Flavour of the month;Arts;Exhibition

Deedee Cuddihy

FOOD: Design and Culture. Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow. Until August 22. MAKING A MEAL OF IT. Perth Museum and Art Gallery. Until January 2000.

Deedee Cuddihy visits two exhibitions devoted to food and the part it plays in our lives

The latest exhibition to open at Kelvingrove as part of the UK City of Architecture and Design programme, Food: Design and Culture may be the most colourful and stimulating show you'll see in Glasgow this year.

But you will have to warn pupils to keep their hands off the "merchandise" which ranges from the latest kitchen utensils to little bubble gum dispensers, all of it so attractive, even the best-behaved adult is tempted to touch. Still, the organisers have secured as much as they can with sticky tape and wire.

But what has food got to do with design? Everything, apparently. As this show reveals, food has come a long way since the days when all people aspired to was meat and two veg and the average household batterie de cuisine consisted of soup pot, roasting tin and frying pan. Now there are more foods available than most of us could try in a lifetime and equipment so specialised it's difficult to tell what some of it is for.

Increasingly, food and kitchen gadgets are being viewed as fashion and lifestyle statements. A typical airline meal is scrutinised and compared with Concorde fare, designed for an altogether different class of traveller. A frightfully upmarket gourmet-ready meal, soon to be launched by a high street chain exclusively in the English stockbroker belt, is also put under the microscope.

Acknowledging the fact that Britain is in the middle of a restaurant boom, settings have been borrowed from five catering establishments, two of which are expected to come to Glasgow soon - the themed Rainforest Cafe and totally mechanised Yo! Sushi in London with robotic waiters and a conveyor belt counter from which customers choose their colour-coded dishes.

The exhibition concludes with an array of fun products, bought for looks rather than nutritional content, such as a packet of "sandwiches" made from multi-coloured marshmallow, jelly feet and whistling lollypops.

Making a Meal of It at Perth Museum and Art Gallery offers a mini banquet of artefacts, illustration and printed information. Divided into seven themes around a central, enclosed viewing area (so objects can be seen but not touched), the show tells the story of food and cooking with a Scottish slant, from earliest times to the present.

It begins at "First catch your Hare" when, 100,000 years ago, food was hunted and gathered, and ends with "Food for Thought", with convenience foods having freed many from long hours in the kitchen. The visitor is reminded that hygiene, safety and gene technology remain big issues, and "meanwhile, across the globe, many millions of people continue to starve". In between we learn that kings and nobles once hunted in specially created forests (and commoners were killed if caught poaching); that honey was also "hunted" before bee keeping developed and that ovens date from about 6,000 years ago.

Marvel at objects such as the disgusting string bag that puddings were boiled in and the primitive stone scrapers used to prepare food before knives were invented.

And wonder at the fact that, in Scotland, dieticians have, apparently, been urging us to eat more fruit and veg for the past 200 years.

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Deedee Cuddihy

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