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The original eating designer shares how she thinks about her work.

Jillian Kramer
September 08, 2017

There are a lot of kinds of designers. Think: Interior designers. Fashion designers. Graphic designers. Software designers. Floral designers. Furniture designers. Eating designers.

Wait, what?

Yep, there are people who make their living designing how you eat—how you think when you pick up a fork or spoon and put it to your lips and with whom you share a glass of wine at your dinner table. As Marije Vogelzang—the uncontested OG of eating design—told Food & Wine, eating design is "clever ideas or solutions applied to the act of eating."

In other words, while you may nosh on the same snacks and meals, an eating designer can change the setting in which you dine, the guests you invite to your table, or the instruments you use to eat—all to enhance and help you appreciate the act of eating different foods.

What's more, an eating designer can help shape your view of food waste, helping you curb your bad eating habits or showing you the real ecological footprint you leave in the kitchen.

"I would like to show designers that food needs creative attention," Vogelzang says. "We live in a schizophrenic world when it comes to food—we need creative people to work on the alarming issues that are occurring nowadays," whether that's shoveling food before we've really tasted it or unknowingly contributing to the millions of plastic pieces thrown in the trash each year. Plus, Vogelzang says, "I would like to show eating people—which is everyone—that we need to value our food and that we can use food to connect with others. I would like to encourage people to think of food in a different way and use creativity to celebrate food."

But why food? Why would someone like Vogelzang—a designer whose resume includes a stint at Hella Jongerius, a Dutch industrial design studio focusing on textiles, crockery, and furniture—turn to designing how we put food in our mouths, and what we do afterward?

"There are many issues that I would like to work on because there's so much to address," she admits. "But first of all, I would like people to see the value of their daily food. We seem to have forgotten how unique it is that we can have access to fresh food every day. We seem to have forgotten how we can connect to others trough food. We seem to have banished food from the premium spot it used to have to something we take for granted."

She continues, "I believe in showing the positive side and in inspiring people instead of telling them what not to do. That's eating design."

Vogelzang should know. As we mentioned, she didn't break the mold when it comes to eating design, she formed it. "When I started, I didn't have an example," Vogelzang says. "There really wasn't someone else doing something similar. I just had to figure things out."

Vogelzang was clear from the start that she wasn't designing food. (She is quick to correct anyone who calls her a food designer.) Rather, "I think food is already perfectly designed by nature," she says, "so I say I am an 'eating designer' because I am a designer inspired by the verb of eating. I keep food natural and use it to work with the psychology of eating, the act of sharing food, and understanding where our food comes from," for example, she says.

What's a day in the life of an eating designer like? Different each day, Vogelzang admits. But each week often includes some travel, whether Vogelzang is giving a lecture at a university or doing research on the bento-box food culture of Japan. "I like to work with farmers—and I like to work with mothers on how to get kids eating vegetables," Vogelzang says. She works with hospitals to reimagine the food experience for patients eating in rooms, and she makes exhibitions about food. She teaches classes at the Design Academy Eindhoven, where the first class of eating designers will graduate this year, Vogelzang proudly says.

There weren't really any other eating designers when Vogelzang started. Years later, there were a handful. Now, "there are more and more," Vogelzang says, including her students.

"I see more and more young people starting in this field—and I feel it would be great to connect them and show this is a powerful global movement," she says. "In this way, I hope to inspire more designers to work with food and to show the world what designers can do with food." Why? Her goal is lofty: "When we fuel the food system and our food cultures with creative thinking, we can expect a more healthy and rich food future," Vogelzang says.

Before Vogelzang started—and to a large extent, now still—she says, "designers weren't part of the actual process of getting food produced, transported, and eaten. This has always been the role of farmers, transporters, supermarkets, and politicians. We really need creative thinkers that can do 'design thinking' and apply that thinking to food and eating. Designers can be the bridge between scientists, farmers, mothers and markets. That's what I think eating design should be. It should help innovate in a positive way."