There are few prospects more nauseating than finding someone’s hair in your food. But Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Thieu Custers successfully grew food from little more than his body’s own waste.
“I saved up my urine in pots in the bathroom, to create the fertilizer for the plants. I shaved my head clean to get enough material to create a structure for the roots. And I created a sweatsuit to harvest salt from,” Custers tells Co.Design. “A lot of inspiration came from spaceflight and circular systems.”
What it all added up to was a hydroponic system that grew lettuce, radishes, chives, and basil, sustained largely from by-products of Custers’s body. Yes, he had to use extra water and artificial light. And as he says, the system “required quite a bit of fine tuning.” Hair, it turns out, isn’t all that structurally effective at stabilizing roots! But urine, which is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, is actually a known fertilizer, and perhaps a wasted opportunity in our own waste stream: 80% of the nutrients in wastewater are found in urine, even though it represents just 1% of overall volume.
“In the end, not all [elements] are supplied by me, I am using water and light from external sources,” Custers divulges. “But I succeeded in putting as much of my own body to work for the plants.”
Ultimately, though, the project did work. Custers’s research (performance art? design project?) culminated in a meal that his professors would never forget.
“I served a tiny salad to my teachers here, with lettuce, chives and mustardcrest, garnished with human-made salt,” he says. “How did it taste? It may sound boring, but like a perfectly normal salad, in the end, all the materials I used are just exactly that, materials. They just so happen to come from my own body. Cow manure is also used on our lands to fertilize crops, and luckily you don’t taste that in our food.”