One of the first known books on war food is How to Cook a Wolf, by an American woman called M.F.K. Fisher, and published in 1942 during the Second World War. It included recipes and tips on how to keep well fed in times of ration cards. Among the recipes, there are several for cheap cuts of meat such as beef brains, which the author advises the reader to make crispy. She writes also about eating raw foods for their health and digestive benefits. Here is the author in the introduction to the 1951 revised edition: «One … aspect of the case for World War II is that while it was still a shooting affair it taught us survivors a great deal about daily living which is valuable to us now that it is, ethically at least, a question of cold weapons and hot words.»
Since then, scholars and scientists around the world have been working on issues related to war food. The field has opened up wide vistas even for artists pondering on the subject. A memorable instance is the Colombian Omar Castañeda, whose website “Food of War” lists his creative projects.
In one of them, a bowl with hummus is placed on a sort of altar, making it look like sacred food. In the accompanying text next to the pictures, Castañeda expands on chickpea paste and its importance in several Middle Eastern cultures.
Another project worthy of attention is “Maiden Women”, which has pictures of Ukrainian women holding up posters with the words ‘bread’ and ‘barricade’. The caption says: «We don’t just make sandwiches. We make barricades.» This work evidences the active role of female citizens, and draws from a series of civil protests in Eastern Europe started in 2013 demanding better integration of those peoples with the European continent.
Omar has also created a collective exhibition on the theme, called “Food of War”, in which I collaborate together with, among others, Quintina Valero from Spain, the Zinaid Lihacheva from the Russian group More Names.
The works will be exhibited at the “Clouded Lands: 30 Years of Chernobyl” show in Kiev, Ukraine, from April 23 to May 9, going on to Minsk (Belarus) and then London.
The item I collaborate in is “Black Cloud”– a toxic cloud shaped and sized like a tree. Made of edible cotton candy, it is a commentary on the Chernobyl disaster as a Cold War product that made the whole of Europe anxious over what was safe to eat or drink.