HOW TECHNOLOGY IS REMAKING THE FUTURE OF FOOD
For decades, speed and ease have defined eating: fast food, ready meals, and ?on-the-go? products. But the OECD has found that as we spend less time preparing our food, we?re packing on pounds. Mindless eating is driving lifestyle diseases among the affluent, while billions of others go hungry.
To address this dilemma, we will need to redefine convenience from being about getting food fast to making mindful and healthful eating accessible for all.
According to the USDA Economic Research Service, food expenditures for at-home meals by families and individuals have dwindled since 1900 as expenditures for food away from home have grown; the recessionary return to home cooking is a blip in a much longer trend.
Source: USDA Economic Research Service
A Euromonitor International survey found most respondents in developed markets, where lunch is often eaten on the go, spend only 5-15 minutes preparing lunch; in emerging markets, respondents were three times more likely to spend 30-60 minutes preparing lunch.
Source: Euromonitor International
As the appliances in our kitchens, from refrigerators and stoves to pots, pans, cutting boards, and spatulas, gain the ability to communicate with us and with each other,cooking fresh meals will become increasingly easy and convenient, drastically reducing purchases of processed or pre-cooked meals. Kitchen helper tutorials and games will interface with numerous appliances and brands. Chefs and video game companies, food companies, grocery stores, and everyday people will create programs to promote cooking skills.
UC Berkeley researchers have experimented with using the Microsoft Kinect device in a kitchen environment to help people learn to cook with individualized, real-time feedback based on movement.
The Smart Manager system for LG?s refrigerator recommends meals based on the foods inside, and can even coordinate with other appliances, like the oven.
Technologies have become the nemesis of a mindful eating experience. But in the next decade, instead of just being a distraction, technology will be put to use to encourage eating mindfully. Visual, tactile, and other sensory feedback will reinforce positive habits, such as actively paying attention to food, body cues, and social company. The benefits of these practices will continue to be quantified and successfully deployed to prevent weight gain and to make eating experiences more social and enjoyable.
In Amsterdam, Kit Kat?s ?No WiFi benches? disrupt all wireless signals within five meters, allowing people to focus on eating and being present with friends.
People trying to lose weight have one obstacle above everything else: their own biology. Humans are hardwired to find sugary, fatty, calorie-rich foods delicious. However, in the next decade, new kinds of permanent surgeries will arise to change how our brains process taste and hunger; in other words, a gastric bypass for the brain. While today's food landscape is built around natural food preferences, the ability to effectively hack our brains could result in massive shifts in the quantity and types of foods we consume.
Rob Rhinehart, a 24-year-old man from Atlanta, GA, has found a way to live ?without food? by exclusively consuming an odorless beige drink called Soylent that contains every nutrient required by the body to function. In October 2013 he received $1.5M in VC funding to mass produce the mix.
Image Source: vice.com
Over the past 50 years we've gotten more out of less: increasing yields, intensifying aquaculture, factory farms. But in the 50 years to come, this path will widen the gap between what we need and what we can produce. Degraded land, collapsing fisheries, and carbon-intensive production are problems that need action now to close the gap.
Technologies, and an ecological understanding of how to use them, will reorganize how and where we focus our quest for abundance.
Indicators of crop intensification have risen steadily in past fifty years, while fertilizer use has skyrocketed.
Source: FAO 2011
The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change has identified three keys to meeting future food needs: production must intensify, loss through food waste and land degradation must decrease, and demand must be reduced through more sustainable global diets.
World annual production of cereals has nearly tripled over the past half century and fertilizer consumption is skyrocketing. Projected population and income growth, as well as urbanization, in many parts of the world point to even greater crop intensification in the next decade.
Communities' increasing demands for sovereign food systems will drive a shift from monocropping rural land to ubiquitous microfarming. Advances in film farming, aeroponics, and aquaponics will allow urban communities to grow food crops with minimal soil and water use, indoors and outdoors. Urban farming will transform from scattered rooftop gardens into dense local production, ranging from state-of-the-art vertical farms to derelict warehouses. Swarming robots and other autonomous machines enable cultivation on hard-to-reach surfaces in cities, and on depopulated rural farms.
Dubai-based Agricel enables no-soil low-water growing in indoor and outdoor conditions.
Intensifying production not only on rooftops but also in legacy infrastructure demonstrates that local production can scale.
Prospero is a working prototype autonomous robot that uses swarm and game theory to automate complex agricultural tasks.
