Symposium: Designing For the Anthropocene

September 19, 2012

Marina Bay in Singapore. Photo Credit: SuperTree Forest


Friday 21 September 2012, 10:30 – 18:00
Seminar Rooms ABC, AS7-01-16/17/18, The Shaw Foundation Building
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, NUS Kent Ridge Campus


10:00 Registration

10:15 Welcome by Axel Gelfert, STS FASS Cluster, NUS &
Denisa Kera, CNM FASS, NUS.  

10:30 – 11:50 Session 1:  (Un)Sustainable Food and Art Futures

Critical design, art, and activism use food to reflect upon present STS (Science, Technology and Society) challenges. Do these provocative projects empower the public or they only amuse or even pacify and desensitize? Is it vanity or an effective form of a protest or even a call for a more socially responsible innovation? 
Jodi Newcombe, Carbon Arts:  The Cross(x) Species Adventure Club: An edible model for arts and agency?
Zackery Denfeld & Cathrine Kramer,
The Center for Genomic Gastronomy:  The Center for Genomic Gastronomy 
Sara Lenzi
, Lorelei: Eat me, drink me, hear me
Richard Streitmatter-Tran & Le Tuong Vi, RMIT University Vietnam: DIA Projects
Moderator: Jerome Whitington, Tembusu college, NUS

12:00 – 13:00 Lunch

13:00 – 14:05 Session 2:  Design and STS Strategies for Quantified Planet
Carbon accounting and various data bring new strategies for both research and design dealing with various environmental challenges. Do they support technocratic dreams of a full control or they provide new means for sustainable design and more complex research strategies for STS?
Jaz Hee-Jeong Choi, Urban Informatics Research lab, QUT: Designing Urban Ecologies: People, Place, Technology, and Food
Ingmar Lippert, Tembusu college, NUS: Carbon emissions: the impossibility of technocratic control
Jerome Whitington, Tembusu college, NUS: Carbon’s Second Life
Moderator: Jodi Newcombe, Carbon Arts

Break 14:05 – 14:15

14:15 – 15:20 Session 3:  Food for Thought and Education
Food as a medium and topic in education. What are some new educational efforts in Singapore, which use molecular gastronomy and research of various food cultures as means of teaching? What makes such education based on everyday, visceral and embodied experiences different? Do we need Food studies in Singapore and how would we envision them?
Linda Sellou, Chemistry & Biological Chemistry, NTU: Molecular gastronomy & Chemistry
Tee Shang You, Soft Condensed Matter Physics & Engineering Lab, NTU: Molecular gastronomy & Physics
Hallam Stevens, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, NTU: Hawker centers, Singapore food culture & History
Moderator: Denisa Kera, CNM FASS, NUS

Break 15:20 – 15:40

15:40 – 17:00 Session 4:  Traditional, Local, Hypermodern, and Global Food Cultures
Projects and initiatives from Singapore and Indonesia, which connect traditional food cultures with design, STS and entrepreneurship to support various communities and creative projects. Can we scale traditional food-culture paradigms to compete with the demands of the globalised, mechanised food systems? 

Nadene Sylvia Lim Li-Ping, Hanan Alsagoff, Tembusu college, NUS:  Tembusu Gastronomy Club
Ibnur Rashad, Ground-Up Initiative (GUI): Sustainable Living Lab (SL2)
Jude Yew, CNM Department, NUS: Mobile Food Culture in Indonesia
Denisa Kera, CNM Department & STS cluster, NUS & Marc Dusseiller, Hacking Angkringan in Yogyakarta: Model for Citizen Science
Moderator: Zackery Denfeld, Center for Genomic Gastronomy


Defining Biotechnology

September 10, 2012


the exploitation of biological processes for industrial and other purposes, especially the genetic manipulation of microorganisms for the production of antibiotics, hormones, etc..
Oxford Dictionary

This diagram shows some of the biotechnologies that we have been exploring at the Center. Unlike the above dictionary definition, the Center takes a broader view of what constitutes ‘biotechnology’. The diagram illustrates just a few of the biotechnologies employed in the human food system.

