Aesthetic Bias Leads to Shameful Waste, Higher Prices, Poor Nutrition

Take my word for it, my farming credentials are impeccable. I’ve grown up around commercial fruit and vegetable farmers my entire life, and I know that the tasty, tree/vine-ripened, organically safe stuff rarely make it onto the supermarket shelf because retailers want their produce uniform in size, unblemished and picked firm and barely ripe so they won’t spoil before sold. As a result, mega-tons of fruits and vegetables are rejected for purely cosmetic reasons. Millions of people are suffering from malnutrition and billions of dollars of food are tossed out because they don’t rise to the aesthetic standards of clueless urbanites who believe that beauty trumps taste. What’s equally sad is that many city-dwellers don’t know how a real tree-ripened apricot, peach or cherry should taste. Shame!

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Kome: The Art of Rice

The exhibition poster features the ancient Chinese character for kome.

A fascinating exhibit is currently on display at 21_21 Design Sight in Midtown Tokyo. Created by renowned Japanese designer Taku Satoh and anthropologist Shinichi Takemura, “Kome: The Art of Rice” presents 35 design pieces by leading Japanese artists and experts in rice cultivation. What makes this show so intriguing is that a food staple as humble as a grain of rice (or “kome” as the Japanese call it) could be shown with such aesthetic sensitivity and with such a thoughtful exploration of the role that rice played in the historical, cultural and spiritual traditions of Japan.

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Design for the Afterlife

Designers are not just ordinary consumers in the battle against suffocating the planet with litter. They are the best prevention and the last defense. Aesthetic sensitivity, retail presence, brand positioning, ease-of-use, safety, etc. are critical considerations when designing, and much more fun than thinking about the packing materials used. As important as it is to recycle and minimize waste that goes to landfill, more pressing is what gets blown away as litter. Fast-food takeout boxes probably kill more creatures than the high-fat junk food they hold. Bad typography may be annoying to read, but you never hear about seagulls strangling on overextended serifs, nor about coral reefs stomped to death by insensitive use of graphic standards. There should be life after design. Design for the afterlife. Happy Earth Month.