension that has, over the years, championed unconventional art. On April 17, Suri and Chopra joined four other artistes to reveal that food, an essential ingredient of life, also has a cutting edge behind it.
A few days before, two Pakistani artistes, Rabbya Naseer and Hurmat Ul Ain had presented Tea Party and Crow Effect Project. The former used chai to address the shared history of India and Pakistan. For the latter — the name is inspired by the belief that a crow cawing in one’s house indicates that one should expect a guest — the duo invited strangers for a meal and conversation.
A meal and conversation also explained Mona Gandhi’s Eat Future Tense, in which guests sat around a table slurping bowls of Burmese Khao Suey. Mumbai-based Gandhi promotes natural, plant-based, food and the Burmese Khao Suey was packed with flavours — steamed moong sprout, pumpkin, potato, peas, carrot and cauliflower with raw toppings pomegranates, celery, spring onion and lemon in a cashew-based curry. It won over diners, ranging from an elderly housewife who asked for the recipe to a former hippy, who called it “food with integrity”. Gandhi did better than give a talk; she brought issues of grain subsidies, biodiversity and politics of food into a dining table conversation. “People talk a lot about fresh and local nowadays. This, continued…