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?
- Artist Miriam Simun, of Human Cheese + GhostFood fame
- Author of Edible Geography + artificial cryosphere expert, Nicola Twilley
- Word-of-mouth marketer Saul Colt, representing vertical gardening venture Windowfarms
- Food designer + creator of the delectably lickable ice-cream orchestra, Emilie Baltz
- Julia Plevin and Lucy Knops, insect-eating enthusiasts + founders of Critter Bitters
- Moderated by Alissa Walker, urbanism editor at Gizmodo
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.
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.
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.