Leaked Recipes

November 2018

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Image by Sofie Wolthers

Two years ago I signed up a project called The Good Life. The project was created so that anyone who signed up could receive emails from the workers and their friends and families of Enron directly into your email inbox. In 2002, the energy company Enron was under investigation by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for grand corruption and as part of this investigation the commission released 600,000 emails from 158 employees of Enron online. The Good Life took these available emails and created a service that would encourage people to receive daily Enron emails.

I choose my setting. I would receive 196 emails per day and in 7 years time I would have read all the emails between Enron employees and their friends and family.

Seven months later, I received an email from these Enron leaks that contained within it a recipe. This email was a friendly exchange about upcoming party in which the host wanted the recipient to make a dish called Banana's Foster. This email had the recipe attached and an exchange between the two as to how many bananas to add and whether the fruit liquor was truly necessary.

Image by Sofie Wolthers

As soon as I read this email exchange my head was filled with questions. What is Banana's Foster? Who was right about the liquor? And, are there more recipes being shared in email leaks?

So I began to look for them. I went to websites like Wikileaks who contain searchable databases of the biggest leaks of the last decade, and searched for words like 'recipe', 'garlic', 'pasta', 'fry', 'boil' and 'chocolate', I went to the Enron emails and I looked at other leaked emails that had been put online. All of these emails I accessed are available publicly on the internet. I searched for recipes in a total of 16 email leaks all of which were leaked for matters of 'public interest.'

I found many more recipes and with them began to feel like I knew the people writing and sharing them. The recipes were beloved, shared through generations or eaten together at staff parties.

These people writing them did not only have their recipes online but also large parts of their lives, available for anyone to see. They have grocery lists, credit cards numbers, their annual review, complaints about their colleagues. Social security numbers, fights with their spouse, doctor's records or their entire human resources online. The leaks they were involved in resulted in their companies being dissolved, elections being lost, people losing jobs and being publicly scrutinized.

As I began compiling my cookbook, I wanted to try to contact those that had written the recipes to get their consent, to talk to them about the food they love and their experience having so much personal information online.

Data Leeks website | www.dataleeks.com

One of these recipes are spicy oatsquares served alongside nuts, pickles and carrots. The person who wrote this recipe, let's call her Jenny, talked to me and my collaborator at Firefox a month ago about these oatsqaures, a snack that make an appearance at every family occasion and about her involvement and experience having her personal emails online.

A few weeks ago, Jenny and a number of other stories were published on the website dataleeks.com in collaboration with the open source and not for profit company Firefox as part of a campaign to highlight the risks of data breaches.

But this is just one part of the story.

Illustration by Rafaella Wang

The more I researched the recipes the deeper I went into why these leaks happened, who put them online, how they were hacked and the place and trade offs leaks have in our society.

I have always been interested in what is public, what is private and what the impacts are of making something private public. I started off with recipes and a year in I am investigating conspiracy stories and elite hackers.

In November 2018 at IDFA, I was invited to host Leaked Recipe events where we ate from redacted recipes and talked about the place and affects these leaks have on our society.

Image by Sofie Wolthers
gabi@gabi.today