The Blueprint is The Oxford Blue’s arts publication. It showcases creative work in a range of artistic media, providing a space to share thoughts, stories and personal experiences.

Issue No. 5—Taste

 Food is the most important cultural manifestation that we have, because we all have to eat.

Magnus Nilsson

Recent celebrations of Eid have reminded us of the social and cultural significance of food. In our first senses-inspired issue, we explore the theme of ‘Taste’ from a kaleidoscope of angles, ranging from the utensils that we use, to feelings of home and belonging.

Featured Artist: Yang Gao

Homebread – Yang Gao

This drawing is inspired by the idea of homemade food and how food can act as an agency of memory and association. I’m interested in creating fictional compositions and theatrical staging that bring together elements from nature and the domestic.

Calamari – Luke Bateman
Illustration by Yang Gao
Broke my pact by eating octopus,
But you don’t get this up North.
Glanced at the vegetarian first,
Begged her permission with pleading eyes.
It’s not me you’re letting down,
She shrugged.
Thought of my parents, how
They made me promise to take every opportunity.
Fishing town where trade dried up,
Trawlers marooned on mudflats.
Seagulls pick the eyes from herrings,
Scent lingers long after empty plates.
Thought of my parents, how
They made me promise I wouldn’t forget home.
How baffled they were that I’d give up meat,
Must be a southern thing. We wouldn’t get it.
Calamari taunts me from the table,
eight legs pulled in every direction.

The Dangers of Eating at Restaurants – Emily Broughton
Illustration by Yang Gao

“Can I have the English Breakfast, but without baked beans?”

The rest of the table was buzzing with conversation but I made sure to say each word clearly, enunciating like a child actor. The waitress nodded and moved on to the next girl. A simple order, there was no danger in it. 

I was cocooned on all sides by smiling faces and laughter, but the electricity in the air didn’t feel like excitement anymore. It felt like the warning hum of a storm waiting to crest the horizon. My calm was like the dreaded moment before a tempest.

“And I have an English Breakfast?” The waitress said when she returned.

“Oh, that’s me.” I said, lifting a finger in confirmation.

“Here you go,” and then she left without a glance back at my horrified expression. Baked Beans everywhere.

They’re touching, my broken mind whispered over and over. Touching, touching, the food is touching. Everything was smothered with the beans as the red stain of sauce spread from its pile on top of the plate, dripping from the hash browns, staining the pale surface of the egg. Like rusted blood, it contaminated everything it touched.

A shameful panic beat in my chest. The appetite that had been growing inside me was overpowered by the painful ache of anxiety. Even if I wanted to taste the food, the grease would be oppressed by the metallic tang coating my tongue. Touching, it can’t be touching.

But I had to focus if I wanted to do damage control. The process of excavation, as any archaeologist will tell you, begins by removing the topsoil. Scraping aside the layer of beans crusted with cloying sauce was the easy part. The next step required a quick evaluation of the site. Using the knife, I gingerly lifted each hash brown, hoping to reveal the preserved surfaces beneath. But nothing had escaped the carnage. Little rusted shapes had crawled into each crevice like starving maggots. 

It was no longer an excavation; this was a minefield. Anything could trigger a cataclysmic explosion. Anything could ignite the fuse and release the building pressure in my chest. 

“Oooh, that looks yummy.”

“Huh?” I was in a daze.

“That looks good.” Carrie repeated.

“Oh”, my voice was hoarse, “Yeah, it does.”

And then she just didn’t look away. She stared with open eyes, not seeing the minefield for what it was. Oh, to see with such eyes, to taste and not feel each morsel of food, each clashing texture and each conflicting flavour. There is such intense detail in every bite; it’s almost painful. 

She hadn’t looked away. I brought a portion to my mouth and let the contaminants breach my lips.

She can’t know that I am still a child inside, cutting the crusts off every sandwich. She can’t know that I’m not like her. She can’t know that this world is too bright and loud and explosive for such a fragile mind as mine.

After Taste – Osian Williams
Illustration by Yang Gao
My putting down the glass
        Is the same action
She made in reverse

        She had
Complained of stomach ache

        Lifting a hand
(her right?)
        She (a second she) took
The hand
        Cradling it

Why do that
I said 
        She (the second) said
Meridian lines
I said

Firmly yet gently
        (I never understood
        that till now)
She worked her thumbs
        Into her palm
And the white 
        Which appeared when she 
Pressed the skin
        Could have been impressions 
Made in a ball of dough

She burped
        I was impressed
                I think
I think of her and her now
As a chill 
Goes down 
        My arm

Just Wait – Michael Freeman

COVID has meant we have had to experience the world in different ways. This sketch shows the futility and perhaps the humour of failing to adjust. The fact that this is a self portrait shows a personal reflection on how I have had to change during the pandemic.

Morning Fresh – Khadijah Ali

Chinese Takeaway – Aiden Tsen
Illustration by Yang Gao
In Oxford
The food is so different.
Piles upon Piles of
Bowls upon Bowls of
Who at home knows ‘Mulligatawny soup’?

I know that
College strives to make stir-fries,
I know that.
And sometimes I do crave that Chinese takeaway feel,
But sometimes (most times)
I want a taste of Home.

Even as a BBC
(Not the TV company),
I know that
Takeaways are British,
Not Chinese.
Who in China eats fortune cookies?

Our food is
Bustling restaurants,
Brusque service,

In Oxford
The food is so different.
Where are my
Piles upon Piles of
Bowls upon Bowls of
Homesickness abounds.
Chinese Takeaway (spoken by Aiden Tsen)

Plate, Mug and Bowl Origins. – Ben Beechener
Photo description: A sketch of a plate, mug and bowl, taken with said objects in the background. Words: ‘Ikea’, ‘Lostwithiel’

When we think about the implements that utilise the sensation of taste can we say that they are culturally charged? Each piece has a point of origin, a method of production, a purpose in the process of eating. Some utensils and items of homeware may even enrich our taste, the practice of eating being so often embedded in our experience of food, beyond the foodstuff itself.

Photo Series – Niamh McBratney

I enjoy exploring ideas of what it is to be human through my photography, and how our shared behaviours are used to bring us together. In these photos, I have presented the ways that we use taste as a means to be with others, such as the use of alcohol and smoking. The universal experience of taste highlights our similarity. Now more than ever, we are longing for intimacy, inclusion and closeness. In spite of long-term consequences, we take part in these socially acceptable and encouraged behaviours to project an attractive image of ourselves onto those around us, and hope that this will bring us together.

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Curated and edited by Yundi Li and Emily Broughton