At the end of September we ran an internal master class about fermentation with Dr. Johnny Drain as our guide. The goal of this workshop was for us to further explore fermentation, using a genomic gastronomy lens and learn more about the possibilities of (genomic gastronomy x fermentation) by running our own fermentation experiment at home with guidance and advice from Johnny.
FOOD + BIO + ART
CGG is all about the art of food (gastronomy) + life sciences: but we have not had much time or domain expertise in fermentation / the MICROBIOME OF THE KITCHEN and this seemed like a good time to correct that.
Some implications of using a genomic gastronomy lens are:
1. Honing in on the biodiversity and biotechnologies that are entangled in contemporary and historical fermentation practices.
2. Paying close attention to the abundance and distribution of particular species, cultivars and agro-ecosystems in the geographies we inhabit.
3. Making connections across scales. From microbes to plants to land-use to planet.
This was also an opportunity for each of the current members of the Center for Genomic Gastronomy to explore different interests and (since we are spread out across the world) to experiment with very different regional cuisines and produce. The goal is to explore our own local food offerings and come back together (virtually) to share what we’ve found…in particular, looking at what is grown / harvested in September that might be in excess. We imagine this as a “This is Not a Test (Kitchen)” follow-up workshop—an opportunity for us to meet together and share food and cooking (or fermenting) long-distance.
FERMENTED FOODS ARE THE NEON INKS OF PLANT-FORWARD FOOD
We also initiated this workshop to learn more about how fermentation can boost non-meat products and how fermentation processes (the science, labor, care, aesthetic and flavor) can add to the conversation around plant-based or plant-forward diets. Example: using KOJI to make vegan charcuterie.
Fermented foods and processes seem to be one way one can bring in unique, distinct and delicious flavors and textures to plant-based food, and move beyond the grey and brown veggie food of the 1960s + 1970s. I want fermentation to be the neon inks of our kitchen, lifting and brightening food design that might otherwise become dull and monotonous.
In the next blog post we will write some notes and takeaways from the masterclass and the last post will include photographs our ferments and some recipes.
Today is the first day of an in-studio fermentation workshop which we will be running over the next 2 weeks. We have asked @drjohnnydrain to spend a couple of days with our studio updating our fermentation skills, questions and knowledge. Currently the Center for Genomic Gastronomy consists of 8 people in 6 countries! (+1 guest in Bergen, Norway for this workshop). Today we will be discussing disgust, the history of fermentation and the intensification of flavors.
Every member of the studio was asked to list the fermented food products we have eaten in the last 7 days. (An interesting snapshot of taste and place). Here is what we guessed before the workshop began:
AKASH (Chennai, India)
— Fermented Sundried Chillies
CAT (Bergen, Norway)
— Black Tea
— Douchi (Black Bean Sauce)
— Gouda Cheese
— Kviteseidsmør (Norwegian cultured butter)
— Sourdough Bread
— Soy Sauce
CONOR (Dublin, Ireland)
— “coming soon….”
EILEEN (Brighton, UK)
— Gouda cheese
— Sourdough bread
EIRIN (Bergen, Norway)
— Cottage cheese
— Kefir (Sourmilk)
— Sourdough Bread
EMMA (Porto, Portugal)
— Chutney (?)
— Soy Sauce
LAURA (Portland, OR, USA)
— Cheddar and Parmesan Cheese
— Greek Yogurt
MYSTERY GUEST (Bergen, Norway)
— Lacto-fermented squash, cucumber, kale & apple
— Sour dough bread
ZACK (Bergen, Norway)
— Black Tea
— Douchi (Black Bean Sauce)
— Gouda Cheese
— Kviteseidsmør (Norwegian cultured butter)
— Sourdough Bread
— Soy Sauce
#MicrobiomeOfTheKitchen (an interesting article is here (.PDF) by pg. 22: “Good germs, Bad Germs — participatory ‘metagenomics’ of the domestic microbiome” by Carmen Mcleod + Jamie Lorimer
Our contribution to the conference was a bespoke version of Guided Smog Smelling, which was held on a rooftop in the city center of Bergen—a city you would not normally consider prone to some of the worst air-pollution in Norway, and sometimes Europe.