Substitutes and in-vitro creations are transforming animal husbandry. While biologists have begun exploring the use of stem cell technologies to create "in-vitro" meat, synthetics made from soy beans and other plants that are virtually indistinguishable from animal proteins are already hitting store shelves. Often cheaper and easier on the earth, these substitutes have the potential to reinvent protein. We'll see a shift from concentrated animal raising to synthetic substitutions. However, the opinions of consumers about these options will prove volatile as well.
Beyond Meat?s faux chicken is nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, even fooling New York Times critic Mark Bittman.
Hampton Creek Foods? Beyond Eggs, a cheaper, more sustainable, and healthier plant-based egg substitute is now available for sale at Whole Foods, and has been used as a replacement in industrial scale baking and mayonnaise production.
While today agriculture is the eighth-largest contributor to greenhouse gasses, it could quickly become one of the most powerful tools for mitigating climate change. Technologies and techniques are emerging to provide scalable solutions to thorny problems of waste management, soil depletion, and desertification. Re:char's model of selling the tools necessary to make profitable and ecological agricultural input exemplifies locally-appropriate replication of key technologies, combined with global knowledge-sharing and coordination.
According to Allan Savory, rather than segregating livestock and wilderness preservation, combining them could reverse desertification and improve livelihoods across vast areas of the earth?s surface, making livestock key to reversing climate change.
Image source: Flickr Creative Commons User CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture
The past decades saw the rise of one-stop shopping. Supermarkets and big box retailers turned food shopping into a once-a-week activity where everything was offered in one place. This behavior is reaching its limits. Food waste plagues retailers and consumers want the real-time convenience of the Internet in the physical world.
Shopping will no longer be an episodic event, but rather something that can be done anytime, anywhere.
Source: FAO 2009
Over the next decade, conventional food retail channels will be disrupted by a variety of new services promising on-demand home delivery. Offerings like Tesco's virtual grocery store in a South Korean subway, as well as more recent efforts like Starbucks? car dashboard that enables coffee ordering while driving, point to a retail future where food purchasing is independent of purchase location.These technologies will converge with systems such as Kiva Systems' automated warehousing robots and self-driving cars to create just-in-time home delivery services.
As our refrigerators, cabinets, packages, and even bodies become connected in a tapestry of networked matter, shopping turns into a wholly automated process that requires no human decision-making. Food orders are determined by our inferred preferences and health needs and are triggered automatically when supplies dwindle. In this landscape, shoppers cease to consciously look for new options, rendering packaging and other aspects of persuasion irrelevant.
Rosie is a mobile shopping platform that learns users? purchasing behavior for home goods and food and anticipates when it should order more.
The Amazon trash can is an MIT Media Lab concept product that scans items as you throw them away and enables you to automatically reorder them.
Source: David Rose
Consistency of taste and texture was a 20th century breakthrough. From Kraft's homogenized cheese to Coke's algorithmic orange juice, we have standardized even the most unruly ingredients. But this has meant selecting and processing?and some question whether the results are truly 'food.'
As commodity economics squeeze suppliers and consumers become skeptical of foods filled with sugar, corn, and additives, we?ll remix standardization. Processing will become transparent.
Coca-Cola?s Simply Orange juice is manufactured using an algorithm to analyze 'up to 1 quintillion decision variables,' highlighting the increasing role of data in formulating and manufacturing food products.
As improvements in small-scale electronics continue over the next decade, an increasing number of food manufacturing tasks that previously required large-scale factories and equipment will move to supermarkets and, at times, even into homes. Already,direct-to-consumer devices such as Soda Stream are enabling people to create soda in-home, while prototypes of 3D food printers point toward a future where local ingredients processed by lightweight equipment will disrupt large-scale manufacturing processes with locally customizable foods.
The K-Cup machine is a consumer device that precision brews a single cup of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or other hot beverage with minimal effort from the user.
Technology has already greatly reduced the cost of producing many foods due to vast economies of scale. In the next decade, advances in digital manufacturing, sustainable energy, citizen-led bioengineering, and automation could reach a tipping point. The convergence of these technologies could make even very sophisticated food processing systems accessible around the world, reducing the set up cost of such systems to the point where communities could create self sustaining food commons that rival the technical sophistication of large-scale multinationals.
The shipping container transformed efficiency: flexible units stack together the power of ships, trains, and trucks. Efficiency rules for food headed to factories, restaurant kitchens, and markets. But we've made tradeoffs. Foods are not as tasty and nutritious as they once were. Some operations struggle to reconnect to local sources, while others must scale up—and efficient systems are often inflexible and brittle.
We will see a rebalancing towards resilience, local sources, and deliciousness.
On average, food travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate. This distribution system feeds year-round demand for regionally out-of-season produce.
As more countries industrialize, access to better post harvest infrastructure and technology will reduce waste in the distribution portion of the supply chain and push it towards the retail and consumption end.
