BLACK ALMANAC

31 steps to produce a viable food system by 2050

In 2050 there will be 9.7 billion people on earth. In order to feed them, the global food system will need to produce 70 per cent more calories than it currently does and must do so in a way that is equitable, nutritious, ecologically sustainable and carbon negative. Yet agriculture is already responsible for a third of total greenhouse gas emissions. How will this work?

Agriculture has always terraformed but it is not only landscapes and food that are produced. Crop rotation, annual harvests and cattle domestication gave the world writing, taxation and urban settlement but they also gave us a semiotics of agrarian simplicity and limitless nature that is the veil behind which geochemical meltdown is disguised.

Born from the tradition of farmer’s almanacs that reaches back as far as ancient Mesopotamia, Black Almanac embraces artificiality and the chemical-materialist potential of food as a locus for planetary transformation. Named for the fertile soil of the Nile River Delta – from which systematic agriculture and the words “alchemy” and “chemistry” descend – Black Almanac is a plan for 2050 that plots 31 fundamental steps – from infrastructure to institutions, one per growing season – to construct a viable food system by the autumn of that year.
By eating we translate the planet and the planet in turn translates us. Black Almanac’s goal is not merely the piecemeal replacement of outmoded tools, malfunctioning chemopolitics and a reactionary food culture. It is the production of a new earth.

2020  |  P1

PHILOSOPHY I:
CULINARY MATERIALISM

Cooking is planetary, even cosmic. It’s a read-write process which only humans engage in, at the root of which lies chemistry, a science singular for its reliance upon participation in synthesis and production. It’s possible that food preparation might offer a way for artists, thinkers and researchers confounded by limited options for political engagement with the environmental killswitch that is the anthropocene. Instead of simply knowing, observing or representing, the culinary world’s investment in the transformation of matter signifies a step beyond the epistemological into actual effects. Stating what should be obvious, artist-chemist Sean Raspet (see Overcoming Market Neophobia) writes in ArtAsiaPacific: “At the root of the gap between an artwork’s imagined and actual effects is, perhaps, a more general tendency to confuse artworks and cultural endeavors that are about something for being the thing itself.” We incorporate the world not only by recognizing its geochemical manifestation but also by eating it.

Food is 1 percent molecular and 99 percent culture. It is the ritual ingestion of food that defines it as a special category of matter with complementary habits and processes we define as gastronomic. From nature’s point of view, the same reactions, spillages, mixtures and combinations take place constantly at the level of matter, within and without what we may or may not consider food. How this plasticity is rendered, especially as it defines the usefulness of “waste,” is where culinary materialism arrives. Food has endo and exo-relational structures, that is to say, a life that is non-human. And yet much of the “normal” or “traditional” food products in the supermarket are reconstituted. In the long run, all fruit and vegetables have been processed: bred and selected for pigment, shape, texture and transportability. Carrots are orange because the Dutch made them that way. All food is performing to human expectations.

Culinary materialism rejects the naturalistic fallacy that draws an arbitrary distinction between “natural” and “artificial.” It also rejects the notion that humans cannot consciously engage with the means of industrial supply – an assumption soon exploded by the realization that the farming culture we believe ourselves to be attached is no more than a composite hallucination with its roots as much in film and television as in actual agricultural practice. Vegetables grow in soil – this much is true. This is a miracle heaped upon so many in our tiny corner of the cosmos. But those same vegetables are tested for corruption, stored in refrigerated warehouses, shipped and stocked in depots near your home – or sold to restaurants where they are diced and grilled at your convenience. These are the strands of automation that explain why you are not a farmer. Why not simply count your blessings?

Solve et Coagula, the motto of medieval alchemists, is a recognition of the dissolution and recombination of matter that lies at the heart of (al)chemical processes but is also the defining methodology of cooking. As Reza Negarestani and Robin Mackay note in their introduction to Collapse: VII (Urbanomic, 2011), a volume to which Black Almanac owes a substantial debt, culinary materialism represents a “de-rigidification” of thought, an application of the full chemical spectrum as a truth from which a new geophilosophy may be built. In place of the binaries of realist or idealist, synthesis and analysis, integration or difference on which western philosophy rests, it looks to the “compositions, mixtures, contaminations, decompositions, transitions of nature to culture, cultural fusions and transits” of cooking, a process of thinking as practice. Do not be deceived. Under food lies a new universalism and expansive mathematico-chemical horizon that reaches well beyond the closed sentimentalism of a bourgeois gastro-culture. There is no condition of pastoral innocence to which we can return. In fact, liberating food from the performance of an idealised past may require more alienation rather than less.

2021  |  AT

AGRICULTURE IS TERRAFORMING

Agriculture has always terraformed but it is not only food and landscapes that are produced. For thousands of years, farmers have collected rain tables, seed cycles and lunar charts in almanacs: portable databases of earth science and prediction modelling that standardised agricultural practice and were sites for speculation about man’s place within the cosmos.

Almanacs were, in a sense, the first attempt at a plan: proto-computational devices that encoded observation and practice into a systematic, artificial intelligence. When crop rotation, irrigation and domesticated cattle were adopted in Ancient China, the Indus Valley, Mesoamerica and Mesopotamia, they brought writing, taxation, urban settlement and labor specialization with them, establishing dietary staples and farming models that remain in place today. In Sumeria, cereals were offered to the gods and stored in granaries outside the temple. When the gods didn’t eat, the people did, establishing a connection between ritual ingestion and societal complexity that persists to the present at every kind of table.

We regulate our bodies, our lives and our environment by eating. Grocery shopping, food preparation, scheduling meal times and inspecting the results represents a medical-metabolic bureaucracy that we employ in the service of communal and self-administration. As a result, the transformation and ingestion of food is intrinsically linked with how we understand time (and how we regulate labour, sociality and who gets to be where when.) The structural intricacies of the bourgeois dining experience, itself a historical agglomeration of pseudo-aristocratic signalling fused with a fantasy of languid ruralism, has been interrupted by the chronological smoothie of an “always on, flexible and albiently present” globalised work culture.

It may be a stretch to say that eating is resistance – not least given the fact that so much earth-oriented consumer and dietary practices are simply thinking the world of oneself in disguise – yet eating remains the primary means by which we seek to orient ourselves, from our schedule to our circadian rhythms, in time and space. So afraid are we, flapping our arms before the infinitude of space, we have put the planet on our clock. Dipesh Chakrabarty describes the dragging of geological time towards cycles we can comprehend, reducing geophysical unfolding to align with the short-term goals of apes. Integral to this process has been the cultivators, ploughs and crop dusters, centrifugal seeders and drones, multispectral satellites and other tech used to sense and shape the soil and oceans for food. And yet human have spent 95 percent of their career on earth as hunter-gatherers, familiar with an encyclopedia of naturally occurring edible plants, mushrooms and seeds. Who has the right to say we cannot live according to a different clock?

The textureless faces and blade-like edges of corn and cattle fields are a portrait of our relationship to food: outdated modes of production kept alive by zombie payments despite the protests of almost all stakeholders. If we lack the imagination to upend the present we cannot expect much from the future. Elon Musk’s 2017 keynote on Mars colonization revealed an orderly if predictable series of agricultural projections. Diets are protocols for transformation but they are also codes for the production of identity. What would it mean for our food futures to look less like the uninterrupted surfaces of Dragon’s cockpit and more like the messy but productive garden that is the condition of real eating, digestion and biodiversity? What might this resemble?

