Speaking to Pause Button, Speculative Life co-director Tagny Duff described the lab as “structured more like an artist’s centre than a production research group.” Indeed, its members, all from different backgrounds and using various practices, come together to explore the lab’s three concerns.

Graduate student Maya Hey tackles one of the lab’s questions: “how can we envision a more plural and just ecology through working on a multiplicity of scales from the molecular to the global?” Her first stab: cheese.

But, not just any cheese.

Maya is making cheese from the bacteria of her own hands. To make cheese, milk needs to be acidified so that curds will form. Maya dunks her hand in milk and then lets the lactic acid bacteria from her hands sour the milk, a process that is traditionally done with lemon juice or buttermilk. She then incubates the milk for a few hours before proceeding with curds to produce cheese.

Explaining her process to others is not so easy – some laugh it off while others are quite grossed out. But that drives home the point she is trying to make.

By using her own living microbes as ingredients, she is trying to redress the dominant notions we have about fermented food: that microbes are only used to transform food (think yogurt), that we have full control over them, and that microbes are trusted only when created in a laboratory.

“I’m deliberately trying to look at the delicious potential of microbes as foods, not just a tool to deploy or a resource to exploit.”

She is also challenging the binary of purity versus contamination that prevails in laboratories, kitchens, and society-at-large. She, along with others in the Speculative Life Lab, aim to work in both micro- and macro- scales to trouble existing assumptions we have about human primacy.

This “handmade cheese” is part of her project called “Eat M.E.” which will feature other microbial foods in a 5á7 to be held in Spring 2017. With preliminary recipe testing done, Maya is now working closely with biosafety and food safety professionals to verify the scalability and legality of the foods created in the project.

Maya Hey (in the lab coat) during the 48th Annual Conference of the International Visual Literacy Association

Maya Hey (in the lab coat) during the 48th Annual Conference of the International Visual Literacy Association

Maya Hey (in the lab coat) during the 48th Annual Conference of the International Visual Literacy Association

Maya Hey in the Speculative Life lab with her handmade cheese in view (on the counter).