An Israeli Artist Was Shocked by How Much Food He Ate in a Year. So He Did This.

The artist who documented everything he ate for months; the mom who spends two hours a day making a sandwich; the lawyer who makes chocolate installations in vivid colors. Meet the people drawing a link between obsession, food and art.

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A part of Itamar Gilboa's 'Food Chain Project.'
A part of Itamar Gilboa's 'Food Chain Project.'Credit: Itamar Gilboa
Ronit Vered
Ronit Vered
Ronit Vered
Ronit Vered

For an entire year, from September 2008 to September 2009, Itamar Gilboa recorded every item of food he put into his mouth. The precise listing in his diary was done every night, or the following morning at the latest. “I was always interested in trying to present a person’s annual food consumption in one space, and my interest in food increased with my move to Holland and the changes in my eating habits,” he explains.

Gilboa, an Israeli artist and son of writer Shulamit Gilboa, has been living in Amsterdam for the past 15 years. At the end of the year, he entered the data into Excel charts and started processing them. “When I finished I was very upset. I was in shock at the amount of alcohol, sweets, French fries and junk food I had consumed.” His annual food consumption included 155 supermarket items (“I was living as a poverty-stricken artist at the time, so that I hardly ever went to restaurants”). Gilboa made a cast of each of the groceries on the list and then poured a special plaster into thousands of them and painted them white (“In order to refrain from any type of commercial labeling, for one thing”). Work on the items in the studio took almost two years and became a sculptural installation, a pop-up supermarket that was displayed in Amsterdam at the end of 2014.

A part of Itamar Gilboa's 'Food Chain Project.'Credit: Itamar Gilboa

Visitors to the exhibition were invited to purchase individual items and some of the proceeds were donated to nonprofits that distribute food to the needy. “I wanted to try to raise awareness among the spectators about their food consumption,” says Gilboa, “and to create a cyclical process – what I ate turned into art, which when sold can again become food.” He called the installation the “Food Chain Project.”

Since then the project, which received broad media coverage worldwide, has undergone a number of incarnations and more limited appearances. In the future, 6,000 items, coated with porcelain, will be on display in the permanent exhibition of a new Dutch museum, scheduled to open in 2017, that will be devoted to consumption.

An Steve Jobs sandwich made by Gilat Orkin Wolf.Credit: Gilat Orkin Wolf

Heroic sandwiches

An Andy Warhol sandwich made by Gilat Orkin Wolf.Credit: Gilat Orkin Wolf

Making a sandwich for Ayalon, Gilat Orkin Wolf’s younger daughter, now aged 8, to take to school for her lunch break is a project that occupies between one and two hours a day. “It’s a little bit obsessive,” admits the mother cheerfully. Preparations begin the day before by choosing a character or historic event linked to the next day: For example, the date “Peter Pan” was first screened on television; the date of Andy Warhol’s death; or the birth of Albert Einstein. On March 17 they marked Golda Meir’s appointment as prime minister with a Golda sandwich: a face made of pita; a dress cut from rye bread; “Golda shoes” from licorice; marshmallow eyes; and hair made of chocolate cake with gray strands of halvah.

The sandwich adventure began about two and a half years ago, when Ayalon started first grade. “She returned home every day with the sandwich and I started thinking about what to do in order to tempt her to eat,” she says. “I surfed the foreign websites and blogs a little and began with simple colored sandwiches, in the shape of a Teddy Bear, or skewers, which are attractive to children. When that didn’t work, I thought maybe I should turn the whole story into a learning experience that would challenge and interest her. “

A Golda Meir sandwich made by Gilat Orkin Wolf.Credit: Gilat Orkin Wolf

Orkin Wolf, who is in charge of documentation in a high-tech firm, has liked arts and crafts since childhood. “I’ve always loved to cook and bake,” she says. In the past year, mainly since she started a blog recording the daily sandwich adventure (Year of the Sandwich), they are becoming funnier and more complex.

The art of chocolate

In recent weeks, Nancy Pomagrin has been busy with feverish preparations for her annual chocolate party. During months of meticulous planning and three weeks of 12-hour days in the kitchen, she prepares thousands of pralines with her trademark rainbow-colored “foundation stones,” based on cocoa butter. Pomagrin, a U.S. native and a lawyer specializing in international relations, has never sold a single praline, although her chocolate is worthy of the finest chocolatiers.

A chocolate installation by Nancy Pomagrin.Credit: Nancy Pomagrin

“I’ve never had any commercial intention,” she explains in a soft voice. “For me food is something very personal, a way to express my love for my family and friends, and eight years ago, at my first chocolate party, it also became a type of performance art, at the end of which we simply eat the chocolate.”

She taught herself the art of making chocolate 20 years ago. “I read books about tempering and basic recipes and then I started playing with flavors, textures and shapes. My parents were adventurous and creative people who took us on journeys all over the world, and good food was always part of the family experience. From an early age I cooked with my mother, and I always loved to arrange thematic meals and use them as a basis for creative activity.” The chocolate installations at her parties, which have become legendary through the grapevine, have in recent years been inspired by the works of such artists as Gerhard Richter and Ellsworth Kelly.

Connecting art and food

Gilboa, Orkin Wolf and Pomagrin are three of the dozens of artists, professional and amateur cooks, photographers, designers and writers who participated in a special event devoted to the connection between art and food, which was held a few weeks ago in the home of curator Keren Bar Gil. Among the exhibits, artist Keren Spielsher displayed works in which food plays a central role and delivered a very funny speech on love-hate relations with food and body image; chef Alexander Lachnish presented a series of statues of Stalin made of sugar; Pomagrin created a Zen circle, composed of a mosaic of 25 types of pralines in various shapes and flavors, inspired by the works of British artist Tony Cragg. The participants, all of whom had work on display, moved from one exhibit to another to talk and eat.

“Food has always played a significant role in my life,” explained curator Bar Gil. “I’m a scion of the Beigel baking family – my grandfather’s two brothers were the ones who immigrated from Galicia in order to open Beigel and Beigel here. When we lived in London, having trouble finding good bread there, my husband Ran opened a successful chain of bakeries. I’ve been playing around with the idea of holding an evening like this for almost a year, especially after I attended Nancy’s chocolate party, and I realized that her work tool is food, but what she does, I consider art. I decided to research the subject and bring together those whose art is food and those who deal with food in their works.

“The first criterion is that the visual be more important than the taste, and that the image is what guides the creative process,” says Bar Gil, trying to answer the question of when an item of food becomes art. “The second condition is the creative process itself, which often includes an insane passion, it can even be called an obsession, and a process of intelligent research.

“You can argue about whether Orkin Wolf’s sandwiches are art or not, but in the process of creating them over time, there are artistic elements. Food – like fashion or designing an object – is a field in which the borders become blurred in questions of that kind, but there’s something about it that’s not strictly practical, and isn’t meant only to nourish the body.”

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