Eating meat takes a serious toll on the environment. From energy and water to land and pollution, the world would be a much healthier place if the world’s millions of meat-eaters reduced the amount of meat in their diets.
For designer Carolien Niebling, the answer to reducing meat consumption is not cutting it out entirely or waiting for lab-grown meat startups to get the texture right. It’s expanding what we think of as protein. But her philosophy of increasing the types of food we eat has taken a rather surprising form: The sausage.
In her thesis project at the Swiss design school ECAL, Niebling has created a series of reduced-meat sausages that are now on view at Salone in Milan. Some of the sausages have tamer flavors and almost sound like health bars, like the carrot, apricot, and coconut sausage and the berry, date, and almond sausage. Others are stranger combinations like liver with raspberry or more traditional blood sausage with an apple core–and then there’s the “insect pate,” which is made of mealworms soaked in carrot juice, and flavored with pickles, capers, cumin, and roasted pecans. Having tried all of them–her favorites are the fruit salami and the liver berry–she swears they taste good.
“At some point I tried to use live worms with the butchers,” Niebling says, referring to the master butcher with whom she worked for the project. “Those we didn’t try.”
Playing around with sausages doesn’t seem like your average design thesis, but Niebling insists that the sausage is the oldest designed food.
“A sausage is as much a design object as a chair,” she says. “If you’re designing a chair, you’re looking at what company you’re doing it for, what material you want to build the chair with. With food, it’s similar. You look at the history and the function, you’re going to source the materials.”
Because she used only traditional sausage-making techniques to make her sausages, Niebling says that any butcher would be able to make them without any extra equipment. “It’s about the reduction of meat,” she says. “Even if it’s 20% less meat, it’s quite an achievement. As soon as we start to eat less meat, we’re already on the right track.”
Niebling is compiling her research on alternative protein types–non-muscle parts of an animal like liver, stomach, and sweetbreads, insects like crickets, cockroaches, and grasshoppers, and legumes like peas–along with information about her sausages into a book called The Future Sausage, which just launched on Kickstarter. Once the book is printed, she hopes to continue developing the sausages.
The aesthetic dimension to the project is striking as well. Niebling worked with two photographers in order to ensure the sausages were captured in their full glory. Photographer Emile Barret created collages of ingredients used in the sausages, while photographer Jonas Marguet shot a series of images meant to represent what Niebling calls “the character” of the sausages. “You see a bold manly sausage, or a more delicate sausage with the berry jelly, that’s more mysterious,” she says. Niebling hopes people look beyond the sausage ick factor and embrace her philosophy around eating less meat.
“I so badly want to take this bad stigma we have on sausages,” she says. “They need to introduce themselves into the world.”