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SMOG TASTING: TAKE OUT. HONG KONG. (2019)

November 4, 2019
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On November 9th, 2019 the Center for Genomic Gastronomy will install the Smog Tasting project in Hong Kong City Hall.  Citizens will be able to taste and compare a range of smog meringues collected from around the city considering the flavors, ingredients, and composition of Hong Kong’s atmospheric taste of place.

Since 2011 we have been studying Aeroir (the unique atmospheric taste of place) in various locations around the planet.

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In Hong Kong we will be using the methodology of Smog Tasting: Take Out — local volunteers use Smog Tasting Kits to capture their neighborhood’s smog in the batter of meringue cookies.

These neighborhood Smog Harvesters will then bake and send a batch of smog meringues to Hong Kong City Hall where citizens can taste and compare a range of smog meringues asking:

— What is in Hong Kong smog, and what does taste like in 2019? 

— What are the current smog conditions and how do industry, energy production, transportation, commerce and even civil unrest contribute?

— Have recent actions, including the extensive use of tear gas, changed the composition and flavour of the air in the short term?

— In the slightly longer term, has Hong Kong (and the planet) begun to reach peak pollution, and what would a future of clean (and less pungent) air require?

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HONG KONG SMOG: A SHORT HISTORY

It isn’t uncommon for the world-famous skyline of Hong Kong to be obstructed by smog. On January 22, 2018, thick smog covered Victoria Harbour. According to National Geographic’s reporting, “Every monitoring station in Hong Kong reported dangerously bad air (…) particulate matter levels on January 22 hit eight times the acceptable maximum. Officials warned children, elderly, and those with heart or lung problems to stay inside.”

As we are writing this in late October 2020, the air quality across Hong Kong is considered “unhealthy” according to Air Quality Index standards and citizens are advised to “limit prolonged outdoor exertion”.

WHAT’S IN MY SMOG?

Air pollution is composed of several ingredients mixing together under UV sunlight. 

The main three ingredients of air pollution are typically:
1)  “PM (particulate matter)
2)  NoX (nitrogen dioxide or nitric oxide), and 
3) SO2 (Sulphur dioxide)
which are all produced by different factors.

Four major contributors to Hong Kong’s smog are: 
A) coal-based power stations
B) local motor vehicle traffic (Hong Kong has one of the highest vehicle densities of any city in the world)
C) marine emissions from large ships coming to and from its ports and 
D) pollution drifting over from mainland China

According to a study commissioned by Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department in 2012, a large percentage of Hong Kong’s particulate matter pollution (which can be the most detrimental to respiratory health) drifts over from mainland China. This can account for an estimated 60% of total air pollution in Hong Kong throughout the year and up to 77% in the windy winter months.

Hong Kong has one of the busiest ports in the world, and along with its neighboring cities in the Pearl River Delta zone, these ports create a lot of dangerous air pollution. Large container ships and cruise ships which use sulphur fuel actually create more pollution than road vehicles. To mitigate Sulfur Dioxide pollution, Hong Kong introduced a law that required ships to switch to a low sulfur fuel when mooring in the city. As a result, concentrations of sulphur in air pollution went down 30% to 50% in 2016. 

Over 50% of Hong Kong’s energy is generated by burning Coal. Most of Hong Kong’s energy inputs are imported, with coal usually coming from Indonesia. Hong Kong does use alternative energy sources, like very small scale wind power, but use is quite minimal in the scheme of total energy production. Most energy is consumed for domestic use (52.3%) followed closely by commercial use (41.9%). When coal is burned it releases heavy metals pollutants into the air as well as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.

TEAR GAS: A NEW FLAVOUR 

But what are the other unique tasting notes of Hong Kong Smog? With the recent protests and police conflicts, the flavor of tear gas is a new ingredient in the aerior of Hong Kong. According a report by Buzzfeed, “The most common type of tear gas used today — and the one that’s filled the streets of Hong Kong — is known as CS, or chlorobenzalmalononitrile”. Though The Chemical Weapons Convention banned tear gas for war, it categorizes CS as a riot-control agents and not a chemical weapons. CS is created by an American company called Nonlethal Technologies and exported to the world.

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IMAGE CREDIT: cc 2.0 Studio Incendo

According to multiple reports, police fired over 1800 rounds of tear gas by August 2019 in Hong Kong. At one point launching 800 rounds in a single day. Even though CS is common, its effects are not well understood. Sven-Eric Jordt from Duke University School of Medicine said, “I’m very concerned that we’re underestimating the toxicity, especially when it’s fired in these more dense cities like Cairo and Hong Kong” Although there are guidelines — such as not firing tear gas indoors — it’s impossible to say how well enforced they are…There’s no rules that these companies insist on once the products leave the US.”