We examined the history and seasonal variation of smog in this airshed, and the impact that COVID-19, fuel use, and changes in ocean use have on air pollution.
SMOG IN BERGEN
During both summer and winter, air pollution measuring stations from around Bergen show a substantial number of days with critically high air pollution levels. For example, in January of 2010 Bergen had the worst air pollution of any city in Europe.
Bergen has no significant industrial production located near the city, so it might be surprising that it would experience these high levels of air pollution at all.
According to research by NILU – The Norwegian Institute for Air Research, there are several contributors to the air pollution in Bergen. One way that air-pollution is measured is through the levels of particulate matter (PM10 og PM2,5) and nitrogendioxide (NOx), among others.
The main contributors to heightened levels of these particulates are: — CARS: car-traffic that both release exhaust and wear down roads — WOOD: wood-burning from non-clean-burning fireplaces — SHIPS: and emissions from ships docked in the harbour.
Bergen has a complex topography with mountains surrounding the city on all sides, affect how air-pollution travels all year round.
Meteorology also plays into the mix by way of inversion during the colder seasons. Inversion is a combination of cold weather and little to no wind. This leads to the winter-situation referred to by locals as the ‘poison-lid’. At times of inversion during wintertime, going to the top of Mt. Ulriken, (643 metres above sea-level) leads you above the lid, to clean air, the winter-sun and a particular view of the situation.
SUMMER SMOG (BERGEN HARBOR)
During summertime there is another aspect that adds to the air pollution in Bergen. In a normal year, during the summer season, cruise ships visit the city, bringing tourists and business to Bergen. Cruise ships built before 2000 have older fuel-burning technology installed. The likelihood is high that most cruise ships mooring in Bergen are burning high-sulphur bunker fuels, to keep the ships’ facilities running when moored.
The use of high-sulphur bunker fuel creates a summer version of the poison-lid phenomenon in Bergen air quality. The ability to supply shore power in Bergen, via an electrical cable you plug into your ship, has been economically delayed for years by lack of funding from the Norwegian national government.
The installation of three shorepower-stations ran behind schedule, but are set to be completed by the summer of 2020. Even more shorepower is set to be built in the coming years in world heritage sites like Flåm and Geiranger, further north up the coast where cruiseships moor in abundance.
GUIDED SMOG SMELLING: BERGEN HARBOR
Guided Smog Smelling uses the human sense of smell and taste to analyze air pollution and evaluate aeroir—the unique atmospheric taste of place. In addition to smelling with intention, we discussed the history and seasonal variation of smog in this airshed, and the impact that COVID-19, fuel use, and changes in ocean use have on air pollution.
Guided Smog Smelling in Bergen this summer led us to the rooftops of a former coffee factory in C. Sundts gt. 55, with a view of Bergen harbor.
On the 2nd weekend of running the event there was a forest fire in Bergen that led to some particularly poor air quality. It could be smelled (and could even make one cough) across the southern half of the city.
“India’s pickle culture goes back thousands of years to when cucumbers and other vegetables were simply preserved in salt. Modern Indian pickles are more complex and probably more delicious, too — hot and tangy, deeply perfumed with aromatics and ground spices.”
— Tejal Rao for The New York Times
It all started when someone in the studio passed on the article “India’s ‘Pickle Queen’ Preserves Everything, Including the Past” from The New York Times, asked me to take a look into the book ‘Usha’s pickle digest’ by Usha Prabakaran that was mentioned in the article, and do some research into pickles. The article by Tejal Rao reveals the decades-long journey that Ms. Usha Prabakaran took to write the incredible book.
“The reason for writing the book was to ensure that the vast culinary heritage of this land stays on the map,” said Ms. Usha Prabakaran.
