While many use words like fight, stand up or reverse to talk about climate change, Marina Zurkow has an alternative. Metabolize climate change. Quite literally.
Climate change is no longer a phenomenon, but a product says Zurkow, the creator of “Making the Best of it: Nimble Foods in Climate Chaos.” A playful, imaginative and research-based project and series where she aims to offer people a different way to interact with climate change — one that breaks down the vast and furious nature of it. Through regionally site-specific pop-up food shacks, community dinners that feature ingredients like jellyfish and dandelion (edible species that are often indicators of climate change) and climate change tastings, she hopes to connect people to that profound interdependence that humans have with climate. In it, she poses a series of questions such as: What does ecospheric eating look like? Can the public eat in ways that serve the larger community of organisms? Can the public practice a type of eating that’s beneficial not only to humans but other creatures and other conditions?
Currently, Zurkow is immersed in the world of oceans and jellyfish — not only studying oceans as a means to transport human goods but also seeing them as rich and important spaces that humans don’t understand enough but should. It’s from this work that Zurkow, started “Making the Best of it: Nimble Foods in Climate Choas.” Zurkow partnered with Chef Anna Rose Hopkins and Chef Henry Fischer from Hank and Bean and Allison Carruth, Director of the UCLA Lab for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS), to put together fantastic and thoughtful pop-ups that addressed climate change. Instead of casting shame or guilt for petroleum use, Zurkow and her collaborators are creating spaces of inquiry and information, so guests walk away understanding how petroleum is made. On a previous menu, Zurkow and her collaborators served a layered dessert of distilled vanilla rum, black licorice gelée, gingered sorghum crumble and a dark chocolate pot de crème, garnished with glass sugar and edible charcoal pebbles, all made to resemble crude oil.
Foods that are normally found on the human table are becoming less and less sustainable for a growing world population keen on cod, prawns, shrimp, salmon and other oceanic staples, so Zurkow and her collaborators are using jellyfish to illustrate and explain the instability of the ocean. Jellyfish have an incredible ability to flourish in oxygen-poor environments and with the warmer ocean temperatures and few animals who consume them, they have become abundant and are officially a climate change food.
Metabolizing this information all the while consuming a jelly made out of — you guessed it — jellyfish is the type of engagement Zurkow believes in and is hungry for. The cannonball jellyfish served at her tastings are prepared with spring water, borage flower, sweet potato syrup, pine syrup and agar.
The next jellyfish product they’ll be sampling is seasoned with five distinct flavor blends that represent regions in the world that are experiencing high-risk climate change and sea level rise (India, Haiti, the Netherlands, United States and the Philippines).
“We need to metabolize, readjust our metabolism to understand instability. [This] increasing instability is not something that us humans in the last 12,000 years are very good at. We really do not understand instability and it's terrifying. We have a lot of complicated relationships with other species that kind of go unremarked. Part of my desire is to find these relations remarkable and also something that we have the agency to recreate, to reimagine ‘cause I’m not interested in telling you what you’re doing is bad,” said Zurkow.
Although they are found in Asian markets and specialty stores, jellyfish in the United States is an obscure ingredient. Consequently, making the best of the jellyfish’s abundant blooms means consuming what Zurkow calls an “American dream food” because the invertebrates contain collagen aiding in beautiful skin and are low in fat.
Being nimble and crafting new menus around the idea of what foods are available or better for a multi-species environment means that humans can’t continue to see themselves at the top of the food chain, eating without regard for its consequences. Humans must exercise responsibility for what they consume. “I want to encourage people to really engage in this larger-than-human world. It’s more of a paradigm shift. Eating organic is a move toward that because theoretically, you care about the quality of the life for soil organisms and thinking systemically of these relationships, so we’re trying to push that a little more,” said Zurkow
As speculate about what foods or what diet will look like in 20 or 50 years, Zurkow’s advice is surprising.
“We should try to befriend climate change. Not stick our heads in the sand and run away for it or feel it’s too abstract. Can you practice flexibility? Can you practice multi-species consciousness? Practice nimbleness around your consumption,” Zurkow added.
Becoming nimble means designing appetite around resiliency, discipline and maybe even allow the primal human instinct for survival to break through since modern day living has buried it so deeply. It means yielding, submitting and dynamically responding to the abundances or deficiencies that climate change creates.
Making the most of it is a call to action. Stay nimble, stay swift and most of all, stay hungry.
Top Image: Making the Best of It, garden tasting and dinner at the Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden, UCLA, 2018 | Courtney Cecale