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Image credit: wikimedia commons.

CS burns and irritates, often leaving victims coughing until they vomit, but how long does it linger in the air? Are its peppery overtones what you notice when you taste the smog in Hong Kong?

WE ARE WHAT WE BREATH

In 2015 the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and CoClimate partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to create the exhibition BREATHE which featured a version of Smog Tasting. 

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The show took place on the opening evening of the High Level Assembly of the Climate and Clean Air Delegation meeting and was designed to engage delegates on the matters of particulate air pollution and its impacts on health. The show traveled to the WHO Library and then COP21 in Paris and was specifically used to highlight connections between air pollution, climate, and health, which there was a general lack of awareness around. 
In Hong Kong, awareness of the vast array of health issues related with smog is still fairly low.

Coronary heart disease and stroke, as well as skin problems, respiratory issues, and even mental health have all been linked to air pollution. Most people do not take action based on the advice of Air Quality Index readings, and carry on their daily activities as normal. Additionally, local people often compare the quality Hong Kong’s air to other large cities in China rather than the rest of the world, making it seem fairly normal rather than unsafe or unhealthy. In fact, while many countries and cities are becoming less polluted across the planet, others, like Hong Kong, seem to get even worse. Why is this?

PEAK POLLUTION

Have some nations or cities already reached peak pollution? Are we at a point where things can really only get better? The US, UK, Western Europe and even Mexico have seen a decrease in PM 2.5 pollution, while China, India and Northern Africa have increased.

Is this because some zones are “cleaning up”, installing alternative energy systems, reducing waste, minimizing pollution with better technologies? Or is it because some of us are outsourcing our pollution to neighbors nearby or across the world? Who has control of the means of pollution production anyways?

TASTE FOR YOURSELF

Smog Tasting: Take Out will be on display from November 9 – 17 at Hong Kong City Hall as part of the Microwave Festival. We will taste and compare smog from these 4 – 6 locations, considering the flavors, ingredients, and composition of the Hong Kong’s taste of place.

SITES:
Peng Chau,  Kam Tin,  Tai Po, Lok Fu, Kwun Tong (unconfirmed), Wan Chai

LOCI @ Foresight Conference Berlin

January 10, 2019

Last week we the Center participated as speakers and artists in the Conjectural Futures Conference, a two-day event around foresight and forecasting in Berlin. 

The conference session, “(Inter-)planetary Conjectures” focused on how we will live on and with our planet in the future. The Center gave a talk about our work, specifically looking at the ways we use food as a mechanism for forecasting and creating new images of the future to debate and discuss. We focussed on two projects in specific: New National Dish: Portugal and LOCI Food Lab.

Between sessions, the Center hosted a pop-up LOCI Food Lab performance, where visitors could choose from a selection of attributes, which would generate a unique bite-sized taster, composed of ingredients from the Central European Mixed Forest.

LOCI MENU: Central European Mixed Forest

Ingredient research and recipe development by Vilma Luostarinen


PESTICIDED POTATO SKINS
Baked from once-threatened local varieties

PINE MONOCULTURE CRISPBREAD
Made with Scots Pine bark and juniper berries

POPPY TAHINI
Czech poppy seed butter blended with imported tahini

WILD FUNGI
Pâté with foraged forest mushrooms

BERLIN CURRYWURST
Pork sausage with British-occupied, colonial spice mix

NOT YET D.P.O. CHEESE
Crafted but not yet certified Polish cheese

CLOUDBERRY JAM
Made from uncanny Alpine and Arctic ingredients

PICKLED APPLE
Quick pickled, unsellable Polish apples with exportable Asian flavours

HYPER-LOCAL LETTUCE
Self-sustaining, Berlin-grown lettuce from Infarm with Brandenburg pumpkin seed sprinkles

BARLEY GRASS
Capsules of grass from imagined bison comeback habitat

 

  

Serendipity Festival Goa – Brinjals & Planetary Sculpture Picnics

July 23, 2018

In December of last year, the Center visited Goa, India to participate in Serendipity Festival. We ran two projects during the festival: the BTBS brinjal food cart and a walking tour called Planetary Sculpture Picnic.

(Above) “Brinjal Taste-test & Brinjal Seed-saving” food cart for showcasing the agricultural biodiversity of Brinjal. (From 3pm to 7pm, December 19th, 20th, 21st)

  (Above) “Planetary Sculpture Picnic” (PSP) a walking Tour and Eating Experience with short readings and small tasters. (Twice Daily: 11am-11:45am and 12pm-12:45pm, on December 19th, 20th, 21st)


BTBS Food Cart

The name BTBS doubles as the acronym for “Brinjal Taste-test & Brinjal Seed-save”, as well as a reference to BT Brinjal (a transgenic suite of brinjals) and the negative public opinion around the release of these GM varieties.