After reading the article I was really curious to check out a few cookbooks from my mom’s kitchen closet. After surfing through a few, I found a very interesting cookbook that belonged to my grandmother: ‘Samaithu Paar’ written by S.Meenakshi Ammal. The book was first published in 1951, about 60 years ago. It belonged to a time when recipes were passed on from one generation to another through practice. There weren’t many cookbooks then that documented recipes. It was pretty common in India for the bride to leave her house and move into her husband’s house. She brought with her the recipes that belonged to her family. At her new home she would get the opportunity to experiment and put it together with the new recipes and methods that her new household members would teach her. Thus, unique recipes were born that belonged to only one family. One bite could tell you who cooked the food that day.
The book ‘Samaithu Paar’ is a very important document not just for safeguarding the recipes, but also to understand the culinary scene of Tamil Nadu during the 1950s. Cookbooks don’t just give out recipes to people, but also serve as a repository for the future generations to take a peek into what their ancestors ate.
As I read through the old book, it triggered childhood memories of drying veggies on the terrace with my grandmother. Today we don’t dehydrate vegetables or pickle them as my grandmother did. There were a number of vegetables mentioned in the book which I had never heard of. My mom knew all of them, but didn’t know why we never cook with them anymore.
I decided to check if the other families in my area were aware of the vegetables, and if they also didn’t cooked with them anymore. So I sent out a list of vegetables from the cookbook to all the houses in my neighborhood and asked them to choose the vegetables that they used more than twice in a week. I also asked them to give a reason why they did not use some of the vegetables mentioned in the list regularly. The results showed that the most used vegetables were not the traditional ones, mentioned repeatedly in the cookbook. Some of the neighbors had not even heard of the native vegetables before the survey.
The survey covered only a very small group of the population and cannot be used to theorize the results into insights or reasons. The only definite reading of the results is that the way we eat today is very different to how we ate 50 years ago. This is due to many complex factors, from changed farming practices to kitchen practices or even changed lifestyle choices.
The kitchen has changed, the cooking techniques have changed and the time spent preparing a meal has changed. The transfer of recipes between different households or different generations has reduced. A woman’s role in society has also changed a lot. Women are no longer tied to spending their time in the kitchen. In the words of my colleague, “The fact that women had the freedom to leave the kitchen is a great achievement in many respects”. Eventually, YouTube channels and recipe blogs have replaced mothers’ and mothers-in-laws’ recipe banks.
Change is inevitable. Humans have changed over so many years of growth and advancement along with their eating habits. In the process of changing, recipes and ingredients have reached new places and taken new twists. But at this point, we have to stop and question if the rapid changes and the globalization in the 21st century have made us skip a step. Recipes and ingredients are a reflection of a culture and local identity. But when globalization threatens the loss of local identity and its uniqueness, how do we hold on to it in these changed times?
Interestingly from the survey, most of the answers to the question on why they did not cook with some of the vegetables mentioned that the vegetables were not available in the market or that they were not aware of how to cook with them. None of them talked about having less time to cook or the difficulty of the process. In the past, we have let go of a number of traditions or even traditional recipes because they did not make sense anymore in these changing times. But in this case, my question is, were these vegetables or cooking techniques eliminated naturally by a change in society or were they influenced by external factors like the markets and social media? I do not have the answers right now.
To find answers to these questions I decided we needed to proceed with the research. If not, these cookbooks would just become repositories of forgotten foods from the past for the future generations. I believe in the survival of the fittest. The recipes and ingredients that we use today are here because they have survived the changes of the past. But in a time where the population is heavily influenced by social media and market changes, the old techniques and ingredients should be given a chance to fight for themselves.
