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GhostFood: a Taste of Your Foodie Future

Artists Miriam Simun + Miriam Songster have teamed up to bring a taste of the future to the streets with GhostFood: a food truck dishing out a menu centered on three familiar foods facing extinction—cod, chocolate, and peanut. This participatory performance piece, commissioned by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation for Marfa Dialogues/NY, is designed to promote a dialogue around climate change by imagining how we may come to eat in the not-so-distant future when our favorite foods are in scarcity.

GhostFoodLogo

When we eat, what we are actually “tasting” is the synthesis of taste, smell, and texture—a fusion that collectively creates the food’s flavor. Drawing from this basic physiology, Simun + Songster have designed a 3D-printed headset that dispenses specially manufactured fragrances that—when combined with an edible textural analog—conjure up a taste + flavor reminiscent of these endangered dishes. So as you munch on flaky cod-substitute, your nose is fed the fragrance of the fish. On fashioning this future dining experience, Simun says:

We are creating this experience where you’re eating these foods, but you have to wear this special device and you’re not eating very much. It’s this interesting thing—an instant nostalgia for what you have right now. Because we welcome people into this near-future experience where this is the way you eat peanut butter or this is the way you eat cod and this is the only way it’s available.

With prices on the rise, foods that were once cheap mealtime staples are experiencing the economic effects of scarcity. But behind the ever-increasing price tags lie real-life species that are under ecological threat as their habitats have turned hostile. The GhostFood menu draws from at-risk species across three ecosystems: ocean, grasslands + rainforest.

ghost-foods-1

Overfishing aside, our climate-changed oceans have created uncomfortably warm waters for cod—nearing the top of cod’s livable temperature range—while changing currents have led to depletion of their nutrient-rich food sources. Up on land, seasonal changes in rain + temperature patterns have created prime conditions for toxic molds to flourish on our favorite crops, including corn, wheat, and peanuts. And with rainforests bearing the burden of deforestation, drought, and rising temperatures, the world’s cocoa supply is also at risk as cocoa trees are unable to beat the heat, not to mention the rise in disease and pests due to devastating disturbances in ecological order.

By creating this fundamentally different // highly ritualized dining experience, GhostFood innovatively takes these species off the supermarket shelves, challenging tasters to place each food in its ecological context. As Songster explains:

Certainly there’s an intention for this experience to have some emotional resonance—and hopefully through that resonance people are able to think about the species from an emotional perspective. We’re giving people this very hands-on, me-centered experience of eating and smelling—because it doesn’t get more personal and self-involved than actually eating. And yet we’re also hoping that the emotional impact of the experience will allow people to step back and actually think about the species as not just food.

The quasi-apocalyptic aside, these foods were carefully curated based also on their place in the North American diet—each dish made all the more poignant + pungent by its familiarity. Interestingly, the fragrances of these dishes are fed directly to your nose, appealing to your olfactory sensibilities, which are intimately tied to memory. The region of the brain responsible for sensing scent—the olfactory bulb—is actually a member of the brain’s limbic system, which plays an important role in long-term memory + emotional life. Songster adds:

There’s a historical memory in the experiences of eating these foods, which makes them more meaningful for people. But it also creates a little bit of friction between what you’re eating now and what you remember eating. We’re mimicking these foods, but we’re not necessarily trying to create an exact replica. We know that there is going to be a gap there and that gap is part of what this opening is about—to ask, “What is it like to eat this way?” And to think to yourself that it’s sort of the same, but it isn’t really the same—there’s something both exciting about it being different, and also maybe sad about it being different.

But beyond the emotional, this familiarity supplies a necessary frame of reference for this out-of-the-ordinary culinary experience—a gastronomical anchor to our present-day // everyday reality. By simultaneously imparting excitement for possible foodie futures to come, while providing a taste [or lack thereof] of what diners stand to lose, the GhostFood experience distills the conflict that comes with progress. “Augmenting reality and simulating things is a popular way to go in terms of technology today,” Simun notes. “So all of that came together into this device that would use our olfactory sense to compensate for the species that we are losing due to other decisions that we make.”

