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For A Summery Snack, Eat Urban Air Pollution In The Form Of A Fluffy Meringue Dessert

“Most people ask ‘Is it safe to eat?’ and we reply ‘Is it safe to breathe?'”

Some wines have a terroir that reflects the unique characteristics of the soil where the grapes are grown. At a meringue food cart in New York City this Saturday, you can taste the fluffy dessert’s “aeroir.” The meringue, which is 90% air, will be made from re-created urban smog from four different cities.

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“Most people ask ‘Is it safe to eat?’ and we reply ‘Is it safe to breathe?’” says Zackery Denfield, co-founder of the Center for Genomic Gastronomy. “We think that when people are laughing they are thinking, and we get a lot nervous laughter.”


The “Smog Tasting” cart was created by the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and the blog Edible Geography in order to make the concept of air pollution less abstract. While the creators think it is actually fine to eat the smog-infused meringue, inhaling air pollution over long periods of time is what’s actually dangerous for people’s health. The project transforms the “unconscious process” of breathing to the more visceral act of eating.

Working with advice from researchers at the University of California Riverside, the team designed and fabricated a small smog chamber to create a range of synthetic smog recipes. The cart, which is part of the Ideas City Festival in New York City this weekend, will offer up four recipes, each reflecting a different kind of air pollution: a “classic London peasouper,” the Los Angeles atmosphere circa 1950, a present-day air-quality warning event in Atlanta, and California’s Central Valley agricultural-style smog.


The Center has worked on the smog project since Co.Exist first covered it in 2012. It started as a project from college students in Bangalore, where they simply used urban air to make the desserts. It morphed into an exhibition, including videos and recipes, that has been shown at art spaces and festivals around the world. More recently, they added the smog chamber so they could create smog on demand. This May, they presented the piece to health ministers and World Health Organization delegates in Geneva.

“I think the continued effectiveness of the video, and engaging taste and smell for a range of audiences is why we keep pursuing this line of inquiry and exploring new manifestations of it,” says Denfield.

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About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire

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