Contemporary debates are often fueled by the hype of a new technology, forgetting older ones that have been assimilated by everyday consumption patterns. This diagram can be one tool to help think through the lineage and history of biotechnology. Rather than having polarized debates about hopes and fears of emerging technologies, comparisons can be drawn from historical examples. How would the GM debate in the UK have been different if comparisons were made to the mutagenic experiments of the 50s? What conversations would arise from having cheesemakers at the table when creating new policies for GM breeding programs?

So building on Oxfords definition, a broader definition could be:

The exploitation of biological processes for cultural, political and economic purposes, including cheese making, brewing, pickling, the genetic manipulation of microorganisms for the production of food, antibiotics, etc..

If you have any other examples of biotechnologies that you think we should add to the diagram, email them to us and we’ll keep building on this initial gesture to make a more detailed directory.

Spice Mix Super Computer at AND Festival

September 1, 2012

The Spice Mix Super Computer was a part of the Abandon Normal Devices in Manchester, England this weekend. The AND festival commissioned the Center for Genomic Gastronomy to create a new work inside a traveling caravan and this is what we made:

The Centre for Genomic Gastronomy had deigned a exciting new culinary commission, the Spice Mix Super-Computer! The Spice Mix Super-Computer is a massive mobile food machine, which allows users to create, print and taste a unique blend of spices from millions of possible combinations. First, plug into the bespoke Olfactory Synthesizer to combine and compare smells from our database of international spices. Then, choose your favorite spices and watch the computer process and interpret your selection. After the food-printing is complete, take your customized container of spice to the BetaTaster™ food counter and share your recipe and experience, and take home your spice mix to share with others.

Spices as Social Media
Spices are one of the oldest forms of long distance communication on the planet, but we do not usually treat them as information that can be combined and disseminated as a form of human-to-human communication. Digital technology has created opportunities for individuals to mix and share images and sounds across great distances, but not flavors and smells. This project assembles spices from all over the globe, allowing individuals to customize, mix and spread smell and taste messages with other humans.

Spice Combinatorics
The Spice Mix Super-Computer is designed to record and store every possible spice combination, analyzing user preferences and patterns along the way. We hope this data will begin to reveal the underlying structures and the role of spices in the agri-eco-culinary system. Are combinations of spices strange attractors, naturally aligning, or can we open our mouths and minds to novel combinations of smell, taste and chemical reaction?

Spices Change Minds
But be careful: spices are dead and dried plant corpses with the substantial power to direct and regulate human activity. Many spices come from poisonous plants, and have powerful physical and mental effects on humans. If you are mixed up with spices how do you know they are not using you to achieve their dark designs? Might a heretofore untasted spice combination unlock a door to unexpected culinary experiences and states of consciousness? There are not enough BetaTasters™ on the planet asking these questions. The Spice Mix Super Computer can help.

Where We Make

August 2, 2012

From This Is Central Station:

The Center for Genomic Gastronomy is an independent research institute that was initially launched with the intention to operate in a single building that would be open to the puplic. However, due to a variety of circumstances, constraints and opportunities, the Center has been nomadic since it’s conception, on the road since the summer of 2010.

Although there are many collaborators and friends of the Center, Cat and Zack have formed the heart of the team in most locations. The Center is currently at work on the “Spice Mix Super Computer” for AND’s Mobile Republic.

* * * *

On our adventures traversing the globe, we have not stayed anywhere for more than 4 months in the past 2 years. With such a nomadic existence, ‘where we make’ is always changing.

On a flight: a good place to think, read and sketch, and catch up with stuff offline.

We have developed a variety of strategies for concentration and focus. For example, Zack works best early in the morning at a coffee shop with headphones on listening to drone music, while Cat works best in the peace of the late night when it seems the world has gone to sleep there are no other distractions (except for the occasional snore from Zack).

