This is what it’s like to experience a “discomfort” dinner

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This is what it's like to experience a

Interested in oysters with microplastics? How about deep water horizon dirty consommé complete with an oil spill? Food Dialogues 2023 kicked off with an interesting event titled Polycrisis Pantry. It was an event that did not shy away stating hard truths and making diners uncomfortable. Online Editor Annzra Denita Naidoo was there. Here’s what she thought about the night.

One of the best parts of working in food media is the amazing experiences we get to try. From sampling the food on our magazine’s shoots to trying new menus at fine-dining restaurants, we really are lucky to experience food in different ways. I have been in food media for eight years, and Food Dialogue’s Polycrisis Pantry event was the most interesting and eye-opening food experience I’ve ever been to. The dinner’s aim was to highlight and confront various crises facing the contemporary food system. It was the first dinner I attended that wanted you to be uncomfortable. On the other hand, the food was really good. Let’s get into it.

What is Food Dialogues 2023?

Before we get into the dinner, let’s give it some context. The Polycrisis Pantry event kicked off Food Dialogues 2023. Organised by the SA Urban Food & Farming Trust, Food Dialogues aims to discuss local and global food systems and the challenges they face. It brings together a wide range of speakers involved in shaping the food system. Food growers, academics, activists, writers, nutritionists, policymakers and food lovers interested in sustainability get to come together and share their knowledge. This year the event is happening from 4–18 July at various venues in Cape Town.

Polycrisis Pantry was hosted by food justice worker Zayaan Khan with local chef Maria van Zyl and farmer-artist Maya Marshak at Maker’s Landing at the V&A Waterfront. The aim of the dinner was to “explore several interrelated and compounding crises through satire and an artistic lens on the plate”. I had no idea how this would play out and was completely unprepared!

Feeling the discomfort

I had not realised it before, but I rarely go into a food situation without knowing what I’ll be eating. At events, you’re usually asked for your dietary preferences and given information about the type of food that will be served. Even if I go to a restaurant, I look up the menu, read reviews and by the time I arrive, I already know what I’m going to eat. For Polycrisis Pantry, there was virtually no information given about the food at all. We weren’t asked about our dietary preferences. We had no idea what to expect.

The evening started with tea made from different herbs. Large sprigs of herbs were placed in jugs of warm water to steep. We helped ourselves to the various teas on offer, enjoying the unique flavours. It was only when we sat down and read the menu, that we realised that the tea represented the exploitation of our land’s rich diversity and how indigenous knowledge is stolen and gatekept by foreign pharmaceutical companies. Zayaan Khan told us that they wanted us to confront our feelings as we sat through the dinner and learned about the uglier side of food. While these truths were not shoved down our throats, they were ever present in the carefully chosen words on the menu and the way the food was presented. We even got a note reminding us that the very place we sat was the site of forced removals of communities during apartheid, so urban development could happen. Heavy!


It’s one thing to read about the crisis surrounding the food you’re eating. It’s completely different seeing it physically represented. The first course was “oysters à la microplastique”. The description read: “Fresh oysters served simply to allow the inorganic profile of the microplastics to shine”. We were presented with unseasoned oysters topped with tiny colourful beads. We didn’t know whether they were plastic or not. When we asked, no one said anything. For a while, we just looked at the oysters, unsure whether we could eat the “plastic”. Finally, one brave diner bit the bullet and ate one. It was her first time eating oysters and she didn’t like them. But she did let us know that the “plastic” was a sweet. Side note, I have never had sugary oysters before – they weren’t bad!

The courses continued in a similar way. From pollution and agrichemicals to consumerism and racism, we confronted various issues while eating delicious food. Oil spill and “smoke” in sea broth. Out-of-season vegetables served with a “supplement” (capsule with seasoning) for nutrients. Fermented preserves that are more alive and diverse in their death than when they were alive. This is the food we ate throughout the night. I did feel some guilt, but also really enjoyed the food. It was a strange, conflicting range of emotions. Since dietary requirements were not catered for, some people skipped courses. They also skipped courses because they were too nervous to eat some of the dishes and that also added to the discomfort but sparked conversations. In case you’re wondering, I ate everything.

Ending on a sweet note

After all the learnings, reflections and discomfort, the evening ended in celebration. To celebrate people who spend their birthdays alone during lockdown, we had a make-up party. The organisers brought their mothers’ tablecloths to make the space feel homey. We all dressed the tables together and were given our own little banana bread birthday cake. We lit the candles, sang happy birthday to everyone and enjoyed the cake with some home-made pineapple “beer”. It was a sentimental end to a strange evening and an experience I will never forget.

If you want to experience the Polycrisis Pantry, it’s being held again on 15 July at Maker’s Landing at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. Book your tickets here. Food Dialogues is hosting various talks, events and experiences in Cape Town until 18 July. Learn more at

Annzra Denita Article by: Annzra Denita

Annzra Denita is the digital editor of TASTE. Eating good food is her absolute favourite thing and making good food is a close second.

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