Future Topophagies: Eating Tomorrow’s Ecosystems:
September 2014, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
A 2-day workshop co-conceived with food systems social scientist Valentine Cadieux
osted by the University of Minnesota and public arts organization Northern Lights.

The workshop was based on an open question: “What would it mean to eat the future -- can we brainstorm ways to design a picnic, in which a site’s future reverberates through the experience, and all of its design components?” Working outdoors in the parks around Lakes Nokomis/Hiawatha, with simple brainstorming tools, 25 participants in revolving small breakout groups designed narratives of the future, focusing on a fictional picnic. In the final session on Day Two, we cooked stand-in comestibles and constructed key components of some of the narratives. Resulting prototypes included a “Taste Drought;” an invasive species-focused State Fair; liquid birthday cake for an advanced visiting civilization; the last picnic of extreme weather nomads; and a combination spa/soup kitchen.


DAY ONE MORNING: From brainstorm to feedback session at the U of MN Art Dept. The workshop progression was discussion, break out into small groups, blindly pick a set of constraints, develop a narrative, share, and then assess the gestalt of the experience.

DAY ONE:A set of constraints, picked from 7 categories (BIOLOGICAL CONDITIONS, THEMES, HOSTS, SOCIAL CONTEXT, MATERIALS, and COMESTIBLES), that yielded a narrative future scenario of a spa/soup kitchen.

DAY ONE AFTERNOON: Brainstorm at Lake Nokomis

DAY TWO MORNING: Brainstorm with City Art Collaboratory at Minnehaha Park

Brainstorming results: Notes mapping the narrative of The Weather Runners -- a band of nomads who need to keep on the run from sudden, often occurring climatic extremes. The picnic is their last celebratory meal at any given site to eat the remaining perishables, before moving on as extreme weather comes in.


Brainstorming results: Schematic of a device to turn rainwater into sno-cones. Part of a concept about a state fair of the future, with a focus on invasive species and limited resources.

DAY TWO Food prototyping ("Taste Drought"): The whole Big Mac went in the food processor.

DAY TWO Food prototyping ("Taste Drought":) The homogenized Big Mac converted to wafers and left overnight on the dehydrator.

DAY TWO ("Taste Drought"): Future Scenario narrative: Corporate-owned flavors, such as Big Mac, are now packaged as treats given to citizens on their birthday, and eaten at special picnics.

DAY TWO ("Taste Drought”): Future Scenario narrative: It is illegal to grow one's own food or experience tastes outside of corporate control; of course, a black market has sprung up in "wild tastes" such as mint, which are sold in dime bags.

DAY TWO Food prototyping ("Taste Drought"): Participant Steve Deitz demonstrates Big Mac product consumption -- first the wafer and then its packaging, which was made out of edible paper and ink.

DAY TWO Food prototyping: Sharing narratives and food prototypes in the Nash Gallery, U of MN.

DAY TWO Food prototyping ("Extreme Weather Runners"): The constraints for this narrative were COLLAPSE, EXTREME WEATHER, DAWN, STORE-BOUGHT, PETROCHEMICALS, OUTDOORS. Pictured: Fresh greens are served in used juice bottles refashioned as salad servers.

DAY TWO Food prototyping ("Extreme Weather Runners"): Long-term stored foods made from precious local materials such as maple syrup and oily fish are created by the community and kept in underground sod and Styrofoam bunkers. Pictured: Hard maple candy with an anchovy inside.

DAY TWO Food prototyping ("Extreme Weather Runners"): "Begin your journey energy-wise / Trade or eat this amber surprise / Know the value of each bite / By days it will sustain your flight." Rhymes are memorized and sung by the Weather Runners, to keep their food rituals in mind. Pictured:  A portable field guide to what is edible inscribed on the only materials available,  indestructible petrochemical remains such as used zip-locks.

DAY TWO Food prototyping preparation in the ad hoc kitchen set-up, which was located inside the Nash Gallery.

DAY TWO Food prototyping ("Invasives State Fair"):Scenario constraints selected: GINGHAM, COUNTY FAIR, CONSTANT RAIN, MIDNIGHT, A SUNDAY OUTING, INVASIVES. Pictured: "Pronto Carp," or Asian Carp on a stick, prototyped quickly with tofu in a deep fryer. Anything On A Stick is a signature of the Minnesota State Fair today.

DAY TWO Food prototyping ("Invasives State Fair"): Sumac-flavored sno-cone syrup, mixed with frozen rain water.

DAY TWO Food prototyping ("Swamp picnic"): Preparing foods made from the bogs and wetlands of MN. To be served to visiting dignitaries from another planet.

DAY TWO Food prototyping ("Swamp picnic"):
Wild rice, swamp apples, in an edible root basket.

DAY TWO Food prototyping ("Liquid Birthday"):
Liquefied birthday cake was served in an edible cup of fruit leather, designed for an advanced civilization of post-humans who no longer have teeth.

DAY TWO Food prototyping: The Nash Gallery was open to the public. Several guests attended our wrap up narrative and food prototyping session.

Christine Baeumler, Laura Bigger, Arlene Birt, Kenny Blumenfeld, Valentine Cadieux, Tracey Deutsch, Steve Dietz, Aaron Dysart, Artemis Ettsen, Cam Gordon, Teréz Iacovino, Janaki Ranpura, Shanai Matteson, Karen Moss, Sarah Nassif, Ady Olson, Sarah Peters, Molly Balcom Raleigh, Molly Reichert, Sarah Schultz, Stephen Sebestyen, Ryan Seibold, Andrea Steudel, Emily Stover, Matthew Tucker, Sandra Teitge, Marina Zurkow