Leading up to the festival, The Center designed a cart that could function as a station for taste-tests, seed-saving, and recipe exchange, specifically to celebrate the diversity of brinjal that exists in India. In Goa we visited local markets to collect as many varieties of brinjal as we could find.  

At the cart, visitors could learn to save brinjal seeds by extracting, washing, sieving, and drying seeds from the brinjals we had collected. The most committed visitors took home seeds to try and grow their own brinjal plants. Our brinjal collection increased on Day 2 of the festival, when one of our collaborators in Goa brought us a brinjal from her yard (seen below) and two visitors to the festival brought us a unique white variety from their garden.

Each day, the cart served a free small brinjal dish made by local cooks. 

Visitors could also leave behind a Brinjal postcard, contributing their own recipe or story about their favorite brinjal.

 


Planetary Sculpture Picnic

PSP was a walking tour with four stops and a few snacks and stories from the past, present, and future. Planetary Sculpture refers to the different ways in which humans sculpt the planet through food choices. PSP was a tour that focused on concepts and flavours for eating in a new way, one which not only minimizes our impact on the planet, but actively attempts to heal it. The tour took place in Children’s Park, Goa.

PART 1: Taste Around Us

At this stop, entitled Smog Tasting, visitors tasted the air pollution in Goa through tiny meringue cookies which had been whipped with air from the nearby street. After tasting the smog cookies, visitors mapped out their perceptions of high and low smog areas in Goa.

(Above) Elizabeth whipping meringue cookies on a busy street in Panaji the night before the first PSP tour.

PART 2: Taste Before Us

At this stop, entitled Midgley Celebration, we imagined a future ritual based on a villain from the past: the one human responsible for the most atmospheric damage to earth. Tour-goers gathered around a “Midgpin tree” in the park to enact a future Earth Day “Midgpin” smashing. A clay piñata in the likeness of Thomas Midgley Junior hung from the tree and one visitor was given the job of smashing the piñata. The Midgpin was filled seeds for bioremediation, carbon sequestration, or seeds for plants that can withstand harsh environments due to climate change. Midgley was responsible for inventing leaded petrol and Freon, which have caused great damage to the earth and atmosphere. The seeds released from the Midgpin are resilient. They replenish, restore, and revitalise. After the smashing, two tour-goers were asked to bring the ritual to a close by spreading a bag of soil over the fallen seeds.

PART 3: Taste Ahead of Us

Next we walked further into the park where we spread out blankets and took a seat. This third stop on the tour was called, Cover Crop Cuisine. Here we discussed and tasted the “noneconomic” plants that are grown to suppress weeds, fix nitrogen, control pest and diseases and replenish the soil. Each visitor was offered a Cover Crop Cuisine taster: Cover crop crackers with cowpea and mustard greens hummus, miso pickled mustard seeds and honey roasted cowpeas.

(Cover Crop Taster Recipe Here — Recipe development & above images by Vilma Luostarinen)

PART 4: Taste of Us

Finally, for the last stop on the tour, our visitors were asked to lie down and look up at the sky. This story was called To Flavour Our Tears and focused on humans as food source for other organisms: the skin we shed, the waste we produce, even our meat and blood and bone will all be consumed in due course. But what do we taste like to our consumers? Is there a way for us to modify our flavour to please our parasites and saprophytes? Tour-goers then closed their eyes and tapped lightly on their eyelids as they imagined a specific kind of tear-drinking month coming to feast on their tears. As they did this we read aloud a passage from a scientist in Thailand who was studying these months. In the passage, the scientist recalls his first-hand account of feeding his own tears to wild moths in the moonlight.
 
 
Finally, visitors were offered a tea and time for discussion as they reflected on the tour experience and imagined additional ways of healing the earth through new or alternative (agri)cultural practices.
 

Thank you to curator Manu Chandra and Serendipity for inviting us to participate in the festival. And a huge thank you to Koshy Brahmatmaj, Elizabeth Yorke, and our Serendipity Volunteers for bringing these projects to life.

To Flavour Our Tears – DDW & Lisbon Food Studies

November 22, 2017

The latest version of our To Flavour Our Tears project was featured at Dutch Design Week as part of the Embassy of Food and the Lisbon Food Design and Food Studies Conference in October. 2017. 

