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Armpit bacteria cheese, ‘talking plant’ on show at London food exhibition

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London (Reuters): Cheeses made with bacteria taken from celebrities’ ears, toes and armpits, a ceramic toilet cooked up from cow manure, edible water bottles and a “talking plant” may not be your usual exhibits at an art and design museum.

But these are among the gastronomic and farming experiments that aim to shed light on our food cycle, from the field to the plate, and on sustainability in a new exhibition at London’s V&A museum - better known for its sculptures, textiles and prints.

“What a lot of people don’t consider is that your relationship with food is more than just that moment of eating what’s on your plate,” May Rosenthal Sloan, co-curator of the “FOOD: Bigger than the Plate” exhibition, told Reuters.

“Every meal you have, every act of eating connects you to nature, to culture, to economics and politics, to your own body, and what we’re trying to do is get people to see that in a really expanded way and think about exactly how the choices that we make can collectively impact our future.”

On show are various cheeses - mozzarella, comte, cheddar, Cheshire and stilton - or “microbial portraits”, made respectively from bacteria taken from rapper Professor Green, chef Heston Blumenthal, singer Suggs, musician and cheese maker Alex James and food writer Ruby Tandoh.

“There are a lot of similarities between the bacteria underneath our armpits and what actually is in cheese,” biodesigner Helene Steiner said.

“If you think about handmade cheeses, handmade food, you put your hands in there, like bacteria often actually are co-creators of your food. So I think it’s not actually for the yuck factor, it’s more like looking at the diversity and beauty of food and how bacteria helps us to produce them.”

Steiner is also behind “Project Florence”, or what she called a “talking plant”, stemming from four years of research into plants’ use of electrical and chemical signals.

Aimed at “giving nature a voice”, the project consists of a strawberry plant in a glass bowl, connected to a computer where visitors can type a question and get a printed answer.

“One reason why I started this was looking into pesticides... At the moment we put them six times a year on the fields, quite randomly,” Steiner said.

“I thought it would be really interesting if we had a way of understanding when plants are actually affected, and only use pesticides in that moment.”

Composting, farming, trading and eating are among the themes explored in the exhibition, where other items on show include sausage designs and an urban mushroom farm.

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