Living in a highly polluted city like New York, you've probably sampled your fair share of 'aromas', but do you ever think about the fact that you are actually ingesting pollution on a daily basis? Seeking to bring the issue of air quality to the forefront of our minds, the Center for Genomic Gastronomy recently teamed up with The Finnish Cultural Institute in New York to develop the world's first Smog Tasting street cart. Air is harvested and recreated from various cities and eras inside a special "smog chamber" and then served up in the form of petite meringues. Naturally, we had to try it.
The portable smog chamber was recently showcased on the Bowery as part of this year’s IDEAS City Festival, giving passersby the opportunity to sample free, edible smog meringues. The smog meringue is made by whipping eggs in a chamber filled with different strains of synthetic smog that were designed and fabricated by Center for Genomic Gastronomy to represent the pollution of different cities and eras. Since a meringue is nearly 90-percent air, the Center thought it would be a novel idea to compare the air qualities of different cities through these sweet treats. As ‘smog’ fills the chamber the whipping motion causes particulate matter to become trapped inside the batter after which the meringue is cooked under a UV light.
Among the offered smogs was a “1950s Los Angeles Photochemical Smog” made of NOx represented by “copper penny in nitric acid” and hydrocarbons reminiscent of “glass dish with gasoline”; a “London Pea-Souper Smog” made of fly ash dust and sulfur in the form of struck matches; and a “Present-Day Atlanta Biogenic Photochemical Smog” featuring terpenes infused with heated orange peel, pine needles and sulfuric acid.
As we sampled these sweet yet seemingly hazardous treats, which tasted somewhere in between sugar and sulfur, we were quickly reminded (though, not so comforted) of the fact that the main ingredient in the meringue is in the air we breathe every day. Smog is rather invisible and so it’s difficult to make people aware of its threats. But when you can touch, feel, taste and bite it, the danger becomes eerily real; some food for thought indeed.
All images by Laura Mordas-Schenkein for Inhabitat unless otherwise noted