Just in the last week, we have worked at Bold Street cafe in Liverpool, on a plane, a train, in an airbnb room in Manhattan, and right now at a house with a large kitchen garden in Connecticut, charging our computers along the way and catching wireless connections where we can. These strategies have worked to greater or lesser effect in all of our temporary accommodations over the last year:

CANADA (vancouver)
INDIA (bangalore, the koorgi region)
IRELAND (dublin)
NETHERLANDS (amsterdam, leiden, rotterdam)
NORWAY (oslo, stavanger, bergen)
SWEDEN (stockholm, uppsala)
UK (newcastle, manchester, liverpool, london, milton keynes)
USA (portland, new york city, connecticut)

Our amsterdam apartment and office, while working on Pray for beans Project. The closer the deadline, the bigger the mess!

Every place we visit is an opportunity to connect unexpected dots. Moving around so much means we can exchange ideas, artifacts and recipes between seemingly unconnected places and people. I am sure we wouldn’t be making a Spice Mix Super-Computer in the UK if we hadn’t spent time in Bangalore being drawn into spice-rich karnatakan cuisine. Our Smog Tasting project in Bangalore was prompted by a quote in Harold McGee’s “On Food & Cooking” which seems like a particularly American approach to food. And so on.

Smog Tasting took us to the rooftops of Bangalore for a week of in-situ cooking.

The AND festival’s Mobile Republic is a microcosm of our last year. So far we have visited Manchester, Liverpool and London to work on the project, and we will be taking the caravan on the road to 4 locations in northern England. Taking on a project like this in an unfamiliar place is always a challenge because the simple tasks, such as sourcing various materials, become research efforts in their own right. The upside is that we generally see the places we visit from an unusual perspective. There can’t be many visitors to Liverpool who have strolled along Edge Lane to visit the B&Q.

The sign with no sign on edge lane by b&q, Liverpool, source: google maps

We do not have a permanent home or studio. We have attempted to consolidate our travel kit to the absolute essentials, but it is hard to bring an entire kitchen with us!

Here is an example of our other work space in the Netherlands: the kitchen of a restaurant that we took over for one evening. (Photo Credit: Lucas Evers)

Following food stories around the globe has been amazing, but we are looking forward to finding a landing spot and opening up the Center for Genomic Gastronomy as a non-nomadic entity. Maybe 2013?

Taste Matters. Even in Science

July 30, 2012

During our research with DA4GA we met, collaborated with and debated a number of researchers, (in addition to our wonderful hosts and collaborators at NCHA). One of the best parts of working on the DA4GA in the Netherlands was the proximity of so many cities and centers of research. We inevitably crossed paths with researchers that share similar interests but have very different disciplinary lenses and approaches.

We thought it would be useful to list some of the people we interacted with in the Netherlands, and hint at how these interactions have shaped our thoughts.


Michael Korthals

Prof. dr. M. Korthals, (Professor Applied Philosophy, Chair Social Science, Ethics Committee, Social Sciences, Wageningen University) attended one of our presentations and emailed us a paper “Coevolution of Nutrigenomics and Society: Ethical Considerations”. The paper is a useful critique of the dominant view of nutrigenomics, which tends to emphasize the health of the individual (as opposed to collective or environmental health), and views food as a preventive means for personalized health, for the prevention of calculable risks, and a personal responsibility.

Prof. Korthals seems to share our own interest in creating alternative frameworks for food, health & genomics research. These alternative frameworks might take into account collective and environmental health concerns, as well as societal, cultural and political approaches to food system change: instead of privileging technical approaches. We are hoping to learn more about Prof. Korthals’ research and were happy to hear that our artwork prompted him to reach out to us.


Mark Post 

While in the Netherlands the Center for Genomic Gastronomy took part in a live cooking event, called ArtMeatFlesh hosted by Oron Catts. We were matched up with Mark Post; one of the leading In Vitro Meat researchers in the world. It was a very curious but fruitful interaction for us. On the one hand our research and instincts, lead us to be very skeptical about the emphasis on techno-scientific solutions to food problems. Food problems require social, cultural and political nuance and rigor not always central to scientific/engineering inquiry.

Although the Center remains deeply skeptical about the way In Vitro Meat is being marketed as a solution to hunger and sustainable food systems,it was a treat to work with Prof. Post. He was amazingly open minded, generous and a great cook to boot.

