‘Crayfish Bob’s’ is a pop-up café serving American Signal Crayfish fresh from the River Thames, for one week during Artsadmin’s Two Degrees Festival. It is a live, participatory event that encapsulates the ethos of the festival, bringing together art and activism in the form of a unique dining experience. Buy a ticket and you will have the pleasure to dine al fresco, enjoy the sweet tasting American Signal Crayfish and engage in a collective environmental intervention that is celebratory and conversational.
American Signal Crayfish are currently at the top of the Environment Agency’s list of troublesome invasive species, although they look less threatening on a platter, with their bright red shells and marionette-claws, served with an amazing hemp oil mayonnaise. They are not only widespread, but also contain a type of plague that is deadly to the native crayfish. Crayfish Bob (aka Bob Ring) has a solution for this problem, aiming to sell large quantities of crayfish, in the form of a range of products, until the business crashes due to lack of stock. The pop-up cafe is a starting point for this venture; a collaboration with artist Clare Patey, designer Lizzie Clachan and food designers Blanch and Shock. ‘The UK imports most of its crayfish from China’, says Crayfish Bob. ‘The domestic market barely uses UK-caught crayfish, which would be a significant help in eradicating the invasive species.’
If this narrative underpins the event, it does so subtly and elegantly, through conversations that erupts amongst participants, the serving of the food as well as a beautifully designed shack, which houses an installation exploring the potential impact of the Signal Crayfish with plenty of humour. In ‘Crayfish Bob’s’, an issue is presented not as artefact, but as a situation, so there’s an invitation to be part of the evolving narrative, if only for one night. This participation doesn’t require a moral stance, but considers activism from a domestic perspective that doesn’t simulate any politics of distance.
‘Crayfish Bob’s’ is performative not in tone, but through its intention and immediately rewarding effect. It capitalises on its own rules of engagement and maintains a simple structure to engage in a conversation. As a participant, there is no pressure to take a position, but simply to enjoy and share food that, in Crayfish Bob’s own words, ‘helps a few more crayfish on their way’. In light of this, the experience could benefit from more interventions from its core participants, either throughout the serving of the food or in taking part in the various disparate dinner conversations.
Through its specificity and positive action, ‘Crayfish Bob’ is more than an invitation to help eradicate an invasive species, it is also a model for environmental activism, pointing out that even the simplest act can make a difference. Here eating becomes a political act, its collectivity a social form of engagement and the food itself an empowering environmental action; it helps that Crayfish Bob cooks the best crayfish too. In the context of alternative solutions to imminent issues, ‘Crayfish Bob’s’ is an inspiring proposition.