There are already glimpses on earth. Chernozem, or “Black Earth,” is the most fertile soil on the planet. It can be found in southern Russia, on the Canadian Prairies and the Amazon Basin where it is known as Terra Preta. Terra Preta is dense in minerals and microbial life. It is resilient and regenerative and was anthropogenically formed when indigenous farmers who threw bones, waste and shattered pottery outside their homes and enhanced the dark soil with charcoal. Black soil, then, is artificial: a process of terra-formation that was managed, designed and beneficial to humans and the land. Is it a model for a different kind of chemical imaginary that is striated not smooth, productive and regenerative. It is essential because another clock is now ticking.

2022  |  SCI

SURVEY OF CURRENT INFRASTRUCTURE

1. Fecon “Bull Hog” Mulching Tractor. A key instrument in land clearing, a “mulcher” or “masticator” is used to cut, grind and clear any kind of vegetation.

2. John Deere Agricultural Machinery: Combine Harvester. Name for the combination of reaping, threshing and winnowing in one mechanical operation, no element has been more crucial to advancing the scale and speed of grain agriculture.

3. Ted Captive Bolt Stunner. Animals ranging from sheep and pigs to horses are “stunned” before slaughter using penetrating, non-penetrating and free bolt guns. Penetrating bolts are uncommon due to disease risks as brain parts enter the bloodstream.

4. Center Pivot Irrigation System. Electric motor-powered irrigation sprinklers pivot and spin on a 360 axis as an efficient means to grow crops. Often referred to as crop circles, they are a circular anomalousness visible from the sky.

5. Refrigerated Truck Isuzu. Freezing and refrigeration lies at the core of current production and preparations methods: the most energy intensive element of handling, processing and transportation.

6. John Deere Sprayer. Ranging in size from portable guns to boom-mounted tractors and drones, sprayers are the means by which distributing herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers are applied to agricultural crops.

7. Micro Food Plots Cultipacker. A segmented, ridged roller designed to smooth the topsoil layer into a flat seedbed by breaking down clods, removing air pockets and press down stones.

8. Air Tractor AT-602. Cloud seeding is a process of weather modification involves dispersing silver iodide, potassium iodide or solid carbon dioxide onto clouds to serve as condensation of ice nuclei and increase levels of precipitation. In January 2020, cloud seeding in the UAE led to flooding.

9. Cargo Ship. Almost 60 percent of food is shipping by sea with road in second place on 30 percent and rail on 9 percent.

2023  |  DC

DAMAGE COUNTER

The processes by which we convert the biotic surface of the earth and make it edible are responsible for almost a third of total greenhouse gas emissions, 75 percent of all deforestation and the vast majority of biodiversity loss. Agriculture uses 70 percent of total freshwater withdrawals and has already degraded half the planet’s soil. At the same time, at least 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted every year and one in three people are malnourished. Three quarters of all birds alive as you read this are farmed poultry. The accumulation of chicken bones in landfill sites since 1950 is considered a large enough entry in the fossil record to signal the commencement of the anthropocene.

2024  |  P2

PHILOSOPHY II: DENATURALIZING EDIBILITY

Consider the lobster – again. Long despised, a bottom-feeding parasite suitable only for fertilizer and animal feed, famously regulated against in the US so prisoners wouldn’t be fed it often – it would be too cruel – now a symbol of excess, center piece of grills, thermidors, cultural festivals and a major economic asset. Consider crayfish, or “mud bugs,” too: freshwater crustaceans that subsist on decomposing matter and give rice farmers in Louisiana a way to diversify their fields.

In little over a decade, Japanese staples including raw flounder, seaweed, tofu and matcha made their way into the global mainstream – a shift driven not by necessity but by desire. Could lobsters, crayfish, or sushi provide a historical precedent for insects, fermented proteins, cellular meat, algae or any other perennially harvested, versatile and nutrient-rich (or simply less-bad) alternatives? Part of the alchemical magic of the current food system is how it takes raw materials it is too cumbersome to eliminate and dresses them in ways that make them appealing. Could a new range of resilient, high efficiency ingredients enter the industrial food supply or form the basis for new food cultures as yet to come into existence?

What the story of sushi teaches us is that edibility is not innate in things. All foods needed to be discovered. Instead, edibility is constructed according to knowledge about the stuff in question, its benefits and chemical effects, cultural practice and accessibility. This changes over time according to environmental conditions. Insects are a major source of protein used in a wide variety of dishes in South America, Africa and Asia. In much of the global north, the learning process and disgust reflex that served an important evolutionary function in preventing humans from consuming rotten of toxic food, has contaminated an entire category of edible creatures through their association with decay and waste. (Pigs once suffered from a comparable misrepresentation, which is why their supposed greed and voraciousness remains encoded in our language even as the associations around pork loin and charcuterie are unblemished.)

Yet westerners already eat insects in the form of food colouring. The ingredient known as “carmine,” “natural red four,” “crimson lake” or “E120” refers to the cactus-dwelling cochineal of South America, found widely in yogurts, cakes, sodas and lipsticks. The bounds of edibility are broader and more porous than we think. Nintendo hired flavorists to make Switch cartridges taste so offensive children would immediately spit them out. We eat copper and zinc to boost our immune system and must monitor the iron levels in our blood lest they fall too low. We regularly ingest that which might seem harmful and use harmful substances to suggest edibility, as in food photography where meat is basted with motor oil to glisten on cue and ice cream is more likely to be lard or dyed wall-filler than anything that might melt under the hot studio lights.

The journal Frontiers in Nutrition describes a study in which participants were less likely to eat a chocolate truffle filled with mealworms when told about its ecological benefits and more likely to eat it when told it would make them cooler. Politics, clearly, is something we eat, where consumption according to a given script is a ticket to group membership. This might refer to cultural practices rooted in geography and personal history, but it could also mean the semiotic preference in your chosen supermarket, whether you buy green-labelled products (organic, or at least “earthy” on its own terms) or white-labelled (basic, utilitarian, no marketing can fool me).

The adoption of new food types, like fashion or political acceptability, spreads through existing social groups. It moves most effectively when laced with libidinal appeal. Desire is networked but so is disgust. The separation of clean and unclean as we first observed it as children leaves a firm impression that environmentalism may struggle to overcome. Much as McDonald’s relies on bright colors, overwhelming flavors and trend-adjacent Happy Meals, the neurological grooves written in early life can be difficult, though by not impossible, to rewire. The broadly-held belief that there are certain colors, gooey textures, particular flavors and sensations that suggest poison and corruption at an atavistic level is not without basis in fact. There is an established process of adoption with evolutionary science: sampling a small amount of a newly discovered berry before increasing the dose, assuring its safety before returning that which has been foraged to the group. Yet this process can be engineered, coaxed and surmounted. As discussed elsewhere, the primary obstacle to emerging food cultures may not be our perception of “natural” edibility but the trillion dollar economic barrier of perverse public subsidies or the closed loop of corporate product development that is the hidden infrastructure behind the dishes, recipes and products permitted by the global market.