Researchers at Eindehoven University of Technology are developing packaging that could 'test' whether the contents are still safe to eat, which could greatly reduce food wasted because of confusion caused by 'best before' dates. The electric sensor circuits will cost less than one euro cent each.
Today's distribution networks can quickly reach remote areas, but are dominated by large producers. Social technology platforms are poised to disrupt this system by allowing small-scale producers to piggyback on existing shipping, trucking, and rail infrastructure. This cuts out middlemen, automates administrative tasks, and provides logistical support to enable dynamic economies of scale. Seamless integration of small producers will allow procurers to meet demands for locally sourced food and reduced-waste.
Local Food Systems, Inc., allows small suppliers to sell to large procurers by using business-to-business technology to aggregate products.
ColaLife is a non-profit that delivers essential medicine and nutritional supplements to remote regions by leveraging unused capacity in Coca Cola?s supply chains.
An emphasis on efficiency and the deep integration of hackable technology leave food systems vulnerable to intentional disruptions. Additionally, the incredibly complex global supply chain for much of the world's food has proven itself difficult to monitor effectively. While profiteering and negligence provides a sufficient threat already, intentional sabotage of the food supply could cause significant illness and casualties on a near global scale, as well as mass panic.
A hacker hired by a large Southern California water system to test the vulnerabilities of its computer networks, was able seized control of the equipment that added chemical treatments to drinking water in one day.
In 2011, the FDA inspected just 6% of domestic food producers and 0.4% of importers, according to Bloomberg. Under the Food Safety Modernization Act there are still no requirements for microbiological testing to confirm the efficacy of safety programs.
Image source: Flickr user The U.S. Food & Drug Administration
Acknowledging the danger of the ?financialization? of food, Barclays, Cr?dit Agricole, and BNP Paribas have agreed to close agricultural commodity speculation funds. According to Oxfam, in the past five years financial speculation on food has nearly doubled from US $65 to $126 billion annually.
Image source: Flickr user heatingoil
How to use the SEEDS OF DISRUPTION map
SIGNALS show examples of how these possible futures are already starting to manifest today.
SEEDS OF DISRUPTIONHOW TECHNOLOGY IS REMAKING THE FUTURE OF FOOD
FOOD EXPERIENCE: EATINGREDEFINING CONVENIENCE: from on-the-go eating to mindful food experiences
DISRUPTION: Leveling-up cooking skills
SIGNAL: Perfecting technique with 3D cameras
SIGNAL: Networking smart appliances
DISRUPTION: Augmenting mindful eating
SIGNAL: Quantifying eating speed
SIGNAL: Forcing digital sabbaths for uninterruped snacking
STRAIN OF UNCERTAINTY: Taste rewired
SIGNAL: Bypassing the need for real food
SIGNAL: Deceiving the brain
FOOD EXPERIENCE: PRODUCTIONREORGANIZING INTENSIFICATION: from resource-intensive agriculture to low-impact alternatives
DISRUPTION: Growing food on every surface
SIGNAL: Growing crops without water or soil
SIGNAL: Repurposing abandoned urban space
SIGNAL: Swarming robot farmhands
DISRUPTION: Transforming protein
SIGNAL: Fooling food critics
SIGNAL: Reformulating eggs
STRAIN OF UNCERTAINTY: Climate-resilient agriculture
SIGNAL: Replicating carbon negative farming
SIGNAL: Grazing to reverse desertification
FOOD EXPERIENCE: SHOPPINGRETHINKING CENTRALIZATION: from centralized shopping sites to just-in-time delivery
DISRUPTION: Grocery shopping without the store
SIGNAL: Augmenting vacant space
SIGNAL: Delivery by drone
STRAIN OF UNCERTAINTY: Decision-free shopping
SIGNAL: Anticipating purchasing needs
SIGNAL: Automating purchases
FOOD EXPERIENCE: MANUFACTURINGREMIXING STANDARDIZATION: from standardized to personalized formulation
DISRUPTION: Taking manufacturing local
SIGNAL: Hacking texture
SIGNAL: Automating precision coffee making
STRAIN OF UNCERTAINTY: Open food manufacturing commons
SIGNAL: Constructing industrial machines
SIGNAL: Replacing line cooks
FOOD EXPERIENCE: DISTRIBUTIONREBALANCING EFFICIENCY: from large-scale efficiency models to distributed resilience
DISRUPTION: Tapping distribution networks
SIGNAL: Aggregating B2B demand
SIGNAL: Filling supply chain gaps
SIGNAL: Sourcing local
STRAIN OF UNCERTAINTY: Supply chain sabatoge
SIGNAL: Hