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Day 1 of Singapore Workshop

September 19, 2012

Today the Center hosted day 1 of a 2 day workshop on “Designing in the Anthropocene: Food, Health & Climate” that will conclude with a symposium later this week. The National University of Singapore have been great hosts, with faculty, students and complete strangers dropping by on the first day of workshops. (We even had a faculty member from Nanyang Technological University).

The morning session was spent brainstorming possible interesting topics, in relation to food, climate change and food security. Singapore’s status as a net importer of almost everything (food, fuel, products) shaped our brainstorming process. Singapore’s government and many inhabitants are aware of Singapore’s reliance on many flows outside of their borders in order to survive. One participant described Singapore as having a “permeable membrane”: many things flow through Singapore, but the government is very careful and choosy about what they want to stay  within the border. Another metaphor we developed was “Spaceship Earth: Cruiseship Singapore”. 

Our brainstorming lead us to three main tracks:

* New Food Rituals
* Food for the End of the World
* Dining with Big Data 


The first track was inspired by every eater’s desire to assess and consume healthful food. We began thinking about ways that eaters could test the fish that they catch for Mercury content, or even radiation count. Two interesting historical precedents for food testing were food rituals employed to prevent poisoning: 

* Korean nobility used silver chopsticks so that if there were poison in their food the chopsticks would corrode. A good example of food & sensing technology from way back.
* There is also the idea that nobility in Europe would “Cheers” and clink mugs of beer/mead so that if either was poisoned, both eaters would suffer the consequences. 

Both of these examples we relayed by word of mouth, and no one in the workshop knew for certain if they were real or merely legend, or how exactly they worked. However, these examples helped us start to imagine what kind of new food rituals might be useful for eaters today. Most of us are not worried about being poisoned by political enemies, but rather by the pervasive and ambient toxins and pollutants that humans have released into the biosphere. In day two we hope to prototype a couple of food rituals.


The second track began as a series of ideas about recipes relating to the end of something: vanishing flavors and genomes, eating during peak oil, cuisine & climate change. However, one of the groups started looking into failed food utopias and possible future food utopias. Historical examples have suggested that globally humans should turn to eating insects, algae, breadfruit or nutritional yeast. However, these top-down modernist ideas often ignore flavour, culture and preference, so the group decided to investigate of ways to cook with the utopian ingredients. By creating recipes that represent these failed utopias on the plate, the group hope to initiate a material exploration of failure and dreams for the future.


The third strand are interested in how big data effects the way we eat. Making the ‘right choice’ when consuming food is very difficult when every week new research reveals raised chances of cancer or new health benefits of a specific food. The amount of information available is overwhelming, and to what end? Death is always the inevitable conclusion to life. So this group decided to create a tool for preparing you for death. What would it be like to eat an avocado and be told all the negative effects of this activity in the process? What would it be if you were told only positive effects? What would your dining experience be like if you invited Big Data for dinner? This is the starting point for this strand, and in day two they plan to prototype this experience.

Denisa and Jaz hard at work


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