2025  |  W

WASTE

2026  |  PCD

PROTEIN CAPTURE AND DISTRIBUTION

Proteins are responsible for defense, communication, enzyme function, transport, storage and structure within the body. Proteins are a logistical delivery vehicle that provide the scaffolding for numerous processes from DNA replication to moving necessary molecules around the body. They are built from 21 amino acids, 9 of which cannot be synthesized within the body and must be acquired through capture from meat, dairy products, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and insects. Across the planet, 65 percent of per capita protein intake comes from plants. In North America, that figure is 32 percent. At present, more than 80 percent of agricultural land is used for livestock which produces just 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein. The need to capture protein has driven terraforming since we began to clear forests with fire to hunt. It is the spiked protein shell that gives coronaviruses their name – from Latin, corona meaning “crown” – but also their acute transmissibility. At every scale, wherever life is given form, the source of essential proteins must be accounted for.

Based on White Paper Prepared by the Oxford for the World Economic Forum
2027  |  FE1

FLAVOR ENGINEERING I: HUMAN SENSORS

You were subjected to someone else’s taste earlier than you can remember. Amniotic fluids in the womb changed with your mother’s diet and it registered with you. When you were born, your motor skills kicked in immediately to get things in your mouth. This is the reason Nintendo hired a team of flavorists – chemical engineers who ordinarily work in the food, perfume and household products industries – to make sure their Switch cartridges taste vile. The cartridges are coated in denatonium benzoate, a “bittering agent” used in antifreeze and rat poison, to ward off children and pets. The 100-year-old Gaia theorist James Locklock suggests we could save the rainforest by burying nuclear waste in it. Could we save the planet by making it revolting?

It can be the absence of taste that is cause for alarm. Trees, flowers and plants in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone no longer smell of anything. An early symptom of Covid-19 is the loss of taste and smell. We already live in an era that over-privileges sound and vision. We are enclosed in a digital realm that smells like nothing. It’s no wonder the transition feels like a loss: can we shop, learn or date without smell? Flavorists are unusual among engineers for the way they combine molecular data with auto-experimentation. Their noses and their ability to interpret smells is what makes them so valuable. Humans experience flavors in ways that are contingent, asynchronous, transformed by contexts and bodily states that change over time (as we eat, say, or as we grow familiar with a new smell.) We are so far from developing sensors capable of smelling like humans there isn’t even an agreed scientific language, unit of measurement or technical framework up to the task. Yet the potential for such a field would be immense.

In an interview with Mold (Issue 4), Dr Nongjian Tao, director of the Center for Biosensors and Bioeletronics at Arizona State University, explains the challenge of developing sensors for taste and smell. There are means – molecular sensors and colorimetry – that can do this, but they are far too cumbersome to become accessible at consumer scale. Dr Tao’s department is working towards safety applications such as smoke, air toxicity and pollution in the hopes they will be useful to asthma patients. “I think that chemical sensors need to be designed to be compatible with consumer electronics,” he says. “We’re just not sure how.”

Photograph of the Viking Lander Biological Experiment System including a GC-MS. The device was included on board of the earthling explorer to analyse the components of Martian soil in 1976

Where force, touch, sound and light can be detected using semiconductors, much of the molecular work in industry – primarily detecting of hidden substances, from drugs to secret sauce – is carried out by a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GC-MS). The Mars Curiosity Rover contains a complex of sensing devices known as Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, to examine carbon compounds, search for biotic or prebiotic organic compounds such as methane and to develop better evolutionary climate models that may help indicate whether the planet was once or may become capable of hosting something like life. On earth, where questions of planetary viability are no less valid, lichen have been studies to monitor ecosystem health for around a century. Lichen do not have roots: they are an algae-fungi symbiotic organisms that received nutrients from the air and response to critical pollutants – particularly nitrogen and sulfur dioxide. Sensing takes place throughout the food production chain. It happens at a range of scales from microorganism to forest. The sensing layer is already a complex array of technical, cross-modal and organic indicators: flavor must be engineered to expand and steer perception.

2028  |  ABF

ANATOMY OF BIG FOOD

©️Oxfam
2029  |  NHA1

NON-HUMAN ALCHEMISTS I: ALGAE

We were not the first species to terraform earth. Around 2.4 billion years ago, cyanobacteria began to produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. The pollution wiped out the majority of nitrogen-dependent lifeforms and triggered the first ice age. The event has been alternatively referred to as the Oxygen Catastrophe, the Oxygen Crisis, the Oxygen Holocaust, and the Oxygen Revolution. It was the first planetary extinction event. Many experts believe that we are now living through the sixth.

Algae wasn’t always destructive. It is believed to have precipitated the Cambrian Explosion. “This rise in algae happens just around the time the first animals appeared on the scene,» scientist Jochen Brocks told the BBC. “It was algae at the bottom of the food web that created this burst of energy and nutrients that allowed larger and more complex creatures to evolve.”

Blue-green algae has already transformed the planet may soon do so again. Humans are expected to consume more food in the next fifty years than in the previous 10,000 and the one million species of algae believed to exist will play a central role as we rise to this task. Algae is a vitamin, mineral, omega-3 and phytonutrient-rich food source that can be grown in all weathers and harvested year round. In Moscow, spirulina has been successfully trialled as a means to filter river. In Copenhagen it forms the main input for a range of speciality caviar.

Oil deposits formed on the sites of ancient canals in which layers upon layers of algae decomposed, subject to heat and pressure over millions of years. As the fossil fuel industry unpacks that compression at hyperspeed – perhaps the food system could provide an alternative? First we must expand our definition of farming to include practices like algaculture. If the ingenuity of the existing food system – particularly in North America – can be seen most clearly as it pertains to the reformulation and distribution of corn syrup and soy, the food system to come will be capable of transforming and circulating a multiplicity of new dishes and cultures formed from the more nutritious and resilient algae.

2030  |  PS

PERVERSE SUBSIDIES

Subsidized beef, consumed most in the global north, is one of man’s most destructive practices. There is no escaping this fact. If we consider the carbon storage potential of the land lost, 4kg of beef is the equivalent in climate damage of a flight from London to New York City. One million dollars of taxpayer money are spent every minute on perverse subsidies which over-incentivize land-hungry, emissions-intensive and vulnerable farming practices that are not determined by consumer demand or necessary to guarantee food security. The subsidy wedge is a sleepwalking monster. The city’s resource supply is its hinterland and while 70 percent of the earth has been operationalized in one way or another just three percent of it is urbanised – and that percentage is liable to shrink. One of the best-known profit landscapes, the US corn belt produces soy and corn, 60 percent of which is fed to animals, 30 percent of which is used as bioethanol and 10 percent is fed to humans either in the shape of food or corn syrup. For the most part, farmers do not choose which crops they grow: the state, precedent, technological capacity and the small fraction of corporations who control the food market do, circling a 1 trillion dollar subsidy wedge that can and must be redirected towards drawdown, ecosystem management, and research to increase yields and diversify the food system. We are often taught that a suspicion of new tastes, textures, experiences and sensations is the primary obstacle for emerging food cultures to overcome – but there is an economic barrier too. Nonna’s lasagne doesn’t seem so innocent when you realize how we’re paying for it.

2031  |  AS

AGRARIAN SIMULATION

Most of the food we encounter in our day to day lives is not intended for consumption. Instead we see simulated images of food in the form of advertising and product packaging, on menus, supermarket shelves and social media, building on a semiotics of agrarian simplicity and limitless nature that we first encounter in childhood. Before age 10, most children have a mental image of the farmyard and what happens there. Most children can point to a cartoon rhino. Meanwhile the actual black rhino population declined by 98 percent between 1960 and 1995, with around 80 believed to have survived poaching and ecosystem destruction into the present. So long as the idea of rhino exists at scale, will anyone notice?