I have started a campaign based on the cookbook “Samaithu paar”. I’m cooking 100 recipes from the book in 100 days. Cooking them and documenting the process would help me understand the challenges faced if we brought back these ingredients and techniques and introduced them to today’s lifestyle. Through this processes we can learn what kinds of challenges people will face when incorporating these recipes and techniques into their day to day life. This could help us understand why these techniques and ingredients were forgotten, and help us anticipate the future. Otherwise, I am afraid we might soon be adding a lot more to the list of forgotten vegetables and recipes without knowing why.
Our SEED-O-MATIC vending machine is at Colby Museum of Art, Maine, USA, September 2nd 2019 – May 8th 2020.
The world’s slowest vending machine dispenses unique seeds with cultural, ecological or culinary significance. The future is slow, biodiverse and open-source. The future of great food is good seeds.
Simply put in your change, turn a crank, and you are ready to get your hands dirty. Each SEED-O-MATIC packet contains enough seeds to grow a small row of vegetables, encouraging healthy food choices and agricultural biodiversity
“Adaptive breeding cannot occur under a system of restrictive ownership.”
—Frank Morton, a founder of the Open Source Seed Initiative
As a cooperative, Fedco does not have an individual owner or beneficiary, profit is not their primary goal. Consumers own 60% of the cooperative and worker members 40%. Through their product lines and cultural hints, Fedco encourages sustainable growing methods and offer a large selection of certified-organic cultivars and regional heirloom varieties.
Fedco’s inventory manager and grower Roberta Bailey has added her ‘Matchbox Hot Pepper’ seed to the open-source seed initiative. “A group dedicated to offering up their genetic plant material and varieties to the public domain so that anybody can use them in any way.” By doing so these growers protect the breeding lines from ownership and patenting by large multinational seed companies, establishing a protected commons for non-patented seeds and pushing back against the hegemony of “Big Food.”
The ‘Matchbox Hot Pepper’ seed can be found amongst the following in the dispensed SEED-O-MATIC packets:
Be My Baby Cherry Tomato
(65 days) Open-pollinated. Indeterminate. This productive cherry is the ongoing result of a cross of three famous tomatoes: an heirloom potato-leaf beefsteak and two cherries, one orange and one red. The grape tomato in its background lends a rich sweet flavor somewhat akin to that of Sweet Baby Girl, which it replaced. Bred by relentless. 2007 Fedco introduction. Breeder Royalties. OSSI.
Calendula officinalis. (55 days) A mix of orange, apricot and peachy doubled petals, all with red backing to create a distinctive contrast. Colors fade to bicolor yellows or yellow-peach, adding interest as the plants mature. Blooms withstand light fall frosts; still look good in October. Annual. OSSI. Seed purchased directly from the independent breeder. Especially attractive to pollinators.
This gene pool was created by Frank Morton in his so-called “Hell’s Half-Acre lettuce trial,” in which he crossed his most disease-resistant cultivars with his best-tasting varieties to select and recombine for excellent traits. Morton invites growers and breeders to work with this mix to create new varieties for their farms or for the general public while stipulating that nothing derived from it may be patented or protected from others’ use in any way. This strategy, originated by software developers, is now known as copyleft (as opposed to traditional copyright). Morton has adopted it to keep his varieties and their derivatives in the public domain as a protected commons. OSSI. Seeds as nature’s software! Copyleft has the potential to return to free use such shared resources as our plant heritage that rightfully belong to all of us. Seed purchased directly from the independent breeder.
Matchbox Hot Pepper
(75 days) Open-pollinated. A product of our inventory manager Roberta Bailey. She has created an open-pollinated selection of the hybrid Super Chili, whose parents include Hungarian Hot Wax and Hot Banana. The squat plants bear prolific upright fruit, averaging 2″ long, 1⁄3″ across and ripening from pale green to deep scarlet. Like Super Chili, they bear well in cold damp weather, hot dry weather, sandy soils and heavy clay. They have plenty of heat and the characteristic finely cut lightweight leaves of many hot peppers. OSSI. 2000 Fedco introduction.