Based on our conversations, Prof. Post seemed committed to promoting reduced meat consumption. He believes less meat consumption will in general lead to more sustainable food systems. However, knowing that not everyone will give up meat consumption entirely, he views In Vitro meat production as preferable to traditional meat consumption.

We thought it might be interesting to create a series of “What-If” dishes that used humor to highlight the dreams, hype and possible unintended consequences of In Vitro meat production.

(For example, industrially produced bacon fat high in Fatty 3 Omega acids, might taste like fish, or In Vitro meat might be used to create exceedingly decadent / disgusting creations such as “Surf & Turf” slurry, a lobster & steak bath of gelatinous muscle cells. We also revisited failed food utopias to acknowledge the long and checkered history of instrumentalizing food production.)

Here is a list of the dishes Mark Post & The Center for Genomic Gastronomy created:

As our collaboration with Mark hopefully showed: In Vitro Meat is perhaps most useful as a method of culinary and ethical inquiry that force eaters to engage directly with the unusual implications of semi-living steaks and the increasingly abstracted relations most humans have to the non-human animals they consume. For more on In Vitro Meat we highly recommend the Tissue Culture and Art’s Victimless Steak project.

Bert Lotz

The Center had the opportunity to give a co-lecture with Prof. Bert Lotz in Rob Zwijnenberg‘s class at Leiden University. Prof. Zwijnenberg teaches a class called “VivioArts: Art and Biology Studio” and the theme for this semester was “Who Owns Life?” The students in this class had spent the previous part of the semester working with the artist Boo Chapple in the lab.

Prof. Lotz and I arrived to the class not knowing exactly what to expect. Lotz gave a concise talk to the students about his work with Transgenic and “Cisgenic” research. (Ironically, it turns out that Prof. Lotz and the Center for Genomic Gastronomy may have shown together before. The Center presented the Cisgenesis artist book at in 2010, and it sounds like Prof. Lotz may have also presented at the show as well, but we never met in person).

The students had a number of questions for Prof. Lotz. In particular, they seemed to be very attuned to the unintended consequences and downstream implications of his research. For example, they wondered why he was researching trasngenic corn, and whether that might have downstream consequences on land use ( clearing the rainforest for animal feed / fungible export crops ), energy supplies (biofuels) and processed food (corn syrup) et al. I shared many of the same questions. Prof. Lotz seemed very sincere in his desire that scientists interact with “society” but maintained a privileged position of knowledge, and seemed deeply skeptical of the value of arational approaches to decision making. (For example, I got the sense from his response to the students that preference, taste, tradition and subjectivity were not appropriate methods for making decisions about which crops, genomes or agricultural methods should be employed. That is a shame because behavioral economics and other social science fields increasingly inform us that complex systems and wicked problems require arational heuristics in order to be ameliorated).

One of the advantages of directing our attention on “gastronomy” rather than “agronomy” or “agriculture” is the requirement of including the subjective when dealing with difficult topics. With the lens of Gastronomy is food as culture, not only food as fuel or food as product.

This may be the biggest learning for us over the last few months, and a rich insight provided by lecturing with Prof. Lotz: The research conducted by the Center for Genomic Gastronomy is always at least partly subjective, and includes many ways of knowing that are excluded by normative scientific practice. Talking to researchers with the lens of gastronomy changes the landscape of the conversation.

Taste matters. Even in science.

Spice Mix Super-Computer

July 23, 2012

Coming soon….

PHOTO CREDIT: all images (cc) by-sa: ToporyHigh ContrastChristian Köhler & NASA

The Center in WIRED (UK)

July 12, 2012

The Center for Genomic Gastronomy is featured in the July 2012 issue of WIRED (UK).

DA4GA Trailer: BetaTasting Dinner

June 26, 2012

This was a dinner where we presented sketches and (edible) work in progress to friends in late April.

Trailers van de DA4GA projecten 2011/2012. In opdracht van CSG Centre for Society and the Life Sciences gemaakt door Bromet & Dochters.

The beta taster menu:

1 9 10 11 12 13 20


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