Consider the major food trends of the 2010s: fast food classics elevated for a fast casual audience, sentimental localism and fake rusticity reproduced for the global market. In metropolitan centers worldwide, farmer’s markets, wooden palettes and service trucks contributed to a simulation of productive landscapes where gourmet pizzas, burgers and burritos can be enjoyed. In food as in music, we are stuck in a stylistic feedback loop defined by skeuomorphism and conservatism, under-nourished by slick remixes of last century’s genres. The production of food is a dark process. So too is our digestion of it, the biotic assimilation that animates our organs. From land clearance to slaughter and reconstitution to the gustation and digestion to which we play host, the simulation of food reduces us to catastrophic ignorance from which seek succor in an agrarian civilizational fairytale more pernicious than any Abrahamic myth.

2032  |  FE2

FLAVOR ENGINEERING II: VANILLIN

To many people, “vanilla” is an insult. To label something or someone “vanilla” is to associate them with a flavor category so ubiquitous as to seem basic. And yet, a more considered evaluation quickly liberates C8H8O3 from its association with sensory conservatism.

Vanilla was one of the first artificial flavors to be synthesized in 1874. Two German chemists, Ferdinand Tiermann and Wilhelm Haarmann, deduced the chemical structure of the vanilla bean and isolated a near-perfect match for the compound in pine bark.

It cannot be stated enough: there is no difference between synthetic vanillin – the name given to the compound when traced outside the bean – and vanilla. It is the process by which the vanillin is made the determines whether it can be labelled “natural” or “artificial.” These distinctions are considered laughable by flavorists: the artist-chemists who design the world’s palette under the patronage of Big Food. Aside from vanilla beans, vanillin can be extracted from wood pulp, microbes taken from the guts of desert locust, cow manure, rice, wine barrels and gooey secretions in the anus of North American and European Beavers.

Because vanillin is used so widely – in beverages, snacks, perfumes, cleaning products and livestock feed – demand is immense. Fifteen percent of the planet’s supply of vanillin is produced as a byproduct of the paper industry. This figure was once much greater but consumer desire for “natural” products away from industry led us to rodent’s asses and ultimately to petroleum. 

Today 85 percent of vanillin is produced in a two-step process from the petrochemical precursors guaiacol and glyoxylic acid. This synthesis, unlikely as it may sound, is the cleanest was to produce vanillin. And yet the fear of “chemicals” have given rise to a new process of extracting “natural” vanillin from fermented yeast using synthetic organisms: GMO microbes. Once the vanillin has been produced the microbes are destroyed – thus enabling manufacturers to avoid the Scarlet Letter that is “GMO.”

The company developing the methodology is led by faculty from MIT and was originally founded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Military (DARPA) who pioneered the technology while developing probiotics for soldier. In fact, fermented yeast represents a space of scientific possibility so large that Bayer are researching GM yeast capable of synthesizing nitrogen directly from the air. Consider it: crops that regulate and catalyse their own growth without needing a drop of fertilizer. Elsewhere, in Finland, precision fermentation is being used to create protein flour from bacteria, water, electricity and air.

Every flavor can be recognised in its iconic, symbolic and indexical form – meaning, the chemical compound, the way it has been represented and the mark it has made in the terraforming ledger on earth.

2033  |  OMN

OVERCOMING MARKET NEOPHOBIA (by Lucy Chinen and Sean Raspet)

Nonfood makes an algae-based nutrition bar and recently released golden chlorella powder that combines to reignite the culinary imaginary in an age of climactic transformation. What follows is an extract from a longer conversation between Black Almanac and founders Sean Raspet and Lucy Chinen that took place via Zoom in early June.

Black Almanac: To start, is neophobia real?

Sean Raspet: It’s a scientific term. I mean, neophobia in general is just fear of new things or situations. In my understanding it’s considered somewhat of an evolutionary adaptation. It’s adaptive for an organism to be somewhat afraid of new things. I’ve heard theories that it goes back to being in a forest and encountering lots of berries. If the berry that you pick looks new and maybe tastes different, you don’t eat a whole lot of it at that moment, because it’s a little bit weird, you’re not sure. Then you eat a small amount, and then later, if nothing goes wrong, when you’re hungry again and you go back to it, and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is not so bad.’ That’s how I’ve heard evolutionary theory explains it. But regardless of any theory, it’s a measurable thing that people in the industry work with.

Lucy Chinen: When we were working on the Nonbar flavor, we noticed all the other protein bars out there are incredibly sweet. They’re super sweet – almost like from the candy bar realm or something. We were confused for a really long time. Like, why is it that they’re so sweet? I’d guess most big food companies do these test groups. Probably they’re like, very normie, intentionally regular people. So probably they don’t have very a diverse diet. Sweetness enhances the flavor and the opinion of Middle America gets expanded to the whole aisle. Someone said they tried the Nonbar while they were on a trail, walking in nature, and they said the whole experience was really intense. I was wondering if part of the experience of trying something in a completely blank room makes you want something that intense.

SR: There’s probably multiple feedback loops that are happening, multiple neophobia amplifying feedback loops between focus groups and how that might determine a certain consumer palate. Well, that might determine a certain product development pathway that then becomes a product that then becomes the environment of products that a consumer experiences over their lifetime. It determines how they respond in a focus group, which then determines the next round.

LC: You can only be comfortable with things that you have access to. When something is completely new and you can’t even buy it – you have no chance to develop something.

SR: On the product development side, I’ve heard people say you basically have one chance to try something and decide to become a lifelong consumer of it. Like it’s either gonna happen or it isn’t. It’s interesting too because focus groups are only one occasion. You don’t have the same people come back like a week later and try it again – which would be how people develop tastes over time. But since you don’t have that and since the way that it’s thought of is that the consumer is either gonna like it or not, that’s maybe another amplifying factor or neophobia in the industry.

LC: Food used to be way more difficult. It was like chewy, or at least you chewed on it for a long time, like sugar cane. Or it was like slightly bitter. Or it was like rough and then slowly it just became more manicured.

SR: Refined in both senses of the word.

2034  |  ASF

ALTITUDE STUDIES: AIRLINE FOOD AND SPACE FOOD  

Think about the food served on airplanes. This is not food designed to embrace the particular conditions of gastronomy at high altitude but an attempt to recreate café culture in the sky. Pigments are added to the carrots so they appear fresh. The lasagne is coloured to look as though oven-baked. Food becomes little more than a tool to manufacture normalcy at 30,000 feet and it is to this performance which all research and development capital flows.

The same is true of food designed for space travel – another possibility for culinary innovation, which reveals an archive of nourishment without desire. Despite the enormous fuel costs attached to every gram on a rocket’s payload, early cosmonauts and astronauts returned from space thinner than was necessary. Spreads as thick and heavy as wax, tubes of flavored pastes and dehydrated potatoes impoverished spacefarers in more ways than one. Food is the nail on which human health, sanity and societal harmony hangs. Without it, we soon break down.