GhostFood scent-sensing headset device: "There’s a certain interest in biomimicry—looking to nature to think about models for how we can build different technologies: what if we were inspired by an insect's way of sensing smell—and also sensing the world—to create this device that is wearable and also maybe beautiful?"

GhostFood scent-sensing headset device: “There’s a certain interest in biomimicry—looking to nature to think about models for how we can build different technologies: what if we were inspired by an insect’s way of sensing smell—and also sensing the world—to create this device that is wearable and also maybe beautiful?”

 

Given the basic physiology of flavor perception, creating effective food + flavor combinations posed an interesting challenge. Early in the project, Simun + Songster consulted with scent experts at the Monell Chemical Sciences Center, later teaming up with flavor + fragrance company Takasago to engineer the GhostFood aromas evoking the flavors of these phantom dishes. Songster laughs, “When we went to meet them they had some of their bigger perfume brands on display—for example, Victoria’s Secret. Meanwhile, we’re asking them to do the smell of fish!” Creating the GhostFood flavors posed an interesting challenge for the group based on the physiology of flavor perception.

An inevitable consequence of any simulation is its imperfection—its ability to only approximate and not replicate the real thing. And, to me, that is the real beauty of GhostFood’s design. Food fragrance is typically perceived both through the back of the mouth—retronasally—and directly through the nostrils—orthonasally. In fact, certain odor molecules—including chocolate—activate different parts of the brain depending on whether they are delivered through the mouth or through the nose. However, the GhostFood device only feeds scent through the orthonasal route, creating an interesting neurological // physiological experiment, while viscerally highlighting that GhostFood is indeed a simulation of a well-known + well-loved epicurean experience and not the real deal as we know it now.

Perhaps most exciting of all is GhostFood’s unique take on the edible future that goes beyond our favorite sci-fi forecasts for the future—those bare-bones // on-the-run pastes + pellets. Instead, Simun + Songster creatively re-imagine the future of not only our food, but also our culture, highlighting how the innovations of a very tangible future stand to re-invent the rituals of hearth + home. Simun shares:

In a way it is sci-fi because we’re using 3D-printed technology and we’re using signs and the language of the future. But in other ways we’re doing the polar opposite: we’re making eating even more complicated and even more sensorial and even more multi-faceted than all these other dominant visions of what food is in the future—where it’s just a pellet or a paste or an injection and you’ll never need to eat again—which only look at the role of food in human life in a very singular, small way.

For a firsthand taste of the future, find GhostFood in a street-parked food truck near you! On what to expect, Simun slyly mentions: “We have GhostFood staff that we’ve hired to run the truck… our food is unique so our staff is trained in a special way too. Just as we imagine eating to be different in this GhostFood future, we imagine service to be different also.”

ghostfood-trailersketch

GhostFood makes its premiere at Pop Up Place for DesignPhiladelphia 2013’s benefit launch party // October 9th 6-9 pm. And be sure to catch the truck as it hits the streets for Marfa Dialogues/NY: October 11th 6-10 pm, October 12th 12-6 pm, and October 13th 11-4 pm @ Gallery Aferro, Newark, NJ // October 15th 6-8 pm @ Robert Rauschenberg Project Space, New York, NY.

Living in Three-D // Real-D

The most outrageous-seeming science fiction constructions have a rather amazing longstanding habit of becoming reality. It’s actually almost impossible [for me at least] to imagine that in the not-so distant past space travel // robots // the Internet existed solely in the imaginations of sci-fi writers + consumers. Despite being a Millennial, well-versed + up-to-date in the latest-and-greatest innovations and gadgetry, I can’t help but have my mind utterly blown each time science fiction becomes fact. My latest obsession? 3D PRINTING.

3D printing blood vessel networks out of sugar using the Rep Rap at University of Pennsylvania.