(70 days) Open-pollinated. The heaviest-yielding variety, recommended for drying, all-around great eating, and large-scale pesto production. We sold more than 4,000 packets last year of these two strains of Sweet Basil. Tested for fusarium.
As simple as it is to operate, SEED-O-MATIC provides a point of entry into complex issues of food justice.
Today, SEED-O-MATIC’S vision is more important than ever. Large agrochemical companies are buying out seed suppliers and patenting the genetic information of the seeds they sell, posing serious threats to agricultural biodiversity and food sovereignty worldwide. In stocking seeds that are organic, locally saved, and/or open-source, SEED-O-MATIC makes supporting an agricultural system based on access and equitability as convenient as using a vending machine.
As the newest member of the Center for Genomic Gastronomy (CGG), my Dubai visit was indeed an amazing welcome into my journey with the CGG. On the day of the travel, my anxiety was not helping me. Having slept for only a few hours, I got ready for an early flight. It was an unusual start I should say, for a number of reasons.
My dad offered to drop me at the Chennai International airport, and gave me a good pep talk before bidding goodbye, which doesn’t happen that often. Also I was upgraded to business class for free on Emirates Airlines, which doesn’t happen that commonly. Travelling to Dubai on business class was not exactly what I envisioned for my journey as an artist. It was indeed an unusual start to my travel and my journey with CGG.
So that’s how my journey to Dubai began with some champagne, good food and a very good sleep that I had missed the previous night. So with that my excitement overtook the anxiety on reaching Dubai. I quickly checked in to the hotel and moved to the venue to check the exhibition for the final corrections before the opening night.
The venue was all set for the big night. We quickly made a few changes and the chef’s team were right on time to put the food out for the incoming guests. I trained as an Architect and Designer so public speaking was not my main strength. But Thanks to Catherine Flood, curator from V&A and Yasmeen Sabri, our design coordinator from Alserkal Avenue I slowly got the hang of it and prepared myself for the following days.
An important learning moment, during the event was my conversation with Catherine Flood. On the first day of the event we were to render a talk to the public on how the New National Dish: UAE exhibition came into life. In preparation for the talk we had a very good conversation on how the V&A exhibition “Food Bigger than the Plate” was setup, the challenges faced, and sacrifices made.
The exhibitions at V&A and New National Dish UAE were attempting to change how exhibits in Museums and Galleries were experienced. As an amateur artist it was an eye opener to experience it first-hand. A lot of people who came in were surprised when they were told that they could eat the food in the exhibits. It was lovely interacting with the visitors, looking at the exhibition through their eyes and experiencing it in very new perspectives. Some of them left me with very intriguing questions.
Some of the visitors were confused by the signage and thought that the New National dish was the burger joint right next to the venue. Which actually wouldn’t be that far-off, since a prominent Emirati told us, “the unofficial national dish of the UAE is probably hamburger sliders”.
Alserkal Avenue put up an amazing show for the Al Quoz fest 2020. The event was teeming with artists and good food. Their in-house team is very enthusiastic and passionate. The piece was a particularly good match for their series of tours for visually impaired visitors.
On the last day I had the chance to have breakfast at the eL Seed studio, cooked by the artist himself. It was an amazing opportunity to see all the artists in the same room and share Shakshuka with them. Thanks to the team at The Center for Genomic Gastronomy for this incredible opportunity. Looking forward to where the next New National Dish would take me.
From January 9 — 19, 2020 two researchers from the Center for Genomic Gastronomy traveled to the UAE and China for site visits and food research. Below is a summary of the trip, with additional writings about the food research to follow.
In the UAE we were completing research for the New National Dish project and in China we explored the Shunde district, which fittingly has been a UNESCO “City of Gastronomy” since 2014.
From the very start of the trip geopolitical and historical events seemed to swirl around each stop, but never fully derailed the progress of the trip itself.
A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT FLIGHT PATH
Even before the researchers took off from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport on January 9th we got the sense that this trip might be taking some unexpected turns—the pilot came on to announce “today we will be taking a slightly different flight path than usual.” Yup.