Rather than simply “dealing with the limitations” of zero gravity culinary practices, might it be possible to pioneer a new type of preparation and eating unique to the context? Gastropod host and writer Nicola Twilley profiles the research of industrial designer Maggie Coblentz, who heads the food research at MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative:

Like generations of chefs before her, Coblentz began by taking advantage of the local environment. Liquids are known to behave peculiarly in microgravity, forming wobbly blobs rather than streams or droplets. This made her think of molecular gastronomy, in particular the technique of using calcium chloride and sodium alginate to turn liquids into squishy, caviar-like spheres that burst delightfully on the tongue. Coblentz got to work on a special spherification station to test in zero g – basically a plexiglass glove box equipped with preloaded syringes. She would inject a bead of ginger extract into a lemon-flavored bubble, or blood orange into a beet juice globule, creating spheres within spheres that would deliver a unique multipop sensation unattainable on Earth.

Coblentz is planning to send a batch of miso paste to the ISS later this year, to learn how its flavor profile changes. She has also developed a new way of consuming it. Pondering the station’s lack of cutlery, she struck upon the idea of creating silicone ‘bones’ – solid, ivory-colored crescents that resemble oversize macaroni more than the ribs that inspired them. Nibbling and sucking foods directly off a silicone bone might reduce spoon fatigue, she explained, and perhaps even put spacefarers in touch with humanity’s most ancient foodways.

Read “Algae Caviar, Anyone? What We’ll Eat on the Journey to Mars” at wired.com.

2035  |  NHA2

NON-HUMAN ALCHEMISTS II: BACTERIA

Human bodies are colonized by many billions of microorganisms: in the hair, throat, stomach, genitals, skin and elsewhere. Some estimates state there are three non-human cells on and in our bodies for every human one: ancient invaders that pre-date the arrival of homo sapiens by millions of years yet make our energy, health and bodily regulation possible, particularly those involved with breaking down food and absorbing its nutrition in the mouth and gut. The Human Microbiome Project, which published its first results in 2012, found that humans host thousands of bacteria, most of all in the mouth and small intestine, which boasted the greatest diversity.

Just as bacteria play an essential role in bodily function, they are among the most integral “non-human alchemists” at work at planetary scale. Bacteria can be sensitive to heat and light, but they can also be among the most extreme organisms we know of, flourishing in space, in radioactive waste and deep under ground. Deep subsurface bacteria accounts for 13 percent of the planet’s biomass. Microbial metabolic functioning drives the biogeochemical transpositions that define earth ecosystem dynamics as matter cycles between the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere.

Consider nitrogen: the most abundant element in the atmosphere that plays some role in all life on the planet. Bacterial microorganisms, for example, facilitate the symbiotic exchange of nitrogen and carbon compounds between rhizomes and legumes, and are essential in the interconversion between organic and inorganic forms of nitrogen as it cycles between the atmosphere and terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Scientists at Gingko Bioworks and Bayer joint venture Joyn Bio are using synthetic biology to modify soil microbes so they can synthesise nitrogen directly from the atmosphere – boosting yields while reducing the need for fertilizers.

2036  |  N

NEUROGASTRONOMY

Taste and flavor are not synonymous. When humans eat, molecules bind with sensory receptors in the mouth and retro-nasal passageway, activating spatial patterns in the olfactory bulb as we breathe out. These signals combine with information from the other senses to form a neural cascade that passes through the emotion, learning and memory-processing structures in the brain before becoming conscious perception. This is flavor. Subjective, neurologically involved, internally produced: as automatic as breathing yet as intimate as dreaming.

Flavor does not reside in food: the particular mix of molecules – the molecular gestalt of “pomegranate” or “McNuggets” – engages all five sense in crossmodal interactions that produce “odor images” with specific implications for our perception of food. The images are heavily dependent on our behavior: whether we sad, hungry, amused or suspicious of the food or ingestion ritual we are engaged in. They are also contingent on the environment: noise, light, temperature all change the way food tastes and we process it. 

Human beings have 1,000 olfactory genes, comprising 1-2 percent of the genome. What’s more, the food molecules we sense evolved to carry out specific functions like communication between plants, defence against pests or responses to environmental shifts. Consider the way the flavor of tomatoes seems to improve after being exposed to excessive UV light (the varieties sold as “sun-ripened” or “sun-blanched”). All molecules exist within a broad matrix of chemical, biochemical, ecological and evolutionary purposes. In a quite literal sense, we can taste the operations of the biosphere. Because these molecules combine with images, language and memory, we can taste ideology as well. The study of flavor perception as it relates to sense and memory is a burgeoning science known as “neurogastronomy.”

2037  |  GFP

GLOBAL FOOD PATHWAYS: UN, FOOD AND LAND USE COALITION, ETC.

Three major reports lay out pathways for the global food system after 2020:

Food and Land Use Coalition, Growing Better (2019)

The Lancet, Food in the Anthropocene (2019)

RethinkX, Rethinking Food and Agriculture (2019)

  • An additional 12% increase in agricultural productivity by 2050 due to technological advancements.
  • By 2050, food loss and waste can be reduced by 25 percent.
  • Enough food will be produced in 2030 to deliver on the ambitions of SDG2 – to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
  • The world will converge towards “human and planetary health” diets by 2050.
  • The ocean will deliver 40% more sustainable proteins over the next 30 years.
  • Significant investment in human capital, rural infrastructure, new productive safety nets, technology diffusion and the digital revolution will support the emergence of a new generation of young rural entrepreneurs.

Achieving human and planetary health will people to:

  • Converge around predominantly plant-based diets, though with still significant room for consumption of animal, oceanic and alternative proteins.
  • Include more protective foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
  • Limit unhealthy food consumption, such as salt, sugar and saturated fats.
  • Moderate red meat consumption – meaning a reduction for those currently consuming beyond their fair share but increasing where consumption is below dietary recommendations.
  • Transition to increased consumption of whole, rather than refined, grains.
  • Include little, preferably no, ultra-processed foods high in saturated fats, salt, and sugar.
  • By 2030, demand for cow products will have fallen by 70%.
  • Production volumes of the US beef and dairy industries and their suppliers will decline by more than 50% by 2030, and by nearly 90% by 2035. Crop farming volumes, such as soy, corn, and alfalfa, will fall by more than 50%.
  • The current industrialized, animal-agriculture system will be replaced with a food-as-software model, where foods are engineered by scientists at a molecular level and uploaded to databases that can be accessed by food designers anywhere in the world.
  • By 2035, about 60% of the land currently being used for livestock and feed production will be freed for other uses.
  • The cost of modern food products will be half that of animal products and they will be superior in every functional attribute – more nutritious, tastier, and more convenient, with much greater variety.
  • Net greenhouse gas emissions from the sector will fall by 45% by 2030. By 2035, lands previously used to produce animal foods in the US could become a major carbon sink.
2038  |  BC

BLACK CAVIAR

In May 2020, spirulina was successfully trialled in wastewater filtration and biogas production at a treatment plant in Moscow.  In North America and Scandinavia, kelp forms the main input for a range of speciality caviar. (Ikea has its own brand, in fact, which it markets as shimmering “seaweed pearls”.) The word skeuomorphism – from the Greek skeuos (container) and morphe (shape) – is the great hope for “plant-based” and cellular agriculture products planning to dominate existing industries by mimesis. Yet fidelity to form is its own strain of conservatism. The disgraced architect Adolf Loos in his essay Ornament and Crime argues that the material announces its preferred form. Yet there exists an industrial/post-industrial divide between “whole foods” or “molecular” foods divorced from organic forms.

