FOOD: Recipe or Remedy 

A new exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (“the College”) explores the relationship between food, diet and public health over the past 600 years – and includes artwork from people who have lived experience of eating disorders.

At the exhibition launch event (27 April 2022) guests will hear two short talks from contributors to the exhibition, Ally Zlatar and Charlotte Holmes. Ally will discuss her lived experiences of an eating disorder and her art on the subject, while Charlotte will uncover the history of medical recipes and the historical relationship between food and medicine.

Ally Zlatar said:

For such a long time, I thought if I was thinner, I would be happier. Instead, quite the opposite occurred, and I became confined to my body. As someone with an eating disorder of over 8 years, my central problem was not so much the external physical ramifications of the illness, but rather the internalised psychological and emotional struggles that I have experienced.

The illustrations, books and objects displayed in this exhibition give an insight into the use of food as a preventative, a palliative and a cure for illness by the doctors who pioneered the development of new and innovative food-based medical treatments.

The Good Food Nation Bill is currently being scrutinised by Holyrood, and the College supports this and other policies designed to tackle Scotland’s diet challenges – as around 65% of adults in Scotland are overweight or obese.

This exhibition encourages us to consider both the social and the medical ideas around food and health, and aims to show how our shifting notions of, and relationship with our diet have been central to medicine for hundreds of years.

The content includes:

  • Objects are a large part of the exhibition, and three of the most unusual items are: a trichobezoar (a mass of undigested hair formed in the stomach of a young woman), an endoscopy capsule (designed to photograph the small intestine) and Dr Gregory’s Stomachic Powder (a patent laxative developed locally, in Edinburgh’s Morningside);
  • As well as objects, illustrations and manuscripts the exhibition has two touchscreens – one exploring the historical origins of various food items which were used as medicines (such as lemons, sugar and ginger) and the other showing short interviews with modern-day patients and practitioners;
  • The exhibition looks at our relationship with food past and present and its use in medical practice. It does this through four themes: sourcing, eating, evacuating and controlling.

Dr Daisy Cunynghame (curator of ‘FOOD: Recipe or Remedy’) said:

Food and diet are challenging subjects to discuss. They can be treated very scientifically, very factually, but they are also very personal topics which many of us have strong feelings about. We made sure when developing this exhibition that we consulted with specialist physicians but also with people, such as Ally Zlatar, with very personal connections to the subject. Through handwritten recipe books, interviews and artwork we are exploring individual people’s experiences, as well as historical and scientific evidence.

Ally Zlatar added:

Those around me did not understand the depths of my struggles [with an eating disorder], and mainstream media has a stereotypical idea of what it is like to “live with an eating disorder”. It is far beyond eating carrot sticks, and treadmills. I strive to create art that addresses the grim reality of what the disease entails and confront the ambiguities of the physical body’s impact on the psyche of those who suffer from this illness.

FOOD: Recipe or Remedy will launch on 27 April. Tickets can be bought through Eventbrite.