Flight paths in and out of the region were adjusted accordingly, and we wondered how the events would impact our interlocutors in the Emirates and what the mood on the ground would be. However, upon arriving in Dubai any geopolitical tensions seemed overshadowed by the enormous rains and flooding that were taking place.
As one of our interviewees attested “Anytime there is tension or instability in the region, money and people flood into the UAE. The wealthy send their savings and their families for safety in the UAE, and we benefit financially.” This interviewee had a business that was struggling at the time due to the softening of the Emerati economy, and certainly saw the irony of him benefiting from these tensions, but the man-made rain was an immediate concern.
A VERY RAINY DAY IN DUBAI
We drove from the airport to our hotel in a taxi, and had the very unusual experience of heavy rain the entire ride. It only rains a handful of days in Dubai, and we had thought we left the we weather with us back in Europe.
However, we were even more shocked to wake up to rain each day that were were in Dubai. The streets were flooded, traffic crawled and many of our site visits to farms had to be canceled because we would not be able to make it to the sites and back due to the flooding and traffic.
We spoke to market vendors, restaurant owners and other people who uniformly seemed to believe that all this rain was a result of state-sponsored cloud seeding programs.
While we have done research on cloud seeding and weather modification in our own work, we were not expecting that to be the research topic while we were in Dubai. There was some sense that cloud seeding was tied to the government’s desire for water security and food security, but that this might come at the expense of the dominant tourist economy.
These tensions played out right before our eyes in fairly dramatic ways, as the ceiling tiles fell from our hotel lobby and hallways, and water damage pervaded most parts of the building. Dubai’s pop-up city wasn’t designed to be buffered against massive rains and flooding.
As we sat in the unflooded Dubai International Airport (DXB) on January 12th, 2020 we began reading breaking news articles about the Taal Volcano eruption in the Philippines, which was causing evacuations and cancelled flights within the region.
We took off on our flight from DXB to CAN and the additional volcanic activity that occurred had mostly local effects and our flight was not diverted. Volcanoes and cancelled flights are significant for our research Center, because our founders initially met while they were in Spain, expecting to possibly be stranded for days or weeks with the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland.
CULINARY PARANOIA ON THE RISE
We landed in the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) on January 12th, and began our site visits the next day. One of our first site visits was to an open air fish, poultry and vegetable market. It is common during our research to visit markets as well as farms and kitchens, but we entered the market this time with a slight bit of apprehension. The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak was just starting to be reported on in the days before our arrival, and it was clear that the initial outbreak centered on the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which sold live animals. Additionally, a few cases of symptomatic people were reported in Guangdong. Because this was all occurring during the Chinese New Years celebration when many people return to their families and criss cross the country, the risks for a pandemic or just general level of confusion and fear were heightened.
As we chatted to the vendors at various market stalls we began to wonder what kind of animal may have caused the virus to jump into humans. We primarily focus our energies on plant-based food research, but on that day in particular, the fruit and vegetable stalls seemed like the preferable places to look, touch and taste. One of our ongoing research threads are various forms of Culinary Paranoia that emerge in the global food system, and this was an example of us witnessing and participating in an emergent unease about the purity, health or safety of food, without having much in the way of details, facts or methods of verification.
We returned to Europe on January 19th, 2020, just four days before Wuhan province was put in quarantine. As of this writing the local and international impacts of the outbreak are still underway, but it seems likely that this event will have some consequences for the level of culinary paranoia across the planet.
The people we met, the food we tasted and our on-the-ground experience was amazing, and we are immensely grateful to our hosts and interlocutors. However, history was making some pretty strange gestures in the background the entire time.
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.
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?
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 motorvehicletraffic (Hong Kong has one of the highest vehicle densities of any city in the world) C)marineemissions from large ships coming to and from its ports and D)pollutiondrifting over from mainland China
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.