Class distinctions inform the shape foods take. There are some which can only be assembled, presented, couched in a complex assembly. Others take the form of bars, pills, sludge. Many of today’s global favorites emerged out of dire circumstances in which preserving or guaranteeing the safety of food let to pickled, curried, variously spiced. Yet from poaching to driving to extinction, there has been an interplay between the creation of delicacies and the desire of elites who with to cultivate a diverse palette and to be inspired by food. Consider the example of bird’s nest soup: a small practice now a rarity craved by the Chinese elite. Writing in Mold Magazine (Issue 4), Justinas Viltus argues against industrial skeuomorphs, symbolic of “pure human will” that must make all foods graspable – like nuggets. What might we be losing along the way? “Meat flowers” that unfold in broth or bacon sweets that pop and ooze. Black caviar must be liberated to appreciate its full potential.

2039  |  AE

ARTIFICIAL ECOLOGIES

The most advanced field in agricultural robotics is that which concerns itself with livestock. It’s a depressing observation: that the conversion of sentient life into the jellies, patties, nuggets and pastes that we recognize as food is a process so brutalizing that we cannot stomach being near it, even as it fills our stomachs. Yet the larger truth of this situation is more harrowing still. Agricultural investment is pathetically low given the industry’s size. The results of more visible agricultural practices, including deforestation, expanding ocean dead zones produced by fertilizer run-offs, desertification and poor soil management, may provide even harder to tolerate than the screams of animals humans are currently so desperate to inflict on machines.

The power of the 2013 European “horse meat scandal,” in which “beef lasagnes” sold in supermarkets turned out to be a composite of horse skin, sawdust, and other scrapings assembled at a series of factories thousands of miles apart, revealed an ontological breach between consumers and the food they eat, but also the remarkable, if misaligned, potential of industrial supply chains. Similarly, in 2020, nation states began impelling citizens to take home surfeits of wagyu beef, Belgian fries and French cheese – like wartime rationing in reverse – in a gesture of “solidarity” with farmers after sales fell in the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak.

There’s another world where “cooks,” “kitchens,” “beef” and “syrup” unites a planetary-scale network of insiders committed to the molecular, metabolic and dynamic transformations of matter packaged and marketed to be appealing, addictive and profitable. It was no accident that the storyline of TV series Breaking Bad, about a high school chemistry teacher who begins producing methamphetamine after a cancer diagnosis, contained a fried chicken franchise whose parent company, Madrigal

 

Electromotive GmbH, provided the means of supply for Walter White’s rival Gustavo Fring. The global food system is subject to far greater obfuscation – from producers and consumers – than the market for illegal drugs, where production and distribution methods are regularly “exposed” in unembellished form in both documentary and fiction.

While many rage instinctively against the “inhumanity” of trans- and intercontinental supply, this indignation offers little in the way of concrete alternatives beyond vague homilies to localism, or mandatory subsistence farming for every other household (which would be necessary if we were to abolish industrial food production while avoiding mass starvation). Instead, wholesale rejection of industrial food production should be exchanged for a greater curiosity and engagement with the ecologies of automation able to produce food at the speed and scale required. It is not sufficient to merely signal one’s opposition to the deception and inherent barbarism of much of the current food system while simply waiting for reality to slip back behind the veil.

2040  |  FH

FERTILIZER HISTORY

©️Google Earth

1879-1883 The increased importance of mineral fertilizers in crop production was a primary cause of the War of the Pacific, also known as the War of the Saltpetre. A 220-mile long deposit of guano (fixed nitrogen laid down in bird excrement) was contested by Chile, Bolivia and Peru with colonial forces engaged by proxy.

1910 The Haber-Bosch Process is an artificial nitrogen fixation process and is the main industrial procedure for the production of ammonia today. Named for its inventors, the German chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, it converts atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia via a reaction with hydrogen using a metal catalyst at high temperature.

1985 The “dead zone” caused by agricultural runoff from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico has averaged a size of 5,309 square miles (the size of the state of New Jersey) every year since records began.

1961-2020 Fertilizer use increases by 800 percent.

2041  |  FF

FAST FOOD BAD, SLOW FOOD ALSO BAD

Fast food is often criticized but slow food cannot scale to meet the requirements of a population approaching 10 billion. Fast food is a machine whose moving parts are visible. The golden arches of McDonald’s are believed to be among the most recognized symbols on the planet. The company’s industrial design strategies – everything in a fast food kitchen is on the clock – and end products are now-familiar skeuomorphs that mask the legal agreements, intellectual property, and management protocols that truly define the business.

The opposite of fast food isn’t slow food – it’s better fast food? A franchise that constitutes and packages algae or tofu in a vibrant spectrum of dishes and on-the-go forms could be the first ecological fast food. It’s clear that we need big oil’s infrastructure to drawn down and store carbon, perhaps the same is true of food? The production of patties, nuggets and sauces is obscure by design. When Donald Trump presented Clemson University’s football team with burgers and “many, many french fries” served on golden platters during the federal shutdown in early 2019 he did so entirely without irony. Consider then the scenes that Barack Obama and Joe Biden were a part of when they chose to have burgers for lunch. The pair dined in small-scale, local establishments, carefully constructed from the condiments to the other diners somehow unaware the president was in the next booth over. Trump’s lack of awareness revealed Obama’s conceit.

The same dialectic applies to slow food – where food is no longer evaluated for what it is or does but rather what it represents. In many respects, the slow food movement thinks food matters more than it does, emphasizing regional, communal practices by obscuring the relational and actual dynamics by which they emerge. Slow food instrumentalizes sentimentality to draw food cultures into the global economy, “saving” traditions soon to be “lost” to globalization by reproducing them as artefacts. The choices over which dishes are to be saved are made by the usual cast of Euro-American elites. Consider Oscar Farinetti, owner of the Eataly franchise and founder of a food-oriented theme park in Bologna who has made millions exporting the dream of Italian sun-kissed culinary richness. Meanwhile Italy’s real food politics are concerned with other matters. Ask any Italian, the food system is poisonous and mozzarella di bufala is literally garbage.

2042  |  P3

PHILOSOPHY III: XENORECIPES

Pronouncements on edibility and moral judgments on the worthiness of equally nutritious foods (a steaming Bouillabaisse slurped in the back of a Provençal cafeteria as opposed to a functional tuna wrap gnawed on a subway station platform, for example) can take on a undeniably colonialist flavor. The history of certain cultures oppressing and restriction others has left its mark on the planetary menu. Yet there is a dietary plague far worse than the Western Pattern Diet, which is the failure to recognize that all recipes can be destructive if they do not respond to change.

An uneven logic governs the form foods take. Why do some become bars, shakes, clusters, pellets and powders, while others are reserved for reproduction only in conditions of elaborate complexity? The distinction between “whole” and “molecular” foods is one of marketing. Those who reject the coldness of assemblages like Huel, Soylent, Impossible Burger, Quorn or YFood are rejecting brands who foreground the processes of decomposition and recombination that define the lifecycle of so many foods.

