Has The Quantified Self Movement Changed What We Eat?

PSFK chats with founders and food artists Kat Popeil and Sam Kim of ‘Something I Ate,’ about their latest event and how the current heightened awareness surrounding food is changing how we consume.

At the end of February, PSFK had the opportunity to attend the latest installment of Something I Ate, an event series that explores the relationship between food and art by inviting artists to document a week of personal eating and bring it to life through new works. These creations in turn inspire a special menu that is prepared and served at the culminating event, highlighting local, seasonal ingredients, and keeping people coming back for more.

Following up on our previous interview, PSFK once again caught up with co-founders Kat Popiel, founder of the online food magazine On Plate, Still Hungry, and Sam Kim of SkimKim Foods to dig a little deeper into the inspiration driving the series, what they’ve learned and where they’re headed next.

Why did you decide on using the ‘Food Diary’ as creative inspiration for the artists?

Kat: I’m of the belief that what you put in your body correlates to how you will perform that day and not just because of the nutritional value. Food is an experience that affects your emotional and intellectual state. I was curious to see how creative people consumed food and how this informed their creative work, or if it did at all.

Sam: I’ve had to do it before for dieting and nutritional discoveries. It always blew me away how eye-opening the whole experience was.

Does this event serve as a necessary analog counterpoint to the digital Quantified Self and Data Visualization movements?

Kat: This project can make valuable contributions to the current landscape of research involving The Self but this was never our intention from the start – our desire was always to combine food and creativity in an interesting manner. In the past year, the collected ‘data’ has been purely qualitative as we focused more intently on the framework of what we were developing. We’re marking our second year with an event in London and the launch of On Plate, Still Hungry, but this time applying a more quantitative approach: we’ve invited 60 London creatives from 6 different verticals to keep their food diary, analyze and make conclusions from the data, pinpoint key trends, then have Sam Kim interpret the information through the menu. Creatives are being asked to email us 3 pictures a day of their breakfast, lunch and dinner experiences including a short description of what they ate and where (home, name of the café, McDonalds etc.). This new approach will serve to deepen the project and embark us on a true exploration of the eating habits of creative communities across the world.

When people have to stop and catalog their meals does it change the way they eat?

Kat: Any kind of documentation involves a new relationship between two parties that causes a more conscious act of ‘participation’ in the information exchange. Documentary filmmakers often grapple with how to remain objective in their observations but at the same time allow for an emotional connection with their subjects to uncover new information they wouldn’t otherwise be able to extract. In this current age of social media, people tend to tailor their thoughts and opinions according to how their profile will convey them. This can be the same for an individual keeping a food diary for a public project like this. We can only hope they will live in the moment, be themselves and deliver ‘true’ data.

Sam:  Maybe. I hope they don’t. It’s meant to be a window into the artists’ creative process. If you eat tuna out of a can, you eat tuna out of a can! The artist got that energy, maybe even the inspiration for work from that can of tuna. I want the eating to be the mechanism that gives life to the work, not the other way around. So for example, if an artist wanted to do a piece about Cookie Monster, it would seem disingenuous in some way if she started inhaling Pepperidge Farms and Keebler. It’s the reverse of what we’re after, and that’s not what this is all about.

Now that you have several of these under your belt, are you noticing any interesting trends in the foods people are eating?

Kat: In a city like New York, people like to eat out! Recession, what? But the art of the dinner party and cooking at home is having a resurgence due to the artisanal food movement and ‘trend’ of eating local. Yet despite that in a city with over 100,000 restaurants that mushroom everyday or shut down, we have become demanding gremlins, constantly after the next big thing to try out.

Sam: COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE

What’s next?

Kat: Kicking off our second year with a global ‘tour’. We’re in planning mode for ideas and collaborators to keep the ‘Something I Ate’ concept alive in New York but without applying the exact brief. We’ve talked about maybe getting artists to make popsicles for summer on The Highline or running a booth at The Brooklyn Flea. This is the space for us to get really creative outside our daily work commitments – the world is our oyster as they say!

Sam: We’re taking it to London and working with Protein Gallery in April! The artists started their logs this week and we will start analyzing the data soon after.  We’ll be going abroad as much as possible from then on with some smaller events here in New York. The best part of traveling with this concept is that I have no clue how people eat outside of NYC. Here in NYC we are so self-involved, not necessarily in a bad way, but because of the nature of our work, our hustle, our environment. I am so excited to see what artists are munching on in different cities. I hope the juxtaposition will be clear and obvious. If not, then I can make some generalizations about creatives that I’ve always wanted to!

Check out some great photos from the event below:

Thanks Kat and Sam!

Something I Ate

All Photos Courtesy of Louis Caldarola

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