Squeezing that Velveeta packet over a bowl of steaming pasta shells, you know the convenience is too good to be true. But after a few quick stirs and delicious bites, any lingering doubt dissipates into a happy orange glow.
Violating Velveeta, by designers John Pate Hamilton and Josef Abboud for New York’s recent Feed Me exhibit by Grouphug, reimagines a box of Velveeta Shells & Cheese as a brutally honest product–one that more closely resembles what actually goes into a box of Velveeta. Rather than a cheese packet, the kit comes with a collection of various powders loaded into blister packs. In theory (this is an art project, not a working prototype), you mix the powders through a complicated set of instructions (I like to imagine bunsen burners and centrifuges) to cook yourself a fully processed meal, without a touch of the standard convenience.
“We could have used something ideologically synthetic like a Twinkie, but we felt the contrast would shine strongest in something whose natural and synthetic states are ubiquitous,” Hamilton writes via email. “Where does cheese come from? Milk and therefore cows. Why can’t Velveeta? And why the hell is it not in the refrigerated section?”
The side of me that prefers less processed foods is terrified at the very sight of Violating Velveeta’s colorful chemical packets, the molecular gastronomist in me is intrigued. Because imagine if the ingredients on the back of a box weren’t encoded into jargon you were never meant to read, but available in fully transparent blister packs, there for us to use as our own, molecular gastronomy-inspired chemistry sets?
Hamilton agrees. “As soon as you shine a light on the ‘truth,’ sure, the immediate reaction is to wretch, but that disgust has to be followed by intrigue, because what is this? It surrounds us constantly, and someone has obviously determined each of these parts are edible so they must be, but how? Is there a remix of these bits that could hurt you? Could you make a better-tasting Velveeta? If we could get a foodie chemistry set on the shelves I think it’d be a great step toward reducing the number of ingredients we consume.”
Indeed, maybe the food industry actually has more to gain than to lose through transparency. If nothing else, consumers would be complicit in their own demise.