From speculative meals to design

A one-day trip to Paris in the TGV gave me plenty of time to skim through Speculative visions and imaginary meals: Food and the environment in (post-apocalyptic) science fiction films by Jean P. Retzinger (Cultural Studies Vol. 22, Nos. 3-4, May-July 2008, pp. 369-390). The paper interestingly addresses how science fiction highlight dream and anxieties of the present, as particularly shown by the depiction of food. In an insightful content analysis, the authors describe how food scenes can be seen as witness of "popular perceptions about nature, technology, and humanity" or a "liminal cultural symbol".

Some excerpts I found interesting:

"Familiar foods serve as an anchor in an altered world (evoking both nostalgia and parody), whereas unfamiliar food may become one of the clearest measures of how far we have journeyed from the present. (...) In nearly every instance where food is prepared, shared, and eaten in science fiction films, it aids in what Vivian Sobchack (1988) describes as science fiction’s central theme: a ‘poetic mapping of social relations as they are created and changed by new technological modes of ‘‘being-in-the-world’’ ’ (...) The presence of food at the critical junctures in which the familiar and the strange, the past, present, and future all collide lends materiality to the answers being worked out on screen. (...) Science fiction food scenes help obscure, expose, perpetuate, and challenge the divisions of culture and nature. "

Lots of interesting examples ranging from futuristic food representing a nostalgia for a world that has been lost to unfamiliar meals (with shape or color betraying people's expectations) in "alienated" places. Why do I blog this? Well, although one might find weird that I take a look at food issues, the questions (as well as the methodology) described in this paper is relevant to whatever object you can find in science-fiction production and their resonance in design in general. In this case it's about food, but if you look at other artifacts (be it Marty McFly's shoes in Back to the Future or BG4's flying gear), it's definitely encounters with claims of what the author refers to as "past and present, nostalgia and progress, memory and desire, familiarity and difference (...) and the significance of these many issues and the choices made to satiate our needs and our desires.".

So what is the take-away here? as it seems, sci-fi movies, as exemplified by food scenes, explore moral aspects of production, consumption and object appropriation showing both constant design patterns (nostlgia from the past?) or unfamiliar/alienated depictions (fear from an uncertain present?).