      

      

SEED-O-MATIC at the Variety Showcase, PDX

November 3, 2017

The Center’s SEED-O-MATIC was featured at this year’s Variety Showcase in Portland, Oregon, hosted by the Culinary Breeding Network. The vending machine was stocked with seeds supplied by the Open Source Seed Initiative and visitors could find out more about their seeds by visiting various stations at the Variety Showcase event.

Photo Credits: Heather K. Julius

On & Off the Grid: Hackers & Designers

August 9, 2017

Endophyte Club: Amsterdam was hosted by Hackers & Designers Summer Academy, 2017: On & Off the Grid

ON AND OFF THE GRID

What if biotechnology was hackable and accessible to all? It wouldn’t need to be anything fancy, just groups of hobbyists experimenting with what they might do with biology that is interesting. Just like in the early days of computing most biotechnology happens in large laboratories, and the experiments that are pursued are chosen because they are deemed to be profitable or worthy. And just like in computing, the early purveyors of mainframes as profit boxes or war machines missed the future as it oozed in the society around them.

The Rare Endophyte Collectors Club is an attempt to do something interesting biotechnology off the grid with hobbyists and curiosity. What are the microbes that live inside of plants, how do they act, and what might they do if we moved them over there instead? We are not making any promises, but endophytes might be useful as BioFertilizers and BioPesticides. That could help reduce our need to live on the industrial chemical grid.

Getting off the grid means creating a new infrastructure for doing biology, agriculture and food that does not require petrochemical inputs and revitalizes the soils, water and air that surround us. But it starts with a new of seeing the world. Looking for endophytes is a new of seeing.   

Melbu Residency: Eating in Extreme Environments

July 3, 2017

In May, we set up an outpost for the Center in the North of Norway. We invited writer and podcaster Nicola Twilley and our previous scientific collaborator Dr. Wendy Russell to join us on this adventure. We spent a week together based in a cottage on the outskirts of Melbu, exploring both local and global food systems.

THE RESIDENCY

Our host was Nordland Akademy for Art and Science, where Maria and Johan helped organise our itinerary so we could meet a range of interesting local food producers. We spent most of the week visiting a variety of farms and a fish processing factory and discussing the questions that arose. These questions were compiled and discussed with locals during the Planetary Sculpture Supperclub: Arctic Circle Edition that was prepared by chef Neumann and served at his restaurant Neptunn Bar and Grill at the historic fish oil factory in Melbu.

FIELD TRIPS

Melbu is on the island Hadseløya which is part of the cluster of islands that make up Versterålen and Lofoten. This was our homebase, and the map below shows the sites we visited.

1. Skavli Brygghus

We visited Liss Mari who runs her micro brewery 10 minutes away from the Evenes Airport. Before we arrived, we talked with Nordland Akademy and Chef Neumann about making a seaweed beer for the Planetary Sculpture Supperclub. Maria and Johan harvested bladder wack seaweed, Neumann dried it, and Liss Mari brewed it! We went to pick up the beer on our first day and also got a tour of the brewery and a delicious meal.

2. Ivar Utbjør and His Boer Goats

On the second day, our first visit was to Ivar the boer goat farmer. He told us about this unique breed of goat that originated in South Africa, but is very well suited to the climate in the north of Norway. He raises the goats mainly for meat, but they also perform useful ecosystem services, by eating their way through fields of the highly invasive Persian hogweed (Tromsø Palme). Like most livestock in this area, they are kept in barns over winter, and then allowed to graze free in the mountains in the summer months. The goats are particularly well suited for climbing the steep mountains right behind this little farm.

3. Neptun Herring Oil Factory, Museum Nord

We were given a tour of the old factory and learned about the history of Melbu’s fish oil industry. Modernised in 1910 by Christian Frederiksen, this factory invested in cutting edge technologies to produce vast amounts of fish oil by literally screwing the local herring population (in a screw press system). During his lifetime the factory was very successful. However, in the 60s there was a decline in the fish oil business due to a collapse in the herring population, a reduction in demand for fish oil and overproduction of product. This eventually caused the factory to shut down in 1987. The adverse effects on the local community partly due to the overfishing of herring in the 1960s, is one of many stories worldwide that serve as poignant reminders that no matter how industrious humans are, we are always relient on larger ecosystem flows.

4. Taen Beach

There’s a growing global trend of harvesting seaweed, both for eating and for other products (for example organic vegan lube). There is a great diversity of seaweed available around Melbu, so we were interested in foraging a few different varieties and taste testing them. We visited the beach where Nordland Akademi harvested the bladderwack seaweed for the beer that Skavli brewed. Seaweed is still an unusual ingredient for the locals, but it is available in abundance, and chef Neumann uses it at his restaurant occasionally. Will we see the trend growing in Melbu?

