Published on 21 April 2017
Campus Life
Curiositas 2017 - BeefOrPasta ©SVAD

With their science-meets-art project “Beef or Pasta”, Nicolas Darcel and the SVAD collective reveal what goes on in your brain when you make a simple food choice. Beef or Pasta is on show from April 18 to 29 at the George Sand Mediatheque in Palaiseau as part of the Curiositas festival.

What appealed to you about the Curiositas festival?

I have been working for nearly five years on the mental processes that produce human food behavior at the Physiology of Nutrition and Food Behavior Laboratory at AgroParisTech, a founding member of Université Paris-Saclay. I'm particularly interested in decision-making. My research is based in part on brain imaging and three-dimensional modeling, which produce maps and show mental processes in action. Participating in the Curiositas festival was a way of looking at neuroscience issues from an artist's perspective and producing a different kind of map.

What is the SVAD collective?

The SVAD collective is made up of a scientist—myself, video director Clément Tomé, stop motion animator Shawy and illustrator Guillaume Carreau. We started it to share the research of the ANCA Chair (on food, nutrition and food behavior) with the general public.

What does your project consist of?

Have you ever taken a long-haul flight? In the middle of the flight, you’re offered something to eat (“Would you like beef or pasta?”). You only have a few seconds to choose because the other passengers are waiting, but it’s a very complex decision that involves our memories, our food preferences, our fear of putting on weight, our beliefs, our ethical convictions, the image we want to project, and so on. “Beef Or Pasta” traces the complex yet nearly automatic mental processes set in motion by that kind of a menu choice.

How do you represent these processes?

We wanted to illustrate the cerebral mechanics behind each of the 200 decisions we make every day about our diet. So we built a mind map around a very simple starting point: a pasta dish and a cut of beef. The arguments “for” and “against” each dish are represented in the form of drawings, photos, collages or mechanisms (tabs, overlays, etc.).

There's also a video…

Yes, an animated short film that tries to show how this mind map was developed. The video shows the construction of the networks of thoughts that occur during the food choice via drawings, videos, stop-motion animation, etc. In a way, the camera follows the path made by the brain as it weighs up the various arguments. Filmed in close up, it ends up presenting the mind map exhibited next to it in its entirety.


Visit « BeefOrPasta » from April 18 to 29 at the Médiathèque George Sand in Palaiseau.

Find out more: check out the program of the festival Curiositas