Tainá Guedes promotes harmony within herself, among other living things, and in the natural environment by making mindful choices, which translate into practical action. She believes that food systems provide a key entry point for dealing with the greatest crises of our time, from poverty to climate change. As a cookbook author, gallerist, and mastermind behind Berlin Food Art Week, Tainá combines food with artistic expression in order to communicate important messages about how we can all be living more thoughtfully and sustainably.
“The movement that comes from me, from my heart, and moves through my hands to make my work, my book, and write my recipes. It doesn’t matter what it is; it is all connected.”
Growing up in Brazil as the daughter of an artist, Tainá’s youth certainly shaped her sense of social consciousness as well as her approach to making strides in the causes she cares about. Coming of age after her father’s death as a teen during a period of economic turmoil in Brazil, she started working at a very young age. She traversed class boundaries as a result, and gained a unique empathetic perspective for people on all ends of the wealth spectrum. Raised by a single mother of Japanese descent, it is apparent that her mother’s cultural background and feminist values had many different influences on her life and career.
“My mum was always very socially engaged, always fighting for people, especially women, but also for all kinds of people. Her vision has deeply impacted who I am. I saw all kinds of worlds.” This has translated into a deep sense of conviction for treating the vulnerable in society, human or animal, with dignity. No doubt, the value of compassion that was instilled in her as a child helped inspire her own vegetarianism, which she adopted later in life, something that has played a defining role in her activism more broadly.
As she stopped consuming meat, for example, it opened her eyes to the ways that humans and animals are all connected. Going vegetarian fostered a deeper awareness of the ways we interact with the natural environment through our choices around food. Simultaneously, she spent the next several years in the restaurant industry honing her creative and communications skills, tools that would come in handy in her activism later on.
At just 19 she participated in the creation of a high profile restaurant in Sao Paulo. She subsequently worked as head of marketing and communications for nearly a decade. It was here that, “I started working with art, I did exhibitions inside the restaurants and at couture events. I translated Japanese culture to non-Japanese people, but I had many problems with the chef because I was a very young woman.” She made a name for herself at the restaurant nonetheless. From devising an entirely vegetarian take on Japanese cuisine to creating a line of lingerie in affiliation with the restaurant, her unconventional ideas often pushed the boundaries on what others thought was possible. After nine years in the restaurant business, however, Tainá began to notice that, “I was a slave of my business, and I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life.”
More specifically, she came to realize just how central her convictions around food really were to her life’s purpose. After “I became vegetarian and I could no longer answer questions [about dishes with meat on the menu]. I’m not against people eating meat, but when it came to more ethical and philosophical questions, I could not answer those anymore either.”
It was from this jumping off point that Tainá transitioned into more socially impactful work. She authored a cookbook to combat bread waste in Berlin, the city where she eventually resettled, and opened a space for food and art to combine, Entretempo Kitchen Gallery. The gallery operates under the premise that, “there are these two universal languages that we share: food and art.” Art is so powerful because it reaches beyond the rational and taps into something deeper and more visceral, which she believes holds the transformative power to change people for the better in lasting ways. Myriad creatives and students have transformed the space to showcase their own visions of how food and art connect.
“How do you really affect people? How do you motivate them? Through art! This is the most powerful tool.”
Tainá brought this powerful combination of food and art to even larger audiences through the foundation of Berlin Food Art Week. Over the course of seven days, artists across many disciplines create works that provide commentary about society’s engagement with food systems. This year’s theme was a critical examination of meat consumption, a topic very close to Tainá’s heart. The event has since resonated with artists in cities around the world. Food Art Week is now held in multiple other cities, which further illustrates the universality of these two languages.
Through her latest project, a cookbook titled, Die Küche der Achtsamkeit (The Kitchen of Mindfulness), we see a different creative manifestation of Tainá’s food values and her gastronomic skills, one that has direct and measurable material impacts. The awareness that her vegetarianism has brought to the way she relates to food systems is something profoundly important to her, and in order to share this knowledge with others, she devised a cookbook filled with recipes made of ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away. In doing so, she teaches others how to apply mindfulness in their own kitchens as a means of taking concrete action through food.
“We’ve created the sort of food system where we don’t know [the big picture]. You don’t see things become the food on your plate. You don’t participate in the process. You don’t go to the farms, so you don’t know how animal products are produced. We try to give this holistic view on the topic of food waste because it’s not only that piece of tomato; that piece of tomato means all the resources, the force of someone, the transportation, the processing. It involves so many things.” Even as buying organic and opting for healthier eating habits is becoming more popular, Tainá remarks, “People are not considering that there is actually a whole system.”
“It helps a lot that when you start thinking [critically] every time you go to the supermarket so that you can make a better decision. If you have the chance to bake your own bread, or if you have the chance to cook with your kids : it’s just about incorporating, planting seeds. This is already helpful; you don’t need to be crazy.”
For Tainá, mindfulness as an approach to food is all encompassing in the ways that it fosters broader clarity and harmony in building community and minimizing our impacts on the environment. The book contains recipes that can be made through the reinvention of scraps from previous dishes as a means of generating as little food waste as possible, something that she feels will gradually change a person’s entire way of relating to food systems more broadly.
To her, following one’s inner voice and practicing mindfulness doesn’t necessarily mean always being extremely disciplined or regimented in your approach to eating. It can also involve knowing when and how to be spontaneous in ways that are liberating but still conducive to promoting good health and a positive social impact.
Tainá demonstrates that it is possible to remain integrated in society as an activist as a living example that making daily mindful choices that align with one’s convictions can have a tremendous ripple effect. She remind the rest of us that, “We are many, and our eating habits have a big impact on our environment, society, and politics. It’s all connected. All the crises that we are facing and living through nowadays, which are many, they are all connected to food. So through food, people can change their behaviors as consumers, which is easy independently of the government and any kind of system because you can do it yourself. You and your decisions are powerful.”