5. Nøisomhed Farm

We visited Renee at his farm and learned about his biodynamic farming practices. We talked about his wonderful smelling compost that is at the center of his work, working with animals and growing vegetables, creating an ecological balance and providing delicious, local food. Choosing resiliency over efficiency, he was definitely an anomaly in the regional countryside, but hopefully his passion and success can inspire others to farm in ways that leave the earth replenished rather than exhausted.

6. Norway Seafood, Fish Processing Factory

Norway Seafood is a fish factory that can process up to 6000kg of fish an hour. We were given a tour of their facilities. They receive fish from small 100kg catches by local fishermen to 100,000kg catches from trawlers in the area. These fish are then processed – cleaned, filleted, frozen and packaged – and shipped all around the world for consumption. Every part of the fish is used, even the scraps are collected, frozen into large blocks, and sold as food to a mink farm in Finland. This state of the art facility is one of the factories that makes Norway the largest worldwide exporter of fish.

7. Nordtun Farm

Nordtun is a small-scale dairy producer in Andøya, housing 20 cows. Instead of selling exclusively to Tine (Norway’s largest producer of dairy products) Nordtun farm’s owners make a variety of delicious hard and soft cheeses that they sell in a small shop at the farm. In addition to cows and chickens, Nordtun is home to a gregarious group of llamas that provide great farm entertainment.

8. Inga Sami Siida

We also spent a few hours with a Sami reindeer herder to learn about her animals and the history of reindeer in the region. The reindeer are essentially free-range in the warmer months, spending their days searching for food. Herders use GPS to keep track of their herd. Before departing we were able to taste reindeer heart and also feed the human-friendly reindeer some tasty lichen clumps.

 

Planetary Sculpture Supper Club, Arctic Circle edition

The Planetary Sculpture Supper Club is a collection of foods, recipes and stories that typify some of the ways humans unconsciously sculpt the planet’s biosphere through eating habits, flavour preferences and food technologies. We hold this semi-regular Supper Club in order to explore the co-evolution of gastronomy and larger ecological, technological and political systems. As a conclusion to our residency we hosted a planetary sculpture supper club at the Neptune restaurant, serving food from the producers we have visited and cooked by Chef Neumann. Each course was served with a few questions that served as prompts for conversations with the diners about the local and global food system. For example, should we eat less fish or should we eat farmed fish?

This residency was supported by the Nordland Academy of Arts & Sciences, Museum Nord, Neptun Arts/Science Lab, Arts Council Norway, Nordland County Council. 

Future Festivals and Celebrations: Workshop

June 1, 2017

In March this year the Cat and Zack from the Center ran a workshop with art and design students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and culinary students from Kendall College.

Even in dark times, people find ways and reasons to celebrate. It is very easy to imagine dystopian speculative futures these days, but at the center we thought it might be productive to imagine positive futures. Hence we prompted the culinary students and art+design students to collaborate to imagine future festivals and celebrations. All celebrations are made up at some point, and if repeated enough, become culture. We wanted to think about and imagine what will be worth celebrating in the future.

After 3 days of working together brainstorming, planning and testing, the students presented their work to staff and students from both colleges. It was very enjoyable having the art+design and culinary students working together, and we think they learnt a lot from each other’s processes, ways of working and even how they talk about their ideas and work. 

We worked closely with the wonderful Elaine Sikorski from Kendall College who expertly guided the students through the culinary development of their projects, making sure all the dishes not only looked good, but tasted delicious! See below for the results.

 

TEAM 1

This team imagined a festival called “Balancing Act” and developed three dishes that highlighted and aimed to counteract damage done to local ecosystems, looking at land, water and air.

 

TEAM 2

This team imagined a future holiday that celebrates forests, taking inspiration from the circular aspects of forest ecosystems and encouraging farming to de-industrialize. 

 

TEAM 3

This team imagined a dirt day holiday that reconnects diners with the living aspects of soil in a future where hydroponics and aeroponics have come to dominate agriculture.

 

During their presentations both SAIC and Kendall college students and staff were present to taste and ask questions about the future festivals the students had imagined.

Photo Credits: Photos were taken by SAIC students Parker Wang, Ravina Puri and Daniela Amorim Reis, and the center.

 

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CURRENT & UPCOMING

March 1, 2018
Climate Fiction PT
October 21 - 29, 2017
Dutch Design Week: Embassy of Food
October 19 - 21, 2017
Experiencing Food (Lisbon)
Nov. 5 - Apr. 2, 2016
2116: Forecast of the Next Century
Nov. 5th, 2016
KiKK Festival Workshop