This article first appeared in the Sunday Times (SA) on 4 February 2018
As Day Zero edges closer and the prospect of a Peninsula without fresh water becomes a hard and fast reality, anxious Capetonians are shifting into survival mode and devising contingencies to meet the predicament head on, some more innovatively than others.
Food designer Hannerie Visser, founder of the Cape Town based multi-disciplinary collective known as Studio H, is fuelled by an ongoing obsession to produce solutions for a water scarce world. “We are constantly calculating the water footprint of everything that we eat,” she says and pursuant to that, is on a mission to counter the crisis and her novel five course waterless dinners are demonstrating that life without water in a tap-dry kitchen can go on.
Dutch Design Week & inspiring innovation
The backstory goes that in 2017, Hannerie, with her crew, was invited to exhibit at the annual Dutch Design Week (DDW) in Eindhoven by world-renowned eating designer and DDW curator Marije Vogelzang of the Dutch Institute of Food & Design, a non-profit that promotes the understanding and relevance of food connected to design and vice versa, through various interventions and global networks. DDW champions design across every conceivable sector through uber innovation, and Studio H, in the Embassy of Food-Looking Back to Now category, stepped up to create an imaginary pantry using only lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots and potatoes, all salt tolerant, and the sole ingredients in their range of ketchups, atchas, jams and pickles that were available to convention delegates to sample and compare with ‘normal’ equivalents. The stand, S/Zout, encouraged conjecture and prompted discourse on the future of food in the face of the depletion of natural resources. Not only was S/Zout named by international design platform Dezeen as one of the top ten sustainable concepts on display, but Studio H additionally cracked the nod as the official Ambassador for DDW in Africa.
Message driven events
Sublimal water wise messaging was at play the night I attended my first waterless dinner, prepared from start to finish sans one drop being used in the prep or clean-up processes. The event was hosted in a beautiful Victorian, strategically situated on Church Square, where an urban pop up park, laid purposefully with astro turf, alerts locals and tourists to the dire shortage of water in the metropole. Provision was made for only fifty people to attend over both evenings, a reminder of the daily 50 litre per capita restrictions. And then there was salt, everywhere, in little decorative mounds on the floor and spread thickly down the centre of the ten-metre long dining table. Some dishes, like the goat cheese filled cabbage cigars, were served on small round salt plates that had been made in a microwave using a recipe developed in Milan by Studio B associates, Tour de Fork.
An eco sensitive menu
The environmentally sensitive menu went from serving saline co-operative produce to ostrich fillet, the most sustainable of all meat consumed by humans. “Embracing ethical, resource-conscious living is key for the future of food,” says Visser, “and as consumers and brands become more environmentally conscious, we’ll not only make better food but also tread more lightly on the earth.”
For pescatarians, the flame grilled mackerel massaged with salt and topped with onion, garlic, strawberry and tomato vinegar salsa was a pescatarian’s dream. The tenderloin, cooked in a muslin cloth to retain moisture and baked on hot coals, came with a side of potato chips, a trio of tart S/Zout ketchup dips and a huge fried ostrich egg that had been lightly grilled and served up pizza-style. The versatile egg yolks were used to thicken a delicious red cabbage gazpacho starter and various sauces. For vegans, there were tasty options throughout like the baked caramelised onion and Foxenberg chevre. My best, being a dessert girl, were the sweet carrot loops and the creamiest of ice creams, made from camel milk sourced in Upington, blended with fresh strawberries and presented in an edible isomalt cup.
Gin instead of water, just at a party of course
In the absence of drinking water, Caitlin Hill from The Botanist concocted stiff gin cocktails infused with flavours like wild mint and rosemary, and agar foam. Beer lovers like myself sipped on Zebonkey’s Poseidon that is brewed using up to 15% sea water and packaged in reusable glass swing top bottles. Teetotallers enjoyed pure carrot juice and all refreshments were chilled using frozen pebbles.
“I grew up incredibly close to the earth and loved food passionately from since I can remember. Food is the most powerful tool I have to bring home important messages and responses to issues like the water crisis. It’s what I know and what I love.” – Hannerie Visser.
It takes a crisis to appreciate something at its full value and as we face down the drought, let’s conserve and make every drop count. Our lives depend on it.
Until next time,