Authenticity a flaky concept. It would require gene analysis or naturalist probing to decide if this strain of aubergine had not been crossed or flung across continents in the guts of some bird. Food has its own story, endo rather than relational, a story of coevolution in the forest or in the field that preexists reunification on the plate. Alienation from the dish and abandonment of even the most sincere subjectivies will be an inevitable outcome on a planet that is reordering itself at such a pace. Xenorecipes allow us to practice the de-centering that collapses hierarchies irrelevant to planetary chemical disintegration. We should get used to the experience.

2043  |  GMO

GMO DOCTRINE

The term GMO has no biological meaning but it has already proven socially and legally crucial. In 2016, 155 Nobel laureates signed an open letter in support of precision agriculture (GMOs) because “global production of food, feed and fiber will need approximately to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing global population”. They continued: “We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against ‘GMOs’ in general and Golden Rice in particular.”

The great bogeyman of industrial agriculture, scientists at Monsanto were among the first to genetically modify a plant cell, field testing genetically modified crops before the end of the 1980s. Today CRISPR accelerates the process of macro and micro-organism domestication with which humans have been involved for 10,000 years. And yet across the modest acceptance GM crops once enjoyed is in decline, producing a global rewiring every time legal infrastructure changes, generally in response to vague sentimentents about “chemicals in your food.”

Precision agriculture improves insect resistance, drought resistance, herbicide tolerance, disease resistance and can enhance nutritional content for those who need it most: for example, the “controversial” Golden Rice was beta carotene-enriched to reduce Vitamin A deficiency among the world’s poorest, but never reached farmers because activists blocked it. Modified soybeans are grown with an enhanced oil profile, much like olive oil, made to last longer and to be trans-fat free. As with anything that is designed, they can be done better and worse, and must be tested. The blanket rejection of food science by 60s nostalgists who see “chemicals” as not innate in nature but something to be feared is not in fact safeguarding the planet but advancing its destruction.

2044  |  CFS

CODEX OF FOOD STANDARDS

What if instead of “free range,” “organic” and “certified humane” a new food labelling standard became an interface between planetary biochemistry and consumers? By eating we translate the planet and the planet translates us. We should at least attempt some form of mutual comprehension.

2045  |  DF

DREAM FACTORY

1. Algaculture. The coming food system will consider cultivating and harvesting microalgae not as bioscience but farming at household, urban and industrial scale. Open ponds and bioreactors are currently used to grow algae for food, bioplastics, pharmaceuticals and biofuel.

2. Automated production. Agricultural robotics incorporating artificial intelligence, cloud sensing, next gen materials and nanotechnology are set to overcome seasonal harvests, the territorial dispersion of fields, landscape zoning, weather susceptibility and human handling.

3. Photobioreactor. Since the 1950s open pond cultivation has been usurped by photobioreactors in which phototrophic microorganisms – those which require a light source to grow, such as plants, algae and purple bacteria – are grown at a high purity level with the efficient outputs of a controlled, closed system.

4. Cellular Meat Cultivator. Cellular meat is meat grown outside an animal from a biopsy sample in a bioreactor. The cells are fed inside a cultivator then structured using a scaffolding system to produce the type of animal product required. For more information see: cellag.org.

5. Vertical Farming. Born from a design proposition that asked if 50,000 people could be fed by farming containing within a skyscraper, vertical farming is the practical of growing crops in a controlled, indoor environment on vertically layered stacks.

6. Aquaponics. Circular systems of varying complexity and scope that combine aquaculture (raising small aquatic animals) with hydroponics (plants grown in water) by deploying bacteria which break down ammonia waste products in the water to make usable nitrates.

7. Synthetic production. Chemical synthesis, computational biology, genetic engineering are means of simulating and interpreting biological systems, modifying or recombining DNA, and constructing compounds from petrochemical or natural precursors.

8. Food-As-Software. The familiar software model of early release and constant iteration based on recurrent feedback will enable platform food to integrate with information technology and distribution means to allow “updates” that can be downloaded and incorporated instantaneously.

9. Land restoration. As the amount of land required by agriculture declines, there will be opportunities for carbon sequestration and soil management to fill the void.

2046  |  F3

FLAVOR ENGINEERING III: LANGUAGE (feat. Sousi Kalaiji)

Sousi Kalaiji is a flavorist (chemical engineer) with Ingredion based in the UAE who is currently working on new applications for starches.

Black Almanac: We’re interested in the cultural aspect of flavor. A strawberry in the US is quite close to a strawberry grown anywhere else – though terroir and other things may have an impact. But strawberry flavor in the United States is completely different to the strawberry flavour in the European Union. How do flavorists understand these differences and how might they be used to identify the flavor molecules in products from competitors?

Sousi Kalaiji: When I was training new recruits I used to gives examples: in this country they love this direction and this country they love this direction. Ultimately, the first thing you do you need to learn the language. So for example, when I say “floral” the person in front of me should understand what I mean by it. When I say “citrusy” or “wooden” it is the same. How can they make sure that each panellist knows what their colleagues mean? First they take all these panellists and train them. They take the chemicals, make a solution for everybody to taste and then they say okay: “this is floral.” After training them, they put the market products in front of them. If the panelists report the presence of “floral” we know what is inside.

BA: So there is a language exclusive to this small guild.

SK: This is why flavorists are so well paid. The language is huge.

Interactive Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel ©️notbadcoffee
2047  |  RA

RUSSIAN AGRO-FUTURES

Forecast of the Scientific and Technological Development of the Agro-Industrial Complex of the Russian Federation for the Period Until 2030 is a 2016 study led by Alexander Chulok from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. The forecast’s ultimate purpose is to determine the most promising areas of scientific and technological development that would guarantee food security and allow Russia to become a global supplier of processed food products. It was produced by order of the Russian Ministry of Agriculture and plots two scenarios for the next decade of Russian agriculture: “Local Growth” and “Global Breakthroughs”.

Aspects and recommendations from the second scenario include:

  • New plant varieties and symbiont microorganisms
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles for monitoring
  • Equipment for vertical farms, robotic greenhouses, hydro and aeroponics
    exotic berries and fruits from robotic complexes and home hydroponic plants
    Biofuels – including from algae
  • Components of agrotourism services
  • The purchase of bioreactors
  • Food products based on synthetic biology and using 3D printing, including meat from artificially grown tissues
  • Functional and personalized food products, including individually personalized food delivery any time
  • Uninhabited systems in the agro-industrial complex (dark factories)
  • Systems of smart process control and automated regulation of economic processes within the agro-industrial complex
  • Decision-making assistance based on big data, machine learning, semantic systems and artificial intelligence
2048  |  NHA3

NON-HUMAN ALCHEMISTS III: INSECTS

If the earth is a computer then insects are the trillions of tiny microprocessors responsible for successfully operating the system. Insects are the foot soldiers of the biosphere. Their functions include pollination, soil aeration, seed dispersal and maintaining ecosystem structure by regulating the food chain (via disease transmission or parasitism) and being themselves an integral part of it. Through their interactions with plants and soil, not to mention their considerable biomass, insects play a primary ecological role, cycling nutrients when they degrade and consume vegetation, wood, and decomposing matter, and dispersing fungi.

