Earlier this month, we had a fun food culture class on the topic of waste and edibility. The writing of Mary Douglas on Purity and Danger was useful in order to think about how the definition of ’waste’ is in fact a social construction which depends on social relations and thus varies from context to context. We looked at the various stages in the cycle from production to consumption where ‘waste’ is created by some, but sometimes turned into food by others. Waste, or ’dirt’ in the words of Mary Douglas, is ‘matter out of place’. For a thing to become out of place, there needs to be an order with normalities such as, when a food is beyond its expiration date in a supermarket it will be thrown away. Anomaly then is all that does not fit the order (or who order differently). Examples are gleaning practices on agricultural fields, food collection for food banks and dumpster diving in retail waste.
From these examples we started fantasizing on the foods we could make ourselves that would be ‘out of place’ somehow. Some artists and chefs are also busy with this, for example catering based on ‘unwanted animals‘ such as geese that need to be shot because of the ‘nuisance’ they provide for Schiphol, or to cook meals with products of which the expiration date is long gone (Mediamatic initiative). We decided on an extra lunch with foodstuffs or dishes that were somehow a ‘contravention of the order’ playing with the boundary of edibility. The result was a lunch with bread from ingredients beyond the expiration date and with wild flowers in the dough, a salad from weeds (see also this blog on wild food) such as elder, chickweed and dandelion made colourful with nasturtium flowers and garlic grasshoppers and seaweed soup a year past the expiration date. It was a weird experience to carefully pick and select weeds and value each young plant I could find to fill a salad bowl whereas normally I would not think twice and weed them rigorously from the garden!