At Ideas City, ‘Smog Meringues’ Make Air Pollution A Frivolous Affair

Are “Smog Meringues” — egg whites whipped in sugar and noxious fumes — a new level of dessert decadence or an insightful critique of air pollution policies?

The question was posed at last weekend’s “Ideas City,” a New Museum festival in New York City that mixed street stands and speaker panels to examine current and future urban environments. Borrowing its theme from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, this year’s rendition promised engagement with voices and topics that remain transparent or unseen.

Evidently, one such entity is smog, and making it visible meant making it edible.

Behold: The Smog Chamber…precursor chemicals are ‘baked’ under UV lights to simulate smog from many places & times

— Genomic Gastronomy (@centgg) May 25, 2015

Vendors positioned outside at Manhattan’s Rivington and Bowery offered free, bite-sized meringues in three flavors: “London-Style Pea-Souper,” “Atlantic-Style Biogenic Photochemical” and “Los Angeles in the 1950s.” The names were pristine, the wording ready for retweet, but I wanted a clearer explanation of the stunt’s political basis, its environmental rationale:

“So what exactly … What are you … Why?” I stuttered.

“What’s the point?” offered a woman, helpfully, as she passed me a pea-souper.

It turned out there wasn’t much of a point, or at least not one that she could provide, save a wonderfully detailed explanation of how the meringues are made. Based on consultation with professors at UC Riverside, the inventor developed a series of containers that house ingredients akin to trash, like orange peels and diesel. When heated under UV light, they combine to form the noxious fumes in which egg whites are beaten. Since meringue is 90 percent air, smog meringue is 90 percent smog!

Different ingredients are selected for each urban airscape. London requires a sulfurous kick, while the Atlanta recipe calls for a pinch of —> Read More