“As a group, we’re imagining the future,” explained Douglas Paulson, who co-founded the Menu for Mars Supper Club with fellow artist Heidi Neilson. This weekend throughout June, the supper club– which has been holding meetups for the past year where members gather to dream up, enact, and discuss solutions to culinary life on Mars– will hold a residency at The Boiler, The Menu For Mars Kitchen, complete with tastings, cook-offs, and interactive events of all kinds. “It’s thinking expansively about interpreting the Martian experience,” Paulson explained. “We have a pretty ambitious lineup and hopefully we’ll get a lot of people who come in and try their hand at cooking something.” When the exhibition wraps up, the supper club will hand out awards to the most innovative chefs and will pack up the winning dishes and ship them off not to Mars, but to NASA in hopes their creations will be adopted in missions to Mars.
There’s been a great deal of Mars-mania lately – the New Yorker, for one, has followed HI-SEAS, a Mars-immersion program based in Hawaii (and sponsored by NASA) that simulates an alien existence for scientists and others who could feasibly qualify as astronauts. But the program also confronts a variety of conditions and obstacles that are unique to the unprecedented journey as well as the Martian landscape. The Menu for Mars group, however without direct support for NASA they may be (for now anyway), has honed in on one important part of the human experience that is threatened by the interminably long journey and harsh conditions – food.
Throughout history there have been groups of people, led by artists in particular, who have taken the future very seriously– the Russian Futurists, New Age cults, even Devo– and the Menu for Mars Supper Club is following in their steps, though with a very focused mission in mind. “The whole premise really captures the imagination,” Paulson said. “What’s interesting about this project is that it really speaks to divergent interests – some people who are really into it are these real space buffs and other people are interested in how you make your own moonshine, and how do you compost at home, stuff like that.”
The month-long program at The Boiler has attracted a venerable lineup of artists, scientists, even fermentation nerds to present their creations at the specially constructed Martian kitchen. It’s a kind of cybernetics for space food. The problem of creating not only livable, but sustainable and somewhat decent conditions for humans on Mars (in the New Yorker article linked above, the author delves into the history of long-term exploratory missions into unknown wilderness here on Earth in which crews were plagued by depression and other types of psychological and emotional dystrophy) is such a challenging one that it requires many smart brains to bring their worst to the task.
“And that’s been astrophysicists, and people who have figured out what the soil on Mars will taste like,” Paulson said. “But it’s also people with much more Earthy concerns – people doing compost, people who are growing crickets, people who are figuring out different kinds of experimental agriculture here in New York City.”
The supper club as well as the exhibition have attracted everyone from the real professionals to space nerds and the amateur dreamer. Representatives from each group and more will participate in the various events over the next month. On May 30, Dr. Sian Proctor, a crew member from the first mission of the HI-SEAS program, will be on deck to talk about her experiences. Later in the month, artists Heather Kapplow and Thalia Zedek will present their Mars-friendly cricket-enhanced macaroni and cheese dish.
As for the parameters, there are some obvious things that make food Mars-proof, but creating variety and preserving taste are where the real challenges come in. “The trip to Mars is quite long, and food might be sent ahead to people, so it would have to sit there for a long time, it’s tricky to cook and make something that’s really edible and inspiring to eat under those conditions,” Neilson explained. “So all of the food, the pantry we have stocked [for the exhibition] includes dry things, thermo-stabilized things, basically ingredients with a really long shelf-life.”
And while the exhibition is mostly about food, the supper club founders say they’re fairly open to how everything from agriculture to the culinary experience might be interpreted. “What we’re looking to do is have this earnest experiment as far as thinking through what cooking will be like on Mars, both the limitations and possibilities,” Paulson said. “But we’re also sort of saying yes to everyone who comes along, people who have heard about this and want to either cook something or make some special drinks or they want to contribute anything.”
That includes, for example, a soundtrack created by sound artist John Roach called Simmering Rocks. “He’s hooked up microphones to jars full of minerals that when you add water, there’s this sound created by gas escaping the minerals,” Paulson explained. “And there are speakers everywhere [at the exhibition] and it creates this incredible, atmospheric sound.”
Be sure to check out the opening of tonight, Friday May 29th, happening from 7 pm to 9 pm at the Boiler, 191 North 14th Street, Brooklyn. Special cocktails created by an Australian archeologist, Alice Gorman (aka Dr. Space Junk), who specializes in debris from outer space will be served.