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FUTURE!foods

Future food conjures up images of a magic meal-in-a-pill or a sizzling synthetic steak served up on a petri dish. And with the development of one-stop nutritional shakes like Soylent and the synthesis of the world’s first lab-grown burger, it looks like we’re headed that direction. While these sci-fi fantasies come true are certainly exciting, I can’t help but think all the buzz surrounding these future food fads is tied to our obsession with maximizing efficiency and our well-founded concern with resource scarcity. With that said, when it comes to imagining the future of what—and how—we’ll eat beyond these popular visions, I’m at a loss.

Fortunately, designers have taken up this challenge, cooking up creative solutions for how we can still enjoy food in a changing cultural and ecological landscape. For the epicurean innovator, the food future is very much an opportunity to craft foods + experiences that at once preserve the pleasure of eating, while opening up the space for conversations about conservation, nutrition, and legislation.

My first taste of the future of culinary design came back in October, when I chatted with artists Miriam Simun + Miriam Songster about their futuristic food truck, GhostFood. So, naturally, when I heard about Gizmodo’s Food of the Future: What We’ll Eat Next panel at their Home of the Future pop-up, I jumped at the chance to further feed my epi-curiosities.

I would have loved to just write up a transcript of the evening’s discussion—that’s how unbelievably cool it was!—but because I’m not so sure of the legal logistics of all that, I thought I’d just share a few of my favorite takeaways.

But first, who was there?

Now, I’ll admit that when considering what will adorn dinner tables of the future, I’ve fixated more on the absence of my favorite foods facing extinction [like chocolate!], rather than dreaming of what new foods may come. Knowing this clinging-to-the-past // doom-and-gloom kind of attitude just wouldn’t do, I entered the Home of the Future seeking to open my eyes to the opportunities that follow from scarcity. To my great pleasure, this bunch of forward-thinking designers got right to the heart of this problem straight out the gate.

Given our dramatically changing ecological landscape + increasingly unsustainable agricultural practices, it’s extremely easy to resort to fire-and-brimstone tactics to guilt people into changing their behaviors. But of course, rather than startling us into evaluating our ecological foodprint, shame can make us decide that an issue is much too bummer to talk, or even think, about. Or, it could backfire entirely, setting the stubborn among us firmly on the offensive. Insert here Emilie Baltz’s brilliant bit of insight:

There’s so much of a dogmatic finger wagging—that this is bad and you need to change your habits. We do need that to a certain point, but that doesn’t create sustainable behavior change going forward. Sustainable behavior change happens when you are excited to do something and you want to go forward because of that.

Here’s where marketing + design can serve as culinary catalysts to ignite the enthusiasm needed for change. And with that, enter Team Critter Bitters. Their pitch: “Cocktails won’t save the world, but eating bugs could.” Now there’s a hook! Insects are undoubtedly a great + sustainable source of protein. Plus, they’re already commonly consumed in cultures across the globe. Nonetheless, for many of us [myself included] that ick! element still remains. With some experimenting, however, Julia Plevin + Lucy Knops have distilled those bitter critter feelings into a more palatable and fun form, creating cocktail bitters out of crickets.

Photo borrowed from SVA Products Design.

With an ingenious stroke of re-branding, the duo have transformed the gross-out factor into one that has that kind of cool cachet that makes the hip + in-the-know ask for a healthy dose of cricket in their next Old Fashioned. As Knops notes: “When you talk about eating insects it stirs up a lot of innate fears. So it’s interesting to see people one minute saying, ‘I’ve never eaten an insect. I can’t imagine doing it.’ And the next minute, they’re trying the bitters and have crickets in their mouth.” And that’s huge!

Projects like Critter Bitters help us imagine an exciting, and decidedly non-dystopic, future where we can choose to eat bugs—and whatever other seemingly bizarre concoctions—like it’s no big thing. What’s more, this enthusiasm can spark conversations about alternative sources of nourishment from a place of curiosity + exploration, and get us thinking about wow can we continue to tinker with sustainable resources to cook up new and interesting experiences.

But re-inventing existing resources is only one player in the evolving gastronomical landscape. Obviously, we can’t talk about the future of food without considering the role of technology. Sure, we could have a whole conversation here about engineered foods or revolutionary farming practices, but what interested me more from the evening’s discussion was how advancing technologies will change the way we eat. Much of the buzz around technological innovation is in some way tied to its time-saving potential, delivering services and information as quickly + efficiently as possible. But [at the risk of sounding completely cliché] the point of all that time-saving is to make room to enjoy the finer things in life… like, say, food!

