As a food designer, Amanda Huynh has had the chance to work on all sorts of fascinating projects. She was involved in the launch of the British Museum of Food as an intern with London’s Bompas & Parr, an experimental team that sent coffee beans into space and has collaborated with scientists to cook with lava, for example. She has explored disaster resilience in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside through the lens of local food.
A graduate in industrial design and a former instructor at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Huynh earned a master’s in food design at Milan’s Scuola Politecnica di Design in 2016, the first year the program was offered. Being at the forefront of a new discipline, she’s aware that food design is a term she’ll likely have to explain to people for years to come.
“It’s so new that it’s still being defined,” Huynh tells the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Food is a material the same way that wood or plastic or metal is for us as industrial designers. You come up with a plan and you transform material into something practical, or a solution.”
Here’s an example of where food and design intersect: Pringles. A designer created those curvy potato chips. But the interdisciplinary field of food design goes much deeper than that.
Where industrial designers might create everything from furniture and electronics to backpacks and medical devices, food designers devise and develop anything related to food—whether it’s eating, preparing, cooking, serving, experiencing, processing, packaging, styling, or manufacturing it, or even as it relates to broader social constructs. Critical food design, for instance, raises awareness of food-related issues, such as food security and sustainability.
Huynh has consulted for Luvo, a frozen-food company headed by former lululemon and Starbucks executive Christine Day. She also initiated Emily Carr University’s food-design courses and just recently landed a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of industrial design at the Pratt Institute in New York City.
She will be among the world’s experts giving people a taste of the emerging field at the Interior Design Show (IDS) Vancouver.
“I think industrial design needs to be less about manufacturing more products and more about using the design skills we have to connect people and manipulate different materials other than plastic and wood and metal and creating value and experiences,” Huynh says. “Food is the perfect vehicle to do that.
“I don’t really believe in making tables and lamps anymore,” she says. “These are urgent times, and what we’re doing has to reflect that. Food is the easiest way to tackle tough subjects. I can get someone to talk about anything if we talk about food first.”
At IDS, Huynh will join a dozen other artists and designers from around the world in Edible Futures, one of the event’s key installations. Curated by the Dutch Institute of Food and Design, the exhibit touches on everything from food waste to the effects of climate change on food supply. Alexandra Fruhstorfer’s piece, Menu From the New Wild, suggests we might be eating dishes made of invasive pond-slider turtles or Japanese knotweed to meet the needs of our growing population; Paul Gong’s Human Hyena looks at whether people could modify their bodies using synthetic biology to consume rotten food just like the scavenger animals do.
Huynh’s work for Edible Futures is called Diasporic Dumplings. It’s an example of the way food design connects Huynh to her culture and the world around her. Her parents are both Chinese, her dad having been born in Vietnam and her late mother in Cambodia. Her mom escaped on a boat and spent a year in a refugee camp in Malaysia before being sponsored by a family in Manitoba; her father ended up in Alberta, where Huynh was born and raised. (Her parents had met in Ho Chi Minh City, then reunited in Canada.) She stuffs the traditional Chinese food items with indigenous plants from B.C.: fireweed, wood sorrel, and stinging nettle, which she harvested with a former student of Sto:lo descent.
“Food is such a powerful connection with my own history, my family, the Chinese diaspora,” she says. “The histories of their migration and their escape stories—my parents never told us; we had to piece it together from other family stories. I don’t think they wanted to relive it or share that trauma with us.
“I wanted to talk about resilience and diasporic identities because we’re talking about the future and thinking about things like increased migration and climate refugees,” Huynh adds. “Everybody is going to be in search of, or is already in search of, that taste of home, that taste of connection to a place. These dumplings look like dumplings my ancestors probably would have eaten, but inside is food from the place I know now. I understand the need for culturally appropriate food, and that’s going to continue.”
Other food-related IDS highlights include a sensory installation called Seeds by eating designer Marije Vogelzang; at the Studio North marketplace, there’s Hew, a Portland, Oregon–based furniture and smallwares company that handcrafts items like two-pronged forks and mortars and pestles out of domestic hardwoods.
Huynh will also participate in one of the main panel discussions at IDS. Called Eating by Design: The Future of Food and presented by Dezeen, it will include Vancouver-based chef Bruno Feldeisen, a judge on The Great Canadian Baking Show, and Zach Berman, founder of the Juice Truck.
“Regardless of whether it’s recognized as design or not, I think that every experience we have around food is really intentional,” Huynh says. “We can make these decisions that make somebody have a dignified eating experience versus a shameful eating experience, a fast one versus a slow one. Those are all things that are design decisions.
“When we think about what’s going to have to happen with our consumption habits in the future,” she adds, “we’re going to have to rely on designers to rethink and remodel—gradually—the way we buy and eat and share food.”