“A compressed bite of edible culture.”
Augmented Food Studio is a unique project designed to enhance our experience of food. Created by 26-year-old Swedish interaction designer Erika Marthins, the studio aims to explore and question the intersection of food and technology.
The studio’s first project introduced three interactive desserts, each brought to life by technology. The project, named Déguster l’augmenté, features a record made of chocolate, a robotic gelatin dessert, and a lollipop which refracts light to reveal a hidden message. Each component was designed to expand the eating experience beyond taste and texture alone, incorporating light, sound and movement. The resulting effect is a sensory spectacular which challenges our perception of food. By animating each dessert, the project blurs the lines between food and technology.
Marthins’ latest project, Taste Lab, created with Stella Speziali and Juan Garcia, and in collaboration with BeAnotherLab, uses virtual reality (VR) to challenge the senses and adds a unique dimension to the dining experience.
Here, Marthins talks with us about the relationship between food and technology, the role memory plays in eating and the intimacy of food.
What is augmented food and what do you hope to achieve by creating it?
There are two aspects of food from my point of view. The first is nourishment, essential for maintenance of life, and the second is the experience of food—the social aspect as well as the joy of eating. I explore these themes in my design project Déguster l’augmenté. The project involved integrating data directly into the surfaces of food, which I then call “augmented food”. The concept of augmented food brings a new dimension into a dish by creating a more personalized experience, and changing how we eat and consume food. It also explores our relationship with technology.
The idea was to augment three desserts with an animation, perception and sound experience. A compressed bite of edible culture that has the flavor of its own passion, telling a compelling story and heightening the customer experience.
What inspired you to start Augmented Food Studio?
When I started to work with food and technology, I thought it might be interesting to try and challenge the senses. With the powers of today’s technology, we can find a different way to look at food, so I started to work with it as a kind of new material. Food is an interesting material to work with as it has all the different colors, all the different tastes, and is very immersive.
Food is an interesting interaction, because when you eat, you are putting something in your body. It’s the most immersive and the strongest interaction you can have.
For you, what is the relationship between food and technology?
We talk a lot about new technology and its benefits, but, for me, it feels like today’s technology is blocking us. It doesn’t really enhance human relationships and I feel we are constantly competing with it. However, I think there are ways we can use it to become more human.
If we integrate technology into food it becomes more intimate. I find this interesting because technology is often presented as a very cold thing. Most of us have an iPhone but we can’t actually see the technology inside. It is very hidden from us. What if we could make it part of us, what if we could eat technology?
How can food make data more palatable and easier to swallow?
At the beginning of the project I thought a lot about the senses and how we could use them to trigger memories. Around 80% of what we eat is based on memories, which is interesting because we make food-related decisions every day. I started thinking about memories and how they exist today, and found that many exist in the digital world. Memories now exist as pictures and social media posts rather than anything tangible. I wondered if perhaps we could re-experience memories in a more immersive way. What if we could taste a certain memory?
Food is a very interesting platform to start a conversation around because it doesn’t matter which culture or language you speak, we all eat. It’s the essence of human life.
Do you think augmented food could satisfy our desire for more extreme foodie experiences?
We tend to favor more personalized experiences, not only in food but also in life. I believe the possibilities that augmented food could provide are endless. For example, in the future you could encode your memories or something that you are passionate about—like your favorite song—in food.
Augmented food could be fundamental in preserving the experience of food. I see a lot of these powdered shakes with all of the nutrients you need for the day, but what you lose is really the experience of eating and having a meal. For me, the three objects that I created are a canvas of how augmented food could look in the future. I see so many different ways of doing it and, for me, this is just the beginning. There are so many more opportunities to create crazy food experiences.
Can you tell us a little about your latest Augmented Food Studio project?
Currently I am exploring ways of eating in VR. I have been working on a project called Taste Lab, which involves test subjects being fed in real life while wearing a VR headset. If you can imagine a carrot coming towards you in VR and hearing the crunching of a carrot, but in reality you are being fed something entirely different. The interesting part is how people struggle to remember what food item they are eating because there was such a conflict in the senses. In normal VR you are kind of hacking the brain. I think it’s interesting in this case that we are hacking the senses and exploring them in a different way.