As Miriam Simun insightfully pointed out, there’s a huge difference between sustenance and enjoyment, and that difference is in culture—in those time-honored rituals of hearth + home. Simun elaborated:

We used to have much longer rituals around food, and in other parts of the world these still exist—the one-hour coffee, the three-hour feast. So how can we think about design and make use of our senses to create the kind of dining experiences that we would want?

Okay. So when it comes to how technology can best serve food, fast + efficient won’t cut it. But when it comes to design, here is an extraordinary opportunity to elegantly engineer emerging technologies into dining. Updating our rituals surrounding food may just be the sort of enthusiastic kick-in-the-butt we need to actually put all that time-saving to good use, inspiring us to sit down, eat, and enjoy.

Left: Direct Olfactory Stimulation Device created by Miriam Simun, 2013. Right: Lickestra created by Emilie Baltz + Carla Diana, 2014.

Artists like Baltz and Simun have found their way into this brave new territory, using technology to explore new ways of engaging with our senses to design unique dining experiences. Drawing its design from insect antennae, Simun’s Direct Olfactory Stimulation Device [DOSD] caters to the diner’s sense of smell, delivering specially manufactured fragrances straight to the nose through a 3D-printed headset. This sleekly designed prosthetic has elegantly refashioned the way we eat by effectively altering, or even enhancing, the wearer’s perception of flavor by emphasizing the role of olfaction.

And while taste + smell are well-documented players in giving a flavor its particular punch, foodie pioneers are now playing with sound to create aurally-enhanced tasting experiences. Baltz’s Lickestra, for instance, adds a musical spin to a dearly-beloved treat: ice cream[!]. Conductive cones allow ice cream consumers to make sweet music with every lick, as each stroke of the tongue triggers different baselines and tones. Each taste provides a new opportunity for exploration and discovery, adding a new degree of attention + appreciation to one of our favorite pastimes.

With all that said, I thought I’d leave you here with a rhetorical-type question Emilie Baltz posed, which is: What does it actually mean to feed ourselves? We as a species have evolved past the point of simple survival, so our rituals around food now extend beyond the necessity of hunting + gathering into the realm of gastronomical pleasure. Suffice it to say, how we follow that trajectory into the future to find new forms of entertainment + engagement has more than whet my appetite, readying the future foodie in me with a HAPIfork in hand and my Moon Boots nearby.

FutureHome

Photo opp from the Home of the Future. Behold your future kitchen to the left + Future Food panelists to the right!

Harping on Humans

Since I began exploring the science + art connection, I have become increasingly fascinated with the body’s relationship to music–both in its creation and in the actual experience of it. But what would happen if our bodies themselves were transformed into music-making instruments? London-based artist Di Mainstone seeks to answer that very question in her latest artistic endeavor–the Human Harp. Inspired by the iconic harp-like cables supporting the Brooklyn Bridge, Mainstone began to wonder what it would be like if people could “play the bridge”:

As I listened to the hum of the steel suspension cables, the chatter of visitors and the musical ‘clonks’ of their footsteps along the bridge’s wooden walkway, I wondered if these sounds could be recorded, remixed and replayed through a collaborative digital interface? Mirroring the steel suspension cables of the bridge, I decided that this clip-on device could be harp-like, with retractable strings that physically attach the user or Movician’s body to the bridge, literally turning them into a human harp.

Human Harp Module

The Human Harp module.

The Human Harp places the user at the center of a network of strings, with each string responsible for a particular sound. To create this faux harp, the participant is connected to a series of retractable strings that are housed within a small clip-on module that detects how far the string is being pulled + at what angle the string is being drawn, and records this information on an Arduino microcontroller. These measurements are then integrated to control the mood, volume, pitch and intensity of each string’s given sound by first translating the data into Open Sound Control messages, which are then read by sound-synthesizing software. Consequently, the resulting sounds come to reflect the quality of the user’s movements, effectively engaging the participant in a collaboration with the strings to create music.

Last fall, Mainstone began assembling a team of artists + engineers to workshop and create the Human Harp interface. In May, Mainstone was joined by dancer Hollie Miller in New York to debut the first version of the Human Harp for The Creator’s Project. At the time, the prototype was too sensitive to be showcased outside of a controlled studio environment, so Mainstone + company demonstrated the concept through a silent performance on the Brooklyn Bridge. The sounds were then reverse engineered to match Miller’s movements, illustrating how the interface will ultimately look + sound. In its final iteration, the Human Harp will tour the globe, where it will be installed across a range of suspension bridges. Though participants won’t literally “play the bridge,” the sounds of the harp will be sourced from local musicians + live recordings of urban spaces to synthesize a site-specific soundscape composed by human movement, creating a wholly unique sonic // visual // interactive experience.

Living in Three-D // Real-D

The most outrageous-seeming science fiction constructions have a rather amazing longstanding habit of becoming reality. It’s actually almost impossible [for me at least] to imagine that in the not-so distant past space travel // robots // the Internet existed solely in the imaginations of sci-fi writers + consumers. Despite being a Millennial, well-versed + up-to-date in the latest-and-greatest innovations and gadgetry, I can’t help but have my mind utterly blown each time science fiction becomes fact. My latest obsession? 3D PRINTING.

3D printing blood vessel networks out of sugar using the Rep Rap at University of Pennsylvania.

As its name suggests, 3D printing creates an object from a three-dimensional digital model, known as a CAD [Computer-Aided Design] file. To print a 3D product out of this virtual blueprint, the CAD file is sliced into a series of 2D cross-sections. Successive slices are printed, stacked, and fused one on top of the other much like a standard inkjet printer, but instead of ink, 3D printer cartridges deposit drops of materials like rubber, plastics, metals, and more.

Because 3D objects are printed + stacked layer by layer from the ground up, 3D printing is often referred to as additive manufacturing to distinguish it from traditional manufacturing methods that build by cutting or drilling away parts + pieces to create a final product. By building up instead of paring back, 3D printing has blown open the doors for creating structures that were far too intricate + complex to fashion by machine or hand. [Just imagine if Michelangelo printed The David instead of chiseling away at a slab of marble for months and months!]

The ProtoHouse

The miniature 1:33 scale model of the fibrous ProtoHouse by Softkill Design printed by the larget available 3D printer.

By making certain technical limitations obsolete, 3D printing is rapidly [and literally] reshaping what is possible in design. As designers and engineers experiment with materials and methods of manufacture, shapes + structures that once only existed deep within our wildest dreams are now becoming a reality [within reason*]. The ProtoHouse, designed by London-based design firm Softkill Design, is one such dream-turned-[pending-]reality. In an effort to build a structure using minimal materials to maximize efficiency, this fibrous architectural fabrication is fashioned after an algorithm designed to mimic bone growth.

A 1:33 scale model of the biologically inspired design was  assembled in October 2012 out of 30 intricate 3D-printed pieces using highly flexible // lightweight bio-plastics without any adhesive material. With the ProtoHouse prototype in place, Softkill is in the process of scaling up the design to create a line of one-story, market-friendly homes that require only 24 hours for assembly, entering the race to build the first 3D-printed home. With such fantastical structures rapidly becoming a feasible reality, I can’t help but wonder how we will continue pushing the limits of our imagination as our dreamed up concoctions become the new normal.

Prosthetic design by San Francisco-based company Bespoke Innovations.

Amazingly, 3D printing technologies have already begun changing our relationship with that which is most sacred: our own bodies! By performing a body scan, San Francisco-based company Bespoke Innovations can 3D print prosthetic covers–known as fairings“that perfectly mirror the sculptural symmetry and function of the wearer’s remaining limb.” In other words, the Bespoke team can essentially fabricate an artificial limb that looks like a real one. Nevertheless, even with this option available, several Bespoke clients choose to make a statement with their prostheses, turning them into custom-tailored beautiful works of art that reflect their personalities: “We envision a day when people are invited to participate in the creation of the products that have meaning to them on a fundamental level, a day when bodies are consulted directly in the creation of the products that enhance or complement them.”

Of course, beyond simply spurring on a design revolution, additive manufacturing stands to have a huge impact on all areas of our lives, from printing medications + edible wonders with the click of a button, to the considerably darker potential for copyright infringement + 3D-printed weapons. Though 3D printing was invented almost three decades ago, the idea has only recently entered the zeitgeist due to increased support from government funding and commercial startups, substantially dropping its cost. As 3D-printing capabilities continue to grow and evolve, so too will the discussion and debate surrounding the Pandora’s box that goes hand in hand with such a powerful technology. Though it certainly remains to be seen how far the so-called “3D printing revolution” will go in reshaping the metaphorical landscape of the future, I can’t help but remain [guardedly] optimistic about what 3D printing has in store!


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* 3D printing technology is still very much in its infancy, and while it holds a great deal of potential, there are still a great many limitations. The most important to note is that it takes a great deal of know-how to design structures for 3D printing. After all, 3D printed products are still subject to all the restrictions of the physical and chemical world we live in. As a result, in addition to a strong foundation in CAD software, designers must also have a strong background in mechanical engineering, architecture, biology, chemistry, etc., depending on the product for manufacture.