UCCA Beijing

"Drifting Realities: The Archipelago of Food Discourses" Session 2
Workshop | Microbial Encounters: Shaping Edible Identities


Location:  UCCA Workshop
Language:  Chinese

If I am what I eat, then what do I want to eat?

Individual and collective identities are shaped to a great extent by food and eating: as we all know, we are what we eat. Taste, being amongst the major contributors to culinary identity negotiation, is in all its complexity constantly subject to change throughout everyday life and experiences. The vastest range of imaginable stimuli, conveyed through a multitude of channels of information, impacts why we eat what we eat. Thus, in a highly globalized and mediated world, constructions of taste and identity are open to seemingly unlimited diversification alongside the circulation of culinary goods and flows of knowledge around food, and its preparation and consumption.

The way we prepare and consume edible matter is substantially shaped by us: we are culinary practitioners of everyday life, performing engagements with food in our own day-to-day contexts. In our hands, mouths and bodies, edible matter is constantly in a state of becoming. We apply preparation techniques as culinary languages to transform raw ingredients into nourishing and palatable food. Tracing back these languages means tracing back history and cultures: different ways of preparing raw ingredients and processed products have formed their own contexts. Within these cultures of food preparation, the transformative actions of microbes, e.g. fermentation, have been part of culinary techniques since ancient times, shaping tastes and identities through their potential ability to create complex flavor and aroma profiles that rely on climate- and environment-specific microorganisms.

Nowadays, cultures (of microbes) and the knowledge around them are being globally exchanged between cultures (of humans). Microbial cultures are travelling and encountering each other. Techniques for transformative processes find their way into new environments and form new lifecycles. Fixed categories are being extended, challenged, and questioned. Colonies of bacteria, yeasts, and molds merge into new culinary contexts, impacting aesthetics of taste and negotiations of culinary identities. Culinary practitioners, amateurs and professionals alike, are exploring the possibilities and boundaries of the edible and how it may be transformed, in search of finding deliciousness and nutritiousness through the encounters of different microbes.

But what actually happens within these processes of transformation? What does it mean when these microbes encounter each other and we encounter ourselves? What relationships can they form towards each other, and towards us? What environments and lifecycles can they enter? How do they shape our identities and those of themselves? How to make sense of microbes in the broader context of culinary cultures and their underlying aesthetics of taste?

Furthermore, what are their contributions within our food systems and what is their potential for environmental ethics within these systems? And, in the most practical way: how do microbes make things delicious and nutritious?

In his workshop, Peter Chan will introduce the transformative processes that microbes can enact in edible matter. He will elaborate on the techniques, principles and aesthetics of fermentation practices and products. Chan will show concrete practical applications for creating microbe-driven edibles, and offer his fermentation cultures to participants to encourage engagement with these lifecycles themselves. The workshop includes a tasting of a variety of products in different states of their transformation.

What if microbes could transform the edible solids you are most familiar with into an unrecognizable liquid? What if they could change the most familiar of beverages into an unrecognizable solid? And what state lies between?


14:00 – 14:15  Introduction

14:15 – 15:15  Presentation and demonstration

15:15 – 15:30  Break (tasting and discussion)

15:30 – 16:30  Hands-on practice

16:30 – 17:00  Q&A and discussion


Peter Chan (artist, cook, and fermenter)

Peter Chan (b. 1988) is a culinary practitioner and theorist engaging with issues of food and eating. With an academic background in social sciences and cultural studies, he is interested in the theoretical realm of cross-disciplinary approaches towards, and multi-layered views on, all the issues between food production, preparation and consumption, the practices around them, and their mutual interrelation. Throughout the years, his personal interest in food preparation has led him to engagement with various culinary practices, provoking deeper inquiry into the science of the transformation of edible matter and the underlying culinary techniques.

In his everyday culinary life, Chan is interested in his surrounding foodscapes and the foodways within. He pursues questions of individual and collective identity formation and construction around food and how these processes are related to place and culture, food preparation techniques, and the aesthetics of taste. Chan inquires into various sources of culinary information and the ways—and senses—through which we draw on them. Within the search for his own culinary identity, he is looking for the constituent elements within global flows of culinary knowledge, drawing further on influences from everyday life experiences and various forms of media.

As a culinary practitioner, cook, and fermenter, Chan is constantly questioning his professional role in the food chain between nourished soils and nourished bodies, while reflecting on the social and environmental impacts of his food preparation and consumption. He is exploring the spaces and modes of culinary actions, and investigates sites of food production, preparation and consumption, and their meanings as critical interfaces of food systems. Chan is interested in the potential of culinary practices a tool of expression, food as a medium to convey ideas, and thus in the interweaving of food and art.

Seeing food as a vibrant mediator between himself and the material world, he considers the creative and productive dimensions of edible matter, as well as the aesthetic and sensory experiences surrounding it. In his coexistence with food, he is interested in the lifecycles of agricultural production, its stages of transformative processing, and its possibilities of becoming. By being actively engaged with these surroundings, he sees fermentation practice as a means to turn sites of culinary practices like private and public kitchens into multi-species ecosystems, where humans and microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and molds collaborate to enhance the sensory and nutritional properties of all conceivable foods.

With his practice Chan is hoping to encourage personal and collective engagement with food, one of the major issues impacting our current anthropogenic environmental crisis. Acknowledging food’s inexhaustible complexities, he believes in the political capacity of discourses around food and the potential of culinary activism in ecologically uncertain times. As for the complexity of these concerns, Chan believes it will be necessary to lead discussions on the meanings of specific foods in specific contexts, and about whom is to eat what.

Currently Chan is the artist-in-residence at  Goethe-Institut Beijing, where he is carrying out a project on the practice and culture of fermentation.