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Food for Thinkers: Eating Rocks

Friends of the Pleistocene examine contemporary foodscapes for traces of geologic time, from seed vaults to radioactive salt.


Friends of the Pleistocene is a blog with an unusual, and unusually interesting, mission: to "create contexts and speculative tools for humans to recalibrate their sense of place within the geologic timescale." Reshaping cognitive pathways to grasp the multi-billion year timespans of geologic history is not just an idle thought experiment, according to Jamie Kruse and Elizabeth Ellsworth, the artists behind Friends of the Pleistocene. As they explained in a recent article on Urban Omnibus:

Modern life and deep geologic time are profoundly embedded within one another, with great consequence for both the present and the future. Humans are not only intimately living with—and rapidly using up—geologic material that took scores of millions of years to create, we are also laying down a new and utterly unique stratum on the earth. It's made up of human-made materials (including waste), and it will remain as one of earth's geologic layers long after our species is gone.


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Their investigations into the places where contemporary life and the geologic converge have led them on field trips to New York City's largest glacial pothole (it's in Inwood Hill Park) and in search of the source of the 10 million-year-old road salt we sprinkle on our wintry streets.
But for Food for Thinkers week, naturally, they looked for ways in which "today's food production, consumption, and even protection are taking up and sometimes eating up the geologic."

Their guide to "sightings" of geologic time within today's foodscapes include a look at the idea of terroir, as well as an overview of the flavors of deep time and Anthropocene-era radioactivity embedded in cooking salt. They also report on the phenomenon of seed vaults (such as the one at Svalbard, pictured above), in which geology has become "the front line of food's future."

Geologic forces play a main role in the design and function of the vault. The site at Spitsbergen was considered ideal because of its lack of tectonic activity and its permafrost, which will aid preservation. According to Wikipedia, the location, 130 metres (430 ft) above sea level, will ensure that the site remains dry even if the icecaps melt. Locally mined coal provides power for refrigeration units that further cool the seeds to the internationally recommended standard −18 °C (0 °F). The permafrost surrounding the facility will help maintain the low temperature of the seeds if the electricity supply should fail.

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Visit Friends of the Pleistocene to read their post in full and learn how to appreciate your dinner in the context of deep geological time.

Food for Thinkers is a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011, more than 40 food and non-food writers will respond to a question posed by GOOD's newly-launched Food hub: What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today?

Follow the conversation all week here at GOOD, join in the comments, and use the Twitter hashtag #foodforthinkers to keep up to date.

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