Disguised as a cookbook, Comestible 7-Day Meal Plan: Food as Text by Argentinian artist Pat Badani combines the taxonomic language of science (biology and chemistry), with the seductive photography and pseudo-babble of marketing, with the declarative style of the art manifesto. The meal plan is conceived not so much to result in comestibles (meals to be consumed), but, more to the point, to provide food for thought. Badani refers to the book as an “ecological manifesto.”
In effect, Comestible 7-Day Meal Plan addresses the retrograde values of mainstream (commodity-driven) diet culture, and specifically, the exploitation of diversity in reference to the color-coded Rainbow Diet. Created by nutrition guru Dr. Deanna Minich in 2018, the Rainbow Diet is a nutritional program promoting the consumption of “colorful foods.” (The diet was popularized by media celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and health organizations such as the American Heart Association.) Marketed as a “combination of science” and “ancient traditions,” this diet is based on charts equating the color of a food with an emotion. Using this “value system,” the goal is to create meals that incorporate diverse colors to achieve optimal health. Unironically, it then promises “change” to those who “eat the rainbow.” As a parodic commentary on Minich’s literal repackaging of diversity as lifestyle consumerism, Badani’s plan, in turn, repurposes the “principles” of the Rainbow Diet to speak to the significance of diet culture at the present moment, and in particular, its role as another form of commodification and exploitation of social, cultural, and economic differences.
So what is on this repurposed meal plan? Day 1, Sunday (green/love), recommends a shake of greens to begin detoxing from “failed relationships.” Day 2, Monday (yellow/intellect), takes protein sourced from abundantly available bugs instead of industrial meat (the accompanying Korean, Mexican, and Native American recipes reflect Badani’s own Latin American roots and her current residence in a predominantly immigrant Chicago neighborhood). Day 3, Tuesday (indigo/intuition), focuses on cultures and fermented foods to address fears about impurity and contamination, thus highlighting their role as agents integral to ecological transformation. The menus of days 4, 5, and 6—Wednesday (orange/creativity), Thursday (aquamarine/beliefs), and Friday (white/connection)—follow up on this point by naming the violent, unsustainable, and classist logics of the consumerist diet. Respectively, they are referred to as “liberalized trade,” “water stress,” and “poor consumer.” Day 7, Saturday (red/grounding), diagnoses the current obsession with “pure” foods as an eating disorder, specifically orthorexia nervosa (from the Greek ortho, “right” or “correct,” and orexis, “appetite,” meaning “correct appetite”), and concludes the plan with a call for “adaptation and balance” (81).
In parallel to contemporary consumer culture, as an artwork Comestible 7-Day Meal Plan also speaks to a long-standing interest in food as a conceptual and material source tracing to modernism. As Cecilia Novero details in Antidiets of the Avant-Garde: From Futurist Cooking to Eat Art (2010), the cookbook as art manifesto traces to the Italian Futurist Cookbook (1930), and food-themed concepts and works reemerge in neo-avant-garde currents like Fluxus and New Realism in the 1960s. According to Novero, these works are altogether reflective of anti-bourgeois sentiment, such that notions of incorporation and consumption and the use of material ingredients evidence most of all critical engagements with consumer culture, memory, and history. In sum, from this art historical perspective, this culinary tradition yields anti-diets that are altogether rooted in modernity’s dual concerns with consumption and change (i.e., cultural and political transformation).
Yet, as Novero concedes, the politics of avant-gardist anti-diets are vastly different. Thus, Italian futurist cooking was part of a larger program aimed at cultivating the ideal futurist, fascist body (no pasta!). The Pop diet (including that of the New Realists) was fascinated with food (and art) as commodity. As for Fluxist cuisine, its roots reflect broader concerns about democratic access and participation in culture (opposed to the elitism and exclusivity of the art world).
In keeping with Novero’s lineage, Comestible 7-Day Meal Plan surely evokes the Fluxist anti-diet, but only inasmuch as it is exemplified by Alison Knowles’s The Identical Lunch (1969).1 Like Knowles’s, Badani’s anti-diet addresses cultural exclusion. It is to this shared concern that both artists elevate cooking, an activity traditionally associated with women’s care work and the private domestic sphere, to capital-A art and the (male-coded) public sphere. Then again, both artists also express similar skepticism about the democratic viability of a public sphere that is circumscribed by consumption. To this point, Badani references Andy Warhol’s dictum, “A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good,” to state the contrary: that melons, grapes, and rice are neither the same nor all good; she concludes with a reminder that “the rich write history and the poor bum on the corner gets blamed for everything” (68). Likewise, while some consider it as yet another example of Fluxus’s celebration of cheap art (modeled on the mass-produced commodity), in contrast, Knowles has spoken on occasion about The Identical Lunch more ambivalently, to note that the cheapness of the work (made with industrial food) is ultimately rooted in memory and history, namely World War II rationing and her own family’s poverty.
Ironically, the humble The Identical Lunch has of late been recuperated (sanitized) by the art institution, as exemplified by the Instagrammable digests that came out of the Museum of Modern Art’s hosting of Knowles for a series of “identical lunches” with visitors to the museum in 2012. Such events feed off contemporary media culture’s obsession with food, ranging from the aforementioned Instagrammable food feeds, to the explosion of television cooking shows, to the emergence of cookbooks as one of the fastest-growing genres in the publishing market in the last five years. Notably, artist and art-themed cookbooks by curators and art historians have become a surging subset of this publishing market in the last five years. To illustrate, recently published coffee-table cookbook titles catering to the modernist, taste-conscious art and food consumer include Mary Ann Caws’s The Modern Art Cookbook (2013), Lisa Hostetler’s The Photographer’s Cookbook (2016), Emmanuel Guigon’s Pablo Picasso: Picasso’s Kitchen (2018), and Florence Gentner’s The Monet Cookbook: Recipes from Giverny (2016), to name a few.2
While likewise leveraging today’s diet obsessed-culture, Comestible 7-Day Meal Plan recombines alternative publishing with book arts and new media to reinfuse a critical perspective on the use of food as a tool of oppression. It is not the production of food in and of itself that is Badani’s target. On the contrary, the content relishes in culinary experimentation. Nor is it about the pursuit of taste. After all, most recipes in the book look seductive, if not particularly tasty. The work conveys disgust with a culture that manifestly claims diversity for confirming rather than challenging unsustainable hierarchies. Attending to the domestic roots of ecology (from the Greek oikos, meaning “house, dwelling place, habitation” and “logy,” meaning study), Badani’s approach remakes the kitchen into an art lab, replaces cooking in the lexicon of DIY bioart, and reverse engineers cookbook protocols to serve timely cultural critique.
The Identical Lunch consists of one canned tuna fish sandwich (lettuce, butter, toast, and all) and a cup of buttermilk.
Other recently published cookbooks by artists include Margaret Wood’s A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe (illustrated reissue, 2009); Robyn Lea’s Dinner with Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art & Nature (2015); Studio Olafur Eliasson: The Kitchen (2016); Lindsay Kelley’s Bioart Kitchen: Art, Feminism and Technoscience (2016); and Taschen’s Dalí: Les Dîners de Gala (2016).