Because the global food system is responsible for one third of greenhouse gas emissions, consumers have started to turn away from supermarket fruit grown out of season in Chile and more toward local farmers markets and their own back yards. Reducing the distance between the farm and the table offsets a substantial percentage of our carbon “foodprint,” but can we do more? Is there a way to bring our food production even closer to our table? Biological artist Amy Youngs says yes: invite a family of Eisenia Foetidas — Red worms — to dinner.
Youngs developed a dining table that digests food left over from meals, turing it into compost that fertilizes plants at its base. Inspired by research on “flow through” vermicompost systems and Amy Stewart's “The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms,” the structure is totally sustainable, if totally gross. It begins when people toss their leftovers and shredded paper into a portal in the center of the table, where bacteria and sowbugs move around a hanging fabric bag, breaking down the waste. Worms join in, further digesting the refuse, producing a rich compost that sprinkles out the bottom of the sack and into plants that sit at the base of the table.
As you eat, a built-in LCD screen hooked up to an infrared security camera monitors the whole wriggly event as it occurs just beneath the table's boiled cabbage and tea stained oak plywood surface. While this may increase the likelihood that you'll lose your appetite, your worms and plants will surely appreciate the extra offerings. Your kids will probably love it too. Odors aside, farm-to-table does not get any closer.