As its name suggests, 3D printing creates an object from a three-dimensional digital model, known as a CAD [Computer-Aided Design] file. To print a 3D product out of this virtual blueprint, the CAD file is sliced into a series of 2D cross-sections. Successive slices are printed, stacked, and fused one on top of the other much like a standard inkjet printer, but instead of ink, 3D printer cartridges deposit drops of materials like rubber, plastics, metals, and more.

Because 3D objects are printed + stacked layer by layer from the ground up, 3D printing is often referred to as additive manufacturing to distinguish it from traditional manufacturing methods that build by cutting or drilling away parts + pieces to create a final product. By building up instead of paring back, 3D printing has blown open the doors for creating structures that were far too intricate + complex to fashion by machine or hand. [Just imagine if Michelangelo printed The David instead of chiseling away at a slab of marble for months and months!]

The ProtoHouse

The miniature 1:33 scale model of the fibrous ProtoHouse by Softkill Design printed by the larget available 3D printer.

By making certain technical limitations obsolete, 3D printing is rapidly [and literally] reshaping what is possible in design. As designers and engineers experiment with materials and methods of manufacture, shapes + structures that once only existed deep within our wildest dreams are now becoming a reality [within reason*]. The ProtoHouse, designed by London-based design firm Softkill Design, is one such dream-turned-[pending-]reality. In an effort to build a structure using minimal materials to maximize efficiency, this fibrous architectural fabrication is fashioned after an algorithm designed to mimic bone growth.

A 1:33 scale model of the biologically inspired design was  assembled in October 2012 out of 30 intricate 3D-printed pieces using highly flexible // lightweight bio-plastics without any adhesive material. With the ProtoHouse prototype in place, Softkill is in the process of scaling up the design to create a line of one-story, market-friendly homes that require only 24 hours for assembly, entering the race to build the first 3D-printed home. With such fantastical structures rapidly becoming a feasible reality, I can’t help but wonder how we will continue pushing the limits of our imagination as our dreamed up concoctions become the new normal.

Prosthetic design by San Francisco-based company Bespoke Innovations.

Amazingly, 3D printing technologies have already begun changing our relationship with that which is most sacred: our own bodies! By performing a body scan, San Francisco-based company Bespoke Innovations can 3D print prosthetic covers–known as fairings“that perfectly mirror the sculptural symmetry and function of the wearer’s remaining limb.” In other words, the Bespoke team can essentially fabricate an artificial limb that looks like a real one. Nevertheless, even with this option available, several Bespoke clients choose to make a statement with their prostheses, turning them into custom-tailored beautiful works of art that reflect their personalities: “We envision a day when people are invited to participate in the creation of the products that have meaning to them on a fundamental level, a day when bodies are consulted directly in the creation of the products that enhance or complement them.”

Of course, beyond simply spurring on a design revolution, additive manufacturing stands to have a huge impact on all areas of our lives, from printing medications + edible wonders with the click of a button, to the considerably darker potential for copyright infringement + 3D-printed weapons. Though 3D printing was invented almost three decades ago, the idea has only recently entered the zeitgeist due to increased support from government funding and commercial startups, substantially dropping its cost. As 3D-printing capabilities continue to grow and evolve, so too will the discussion and debate surrounding the Pandora’s box that goes hand in hand with such a powerful technology. Though it certainly remains to be seen how far the so-called “3D printing revolution” will go in reshaping the metaphorical landscape of the future, I can’t help but remain [guardedly] optimistic about what 3D printing has in store!


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* 3D printing technology is still very much in its infancy, and while it holds a great deal of potential, there are still a great many limitations. The most important to note is that it takes a great deal of know-how to design structures for 3D printing. After all, 3D printed products are still subject to all the restrictions of the physical and chemical world we live in. As a result, in addition to a strong foundation in CAD software, designers must also have a strong background in mechanical engineering, architecture, biology, chemistry, etc., depending on the product for manufacture.