Insects formed part of the human diet for much of our history. Before we developed the tools for hunting and agriculture, they were a key source of protein, fibre, vitamins and nutrients. Today entomophagy (insect eating) is practised in 113 countries. Over 2000 species are known to be edible. The potential for high efficiency and low-cost inputs has produced a broad range of startups that incorporate insects as part of their production methods. These include Protix, who manage insects that turn food waste into valuable high-end proteins and fats. Ÿnsect offers an environmentally-friendly fertilizer alternative made of molitor larvae castings, and Agriprotein refines fly larvae and frass in a digitally controlled, bio-secure factory that mimics dawn and dusk to maximize egg production, into produce a protein powder, oil and soil conditioner.

In Shandong Province, China, cockroaches are used to process food and kitchen waste: a batch test for a scalable system that safely consumes old food by producing new food for humans. With their potential as a source of alt-protein, fibre, rare nutrients and vitamins, plus a rich history of insect gastronomy from South America, Africa and Asia, the place of crickets, beetles, mealworms and locusts in the food system to come is already assured.

2049  |  FK

А NEW FACTORY-KITCHEN

In 1932 a book for children entitled A Cook for the Whole City was published in the Soviet Union to explain the workings of the factory-kitchen. After the Russian Revolution, apartments were built without kitchens in order to free families from the burden of bourgeois household economy. “People forget what an incredible upheaval the 1917 revolution was,” former Moscow correspondent Masha Karp told NPR. “There was a huge movement to free the country from the czarism, bring happiness to poorer classes. People thought maybe it was a good idea to relieve a housewife from her daily chores so that she could develop as a personality. She would go and play the piano, write poetry, and she would not cook and wash up.”

Instead, neighbours were to eat in canteens known as factory-kitchens: a public feeding infrastructure in which mass production and communal dining were combined to balance nutrition – apportioned to the gram by dieticians – with the erratic surpluses and deficits of the planned economy. Flavors were evaluated at the politburo level. Stalin helped select which candies should be put into produced. Although civil war ultimately halted the construction of apartment buildings, the mass harvesting, canning, processing of agricultural yields in the city left its mark on Russian dining culture. So too did the Bolshevik’s food-as-liberation, food-as-fuel mentality, along with dietary transformations implemented at this time (“fish day,” entirely unrelated to Orthodox tradition, was introduced in 1932).

What might a new factory-kitchen include if it were built around a concept of planetary cuisine? Fast food is often criticised but slow food cannot scale to meet our requirements. Movements like molecular gastronomy maximise hedonic pleasure at the expense of nourishment – yet the design of food for space travel, another possibility for culinary innovation, reveals an archive of nourishment without desire. A contemporary factory-kitchen would utilise the full potential of platform food and incorporate technologies suited to intensive agriculture at the urban scale. It would also be accurately labelled and understood. When food is labelled according to its true cost, flavor becomes a cognitive engine that kickstarts the geoengineering process by aligning our appetites with molecular elements and flows.

2050  |  AG

2050: ANOTHER GARDEN

The fields are vast and unformed. They’re not even fields yet – another trick of the mind – they’re those vast, damp plains that run down to the river after you emerge from the forest. Black soil, terra nullius, a laboratory where experiments with matter take place and the moist, muddy clearing where grain is sown. That crop failed, try another. The ground becomes acidic, move elsewhere. Clear the way with fire. Lifetimes pass like this, eons of it, until something sticks. Cereal, a word in our common language from Ceres – goddess of harvests and farming. It’s happening all over the planet. Rice, barley, wheat, maize: selected not in the way genes are in the normal order of things but because they meet our needs. A series of collaborations between plant, animal, territory and climate, a synthesis guided by an intelligence produced within the same cascade of matter and time. Things grow on command now. There are fields forming in a corner of the cosmos. A man walks out of the temple and counts.

In time, this regularity is visible from space, though the abnormality is not principally a question of spatial configuration: it is principally about speed. Ripples up hillsides, mammal-stamped grass, the spontaneous creation of lakes and buffers and plots that yield mana and are allowed to fall fallow to regain their strength. Observations and productive strategies are encoded in the earliest calendars, proto-computational devices that attain the status of holy books among those who use and expand them. Harvests are brought in and celebrated. Crops fail and it seems like punishment from the gods. There is chemistry, abstraction and phase change, pattern and collapse, over and over. The health of the soil and the stories told at night cross-fertilize each other. Eating is like dreaming and we begin to dream of machines. Some things work and other things don’t. Things work. We don’t know if planetary chemistry is aligned with our desires or something else’s: a god, an idea, an intelligence to come. Our technologies blossom. We construct a scaffold for picking fruit, for unlimited ways of eating, for diseases and species to slip from one side of the earth to the other. The soil turns over. The aquifers are tapped. The splendours of the earth begin to circulate.

++

When the space probes Voyager 1 and 2 left earth in 1977, their payload included a golden record that contained images of food provision and consumption, raising a behaviour that might seem banal or incidental to one of cosmic, even species-defining scope. Systematic agriculture emerged out of the black soil of the Nile River Delta – a technical laboratory from which the words “alchemy” and “chemistry” also descend. What Black Almanac proposes is not the reduction of food cultures to a single, unified perspective but the expansion of flavor, form and cultural diversity that a culinary materialism makes possible.

Almanacs, like diets, recipes and cookbooks, are not only instructions for transforming matter. They are protocols for the production of self and society: foregrounding a process of decomposition and recombination that is the central logic of both chemistry and cooking. Humans account for just 0.01 percent of earth’s biomatter – a tiny fraction that needs to be recast according to its capacities and responsibilities. Yet even within that 0.01 percent live billions of microorganisms in the hair, throat, stomach and gut, ancient invaders that work in collaborative symbiosis with their hosts to aid digestion and monitor immune health. There is no barrier between humans and nature – no outside to which we do not belong. Instead there is a garden of interdependent aliens and it is the recognition of this alienation that will be crucial in making earth a second home.

In Anti-Oedipus (1972), Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari begin referring to a “place of healing” that will come (the reference is from Nietzsche), “a new earth where desire functions according to its molecular elements and flows.” The Terraforming programme at the Strelka Institute is concerned, in part, with continuing to sketch this earth-to-come. In part, it asks how words and images can increase their operative load so that the truth of Australian bush fires or the forests lost to cattle pastures can be known. We did not propose the almanac because we are foodies: we are not. Nor did we intend to imply an uncomplicated recursion between table and farm but rather to ease the burden enforced by a consumer dialectic that carries the dismal expectation that everyone know everything in order to reorient the path of human beings to less catastrophic ends.

The creation of an almanac implies a resource for systems of production rather than consumption and it is our hope that the promise of the full bodily-chemical spectrum of earth would be desirable enough as an end-goal – as unlikely as such a hyperfunctional convergence may be – that guarantee that at least some of the recommendations made here become standards baked into the system. There are certain good ideas that only need to happen once. The Event Horizon black hole image was our entry and our exit point. Behind our efforts lies a void. Deleuze and Guattari again (from A Thousand Plateaus, 1980): 

As Virilio says in his very rigorous analysis of the depopulation of the people and the deterritorialization of the earth, the question has become: ‘To dwell as a poet or as an assassin?’ The assassin is one who bombards the existing people with molecular populations that are forever closing all of the assemblages, hurling them into an ever wider and deeper black hole. The poet, on the other hand, is one who lets loose molecular populations in hopes that this will sow the seeds of, or even engender, the people to come, that these populations will pass into a people to come, open a cosmos.

Philip Maughan
Nikolai Medvedenko
Andrea Provenzano

Berlin — Moscow — St Petersburg

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