Emilie Baltz: How Food Impacts Interactive Design [PSFK 2013]

The creator of a sensory, visually stunning book talks about her rationale behind the project, and how her methods can be used on a larger scale.

As part of the run-up to PSFK CONFERENCE 2013 in New York this April, PSFK will be publishing a series of short interviews with speakers to give a taste of what will be discussed in this meeting of creative minds. Emilie Baltz is the creator of L-O-V-E Foodbook, a publication which combines sensory delight with interaction design. She spoke to PSFK about the venture and what it means for the future of the interface.

Could you tell us a little about what inspired your idea of marrying the emotion of love with the love of food?

For the past 2 years I researched aphrodisiacs for the Museum of Sex in New York City. During this time, friends, colleagues and strangers foamed at the mouth when they heard of my project. Hundreds of times, I was asked for the “holy grail,” that special, secret ingredient with the power to elicit desire; yet, as deeply as I dug, the more convinced I became of its in-existence. Certain foods do have chemical make-ups that can stimulate physical reactions, at times even slight sexual attraction, but when combing through the recipes of history, it became transparent that these things-we-call-aphrodisiac are, in fact, more grounded in storytelling than calorie count. Modern-day scientific studies certainly support this — revealing inconclusive data in the relationship of food science to desire – but, somehow, we still attempt to woo with boxes of chocolates and platters of oysters. Why? Because for centuries humans have woven myths and folklore that do more than stimulate our loins, they capture our head & hearts. This is what the power of storytelling can do: transform a single ingredient into a full, complex and delicious drama.

Given this, I became interested in retelling the story of aphrodisia, one that embraces the narrative over the ingredient and defines desire in contemporary stories that come not from Roman or Aztec myths, but from the culinary artists who shape our palettes and passions today. Along with my co-editor, Carole-Anne Boisseau, we embarked on a mission to make this book, a “modern primer” of emotional cuisine, by asking 15 different chefs and mixologists around the world to create their definition of desire through recipes. From the painful to the precious, a collection of 42 expressions emerged, each offering a unique perspective unto a complex and plural language of attraction. I intentionally titled the book with the word “L.O.V.E” in the title to suggest a departure from a traditional interpretation of aphrodisia, where single ingredients reign, and instead present a more organoleptic and intimate interpretation of desire, something I believe might just lead to “love”… 

How do you think chefs and other foodies can use the example of your ‘L-O-V-E Foodbook’ to develop their personal brands?

A great lesson learned from the making of the L.O.V.E Foodbook was the power of expressing personal narrative in a multisensory landscape. I had the honor of working with some of the most inspiring and innovative culinary artists over this past year. Each contributor is a star in his/her own field, winning awards and accolades for prowess in a kitchen or bar. The best recipes in this book are honest tastes of their creator, unfiltered emotions captured from life experience and translated through the five senses. From sight to sound, taste, touch and smell, this holistic mode of communication is one of the most powerful examples any creative can use in developing authentic, moving narratives that go beyond the head and start engaging the heart.

How can food, and people’s experiences of and with it, have an impact on future user interaction design? 

Food is unique in that it is the most “live material” designers can use. It is life, and begs the creation of community, empathy and sensual interaction for its success. Within this tactile landscape, it leaves room for failure and experimentation as a creative practice, while inviting intimate and emotional communication in its consumption. These acts ignite both our imagination and memory while stimulating our bodies, serving as powerful means of creating physical touchpoints for emotional content.  As we move towards a Jetsonian future of technology and connectivity, the study of food experience can reveal sustainable, human-centric models of interaction that, in their bridging of the emotional and physical, offer healthy metaphors for connections between the virtual and the real.

It seems that in today’s fast-paced world it is often hard to simply enjoy eating. How can your book bring us back to this, especially given the increased speed of life, influenced by social media and instant communication? 

Speed is inevitable. And relative. For centuries, we’ve waxed poetic about “the good old days”: my great-grandparents hated the Victrola and my parents raged against video games. Packaged foods have taken us away from tables, but facilitated hundreds of camping trips. Evolution is part of human nature and I doubt will ever go away, lest we annihilate ourselves in the process. If anything, what may lead to our ultimate demise is a human inability to be present, to enjoy a focused moment and digest with intention and awareness. What I hope my book may humbly contribute is a gentle reminder of the multiple pieces that serve not only to create the complex systems we consume everyday, but also the individual narratives behind each taste. If we stop recognizing the pieces that make the process, then yes, we will become the faceless, fast-paced machines of apocalyptic futures; but, if our point of entry is about people, not products, moments, not movements, then we may begin to knit a society of abundance that is efficient, intimate, sustainable and exists on a human-scale.

Thanks Emilie!

Please join us on April 12th to hear Emilie speak about L-O-V-E Foodbook at PSFK CONFERENCE 2013.

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