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Ghost Foods: What Are They, and How Are Universities Using Them?

By Sharon Chen
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Artists are using “endangered foods” in a novel way to spread awareness about climate change, and universities are getting on-board. The GhostFood truck serves edible substitutes of endangered food (cod, peanut butter, chocolate milk, for example) that have been manufactured to mimic the texture and mouth feel of the originals. Commissioned by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, the food truck is a part of a series of art projects designed to address global warming.

As Miriam Simun, one of the creators of the high concept art project, says, "we called the project 'GhostFood' because a ghost is the essence of something that isn't really there… We wanted to give people a very visceral experience that would help them to engage in a dialogue about climate change." For example, the imitation cod served by the truck is meant to highlight the fact that as the oceans’ salt level changes, cod eggs are more likely to sink to bottom of the ocean, rather than float and hatch. As winters grow shorter and warmer, peanuts are likely to develop a mold that is toxic to humans.

Johns Hopkins University is getting behind the idea of food – familiar and threatened – as a starting point for climate change conversations. The university is offering a course about GhostFoods, and the hands-on experience will be instrumental in shaping the way students think about how to creatively address climate change awareness. 

GhostFood truck provides food for thought about climate change

Mary Carole McCauley | The Baltimore Sun | October 15, 2015

The big white GhostFood truck popping up all over Baltimore this fall is more than a high-concept art project about climate change.

It's also a free snack.

Granted, there are a few tasks diners are required to complete before getting fed:

Passersby who gathered at the Johns Hopkins University campus and Penn Station recently had to play one of those fool-the-brain games in which the mind and body simultaneously reach different — and contradictory — interpretations about what they've just experienced. Participants put on a white plastic mask that piped the scents of endangered foods into their nostrils. After inhaling deeply, they were told to bite down on their snack.

What the volunteers were eating weren't actually the foods advertised on the truck's menu — "Atlantic cod, beer-battered and deep-fried" or "Amazon peanut butter served on grape jelly with white bread" or even "chocolate milk with delicious cocoa from West Africa."

In reality, they were chowing down on edible substitutes that, though near-flavorless in real life, have been manufactured to mimic the texture and mouth feel of the originals.

"We chose foods that are endangered and that are familiar to people because they encountered them as children," says Miriam Simun, who worked with a fellow artist, Miriam Songster, to create GhostFood. "We're trying to evoke nostalgia."

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