Culinary Air Pollution

[Image: Cooking with smog at the World Health Organization in Geneva; photo courtesy the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and Edible Geography].

If you’re in NYC later today, the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and Edible Geography have teamed up to explore the culinary implications of air pollution with a “smog-tasting cart.”

[Image: Cooking with smog at the World Health Organization in Geneva; photo courtesy the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and Edible Geography].

According to their press release, the collaborators are “delighted to offer New Yorkers their first opportunity to conduct a side-by-side tasting of air from different cities”:

A smog-tasting cart, complete with precursor chemicals, smog chamber, and whisk, will be serving free smog meringues from four different locations, as part of an installation and performance that aims to transform otherwise abstract air quality data and passive inhalation into an aesthetically, emotionally, and politically charged experience.

Being married to Nicola Twilley, the author of Edible Geography, I was able to tag along during part of the research process, including a visit to the world’s largest artificial “smog chamber” at the Bourns College of Engineering in Riverside, California.

The place had the feel of a sci-fi air factory, where microcosmic research-atmospheres were being mixed and baked into existence under the heat of countless black lights. It was a kiln for new skies.

[Image: The reflective walls of the smog chamber under endless black light; Instagram by BLDGBLOG].

Our visit was essentially an immersive chemistry lesson, as we stepped into a huge reflective room—the aforementioned smog chamber—used for experimentally recreating specific urban atmospheres, and we learned how different chemicals react at different concentrations to create specific aerial effects such as smog.

Even smog has its own classes and types; there are Atlanta-style smogs, London-style smogs, Los Angeles-style smogs. If I remember correctly, Beijing has London-style smog, whereas Santiago, I believe, has Los Angeles-style smog.

The next and seemingly most obvious question, of course, would be whether or not you could mix and match the atmospheric conditions of different cities to create synthetic, previously impossible smogs—aerial effects that are heavy with everything from automobile exhaust and cooking smoke to pine oils and other plant-based resins—to create speculative smogs for cities or landscapes that don’t exist.

Even other planets have their own heavy weather and distinct atmospheres, of course; could there be interplanetary smog research, cooked into meringue form and experienced as a new suite of tastes?

[Image: Smog chamber black lights; photo by BLDGBLOG].

As Nicola Twilley describes it, this all got her thinking “about the concept of ‘aeroir,’ and the idea that urban atmospheres capture a unique taste of place.” This would be a dispersed, atmospheric variation of terroir, from the world of wine:

This smog-tasting cart is intended as the start of a larger collaboration exploring the concept of “aeroir.” After all, air is the site at which we have an intimate, constant interaction with a geographically specific manifestation of urban planning, economic activity, environmental regulation, and meteorological forces. We hope to develop a multi-sensory series of installations, devices, and performances to make that interaction sense-able.

Stop by the smog cart today if you’d like to ask the artists more about their project, or if you simply want a free meringue.

[Image: Cooking with smog at the World Health Organization in Geneva; photo courtesy the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and Edible Geography].

The project is part of this year’s IDEAS City, sponsored by the New Museum.

One thought on “Culinary Air Pollution”

  1. "Terroir" is not specific to wine; it's fundamental to the French idea of gastronomy, and much else besides. I'd love to know what the inhabitants of the great French cities think of their aeroir…

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