Bite my pie chart: Data Cuisine expresses facts with food

We're all familiar with charts and infographics. Data Cuisine makes them more creative (and delicious) by expressing information with edibles.

Sugarsm Data Cuisine
These sugar blobs represent the sexual behavior of young people in Barcelona. Data Cuisine

An almond cake made with plentiful science funding is much more delicious than an almond cake made with a 34 percent cut in science funding. We know this because of Data Cuisine, a project that expresses information in the form of food.

Data Cuisine was sparked back in 2011 by art curator, author, and lecturer Susanne Jaschko. "I felt that we are generally lacking an emotional attachment to data and that we should find new ways to look at data and deal with it," she told Crave. She joined forces with data visualizer Moritz Stefaner to create the Data Cuisine workshop, which has been held in Helsinki, Finland, and Barcelona, Spain.

"Coming from a data visualization background, I am used to working with graphical elements like dots, lines, shapes, and their properties like color, size, orientation, etc.," Stefaner said. "But it was quite eye-opening to me to learn how much we can do with food to express information."

Emigration Fish Data Cuisine
Emigration Fish shows the pattern of young immigrants from Spain. Data Cuisine

Stefaner revels in the variables available through food, including crafting 3D sculptures, playing with different tastes, using texture to represent data, or harnessing the cultural connotations of certain foods.

A good example of this is a dish called Emigration Fish that represents the emigration of young people from Spain. One side of the fish dish shows the relative number of young Spanish immigrants to the top six countries they leave for. Battered fish represents the UK. Fish in wine sauce a la Francaise stands for France. Fish cooked in beer and parsley indicates Germany, Ecuadorian fish is done as ceviche, and the American fish is fried in bacon fat (no surprise there).

An important component of the project is connecting with the human element of data and finding ways it resonates with people. "The other interesting aspect is the deep emotional connection we have with food. So, while it is maybe a bit more difficult to represent data very precisely, or large datasets, using food can create emotionally deep, meaningful and memorable connections to data, which can touch us in quite different ways than graphics," said Stefaner.

Sometimes the dishes are purposefully designed to not taste good, sometimes they are delicious. Jaschko's personal favorite is the Tortilla Feliz Catalana, a deconstructed tortilla representing the state of well-being in Spain. "The layers of the tortilla were made of pureed vegetables and egg, and then baked in the oven, cut, and stacked. Not only visually the two tortilla variations were great, also they tasted extremely good," she said.

There are plans to continue Data Cuisine beyond the two initial workshops. "We would like to do the workshop again in various cities, since we always work with local data and local food and we'd like to make out the local differences and see how they find their expressions in Data Cuisine," said Jaschko. "Food provides such a rich palette to play with, but its exploration needs time and practice."

Stefaner is considering the idea of hosting "data dinners" with a chef designed dishes for a small audience.

If only Data Cuisine would become a trend in business. It would be much more fun to munch on a lasagna made of quarterly sales figures than to sit and watch yet another PowerPoint presentation.

Delve into some of the fascinating dishes created during the Data Cuisine workshops right here:

About the author

Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET's Crave blog. When not wallowing in weird gadgets and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.

 

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