Miriam Simun

The Human Cheese Project

Thinking through eating: Designing debate at the intersection of bodies, technology, and the market.


Desigining Living Systems,Thesis

We are designing life to an extent never before possible. Science speeds ahead while people attempt to catch up to understand the implications, and legislate how we want our world to be. This is especially true with biotechnology (consider the GM food debate). Advances in biotechnology enable us to redesign our food, our weather, our fellow animal species, and even ourselves. We continue to find ever new ways to use each others' bodies as factories (consider the sale of hair and semen, the donation of blood and kidneys, the retention of wet nurses, and the growing reproductive tourism industry).

Simultaneously, we realize that our lifestyles are unsustainable, unhealthy, and unethical. Industrialized food systems are a prime example: we abuse animals, exploit people, pollute the earth, and destroy our bodies as we eat. Food is a site of contention and revolution. Food is also one of our strongest links to the natural world, and the oldest site of social gathering - thus a wonderful vehicle for discussion.

To explore these issues and engage others in discourse I am developing a system for sourcing, creating, and distributing human cheese.

Human cheese offers a unique entry into these issues. Humans are the only animals to harvest and consume other species' milk. This milk is neither created for human digestion, nor particularly healthy for human consumption, nor always kind to the animals we harvest and milk. Cheese is one of the oldest bio-technologies. It was also, in 1990, the first genetically modified food product to be approved for sale by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Disturbing visions of the future (or the present) may be abstracted, rationalized, swept aside. By serving human cheese, I ask people to make a decision: to eat, or not to eat. Facing the decision to ingest materializes the technological and ethical issues at hand, going beyond our rational senses to appeal to our visceral and instinctual humanness.

In doing so, I hope to engage discourse about what we eat, who we are (evolving to be), and what kind of future we want. In serving human cheese, I pose a number of questions:

As we navigate the complex landscape of technologically modified food production, how do we understand what is natural, healthy, ethical? If we reject all technologically modified food in favor of what is 'natural,' how far back to do we go? If we are to welcome new technologies into our lives, how will we continue to redefine what is natural, normal and healthy? How will this change our relationship to each other, the natural world and ourselves? If we are determined to continue to enjoy our cheese, perhaps it is most natural, ethical and healthy to eat human cheese? And if not, what other biotechnological processes does this force us to reconsider?

People that eat; people with bodies.

Scientists, farmers, chefs, artists, policymakers, people.

User Scenario
I am making all the artifacts and interactions for a designed eating experience that aims to stimulate discussion.