Cape Town got off to the New Year with the harrowing news of its shortage of freshwater supply, which has led the coastal city to declare preparations for “Day Zero,” when taps will be indefinitely shut off. In a move to find alternative ways to continue cooking in Cape Town, Studio-H, a food collective based in the city, is showcasing what cooking without freshwater could result in through an initiative called S/Zalt.

According to its website, Studio-H, founded by Hannerie Visser, is a multidisciplinary design studio, which is leading S/Zalt. S/Zalt, which is named after a mix between the Dutch and Afrikaans words for “salt,” is working towards growing fruits and vegetables irrigated with saline. Since last year, Studio-H has been working with Netherlands-based Salt Farm Texel, which also works with saline-water agriculture, to grow salt-tolerant potatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce, cabbage, and barley. Visser claims vegetables grown with salt water taste close to if not exactly the same as vegetables grown with fresh water. 

studio-h's s/zalt

Ostrich and salt-watered potato chips. By Johno Mellish and courtesy of Studio-H.

In light of Cape Town’s fresh water crisis. Studio-H is working on spreading the word on saline-watered produce as an alternative to produce grown using freshwater. Last October during Dutch Design Week, the design studio showcased foods such as ketchups, pickles and candies all made from produce Salt Farm Texel had grown. When the team returned to Cape Town, and especially in recent weeks, the Studio is trying to encourage the residents of Cape Town that they do not need to forgo a healthy and well-balanced meal in the face of their untimely drought.

Studio-H’s founder, Visser, wasn’t joking when she said to IOL in an interview that “this whole project was fueled by our ongoing obsession with designing solutions for a world suffering from water scarcity.” The studio’s project S/Zalt couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, as the city where the studio is based is struggling to make sure every resident has a sufficient amount of freshwater.

To promote growing saline-watered produce, Visser and her team held a dinner showcasing a wide array of foods grown using a minimum amount of water. Studio-H sold 50 tickets to their dinner resembling the 50-liter-per-person (13.2 gallons) limit the city had set for its residents at the time of the dinner. That number is currently at 25 liters per day (6.6 gallons). In her interview with IOL, Visser said that the menu was highly informed by the ingredients and the process it takes to grow saline-water vegetables.

The studio’s dinner consisted of salt-baked ostrich and fried ostrich egg, coupled with camel-milk based strawberry ice cream and chips and ketchup made from saline-watered vegetables. It is no coincidence that the studio chose ostrich and camel-based foods for their dinner since both animals are notoriously known for living on limited amounts of water.