April 2011, Crossness Pumping Station, London
What, exactly, is dirty? This was the question we put to fifty brave diners in April 2011, at a banquet commissioned by the Wellcome Trust and held in the spectacular Crossness Pumping Station, London’s Victorian cathedral to sewage.
Forming part of the Wellcome Trust’s Dirt Season, a series of events intended to encourage people to “welcome dirt back into their lives”, we decided to take things to the next level by asking our guests to welcome dirt directly into their bodies.
Working in in collaboration with food artisans Bompas & Parr, Guerilla Science served up an array of dishes from supposedly unsanitary ingredients: mouldy cheeses, bacterial jellies, haggis, Papua New Guinean mud cakes, fermented fish, and ambergris (a form of whale vomit).
Our banquet of dirt aimed to feed the mind as well as the stomach, and diners were treated to two filth-inspired lectures. Anthropologist Val Curtis spoke about the evolution of disgust and why we find faeces, vomit and incest revolting.
And epidemiologist and author Elizabeth Pisani, an expert on the demographics of HIV, discussed “dirty sex”, encouraging diners to swap sexual favours through the medium of penny sweets.
The final part of the evening saw diners sipping civet coffee, peaty whisky, and listening nervously as we attempted to generate the ominously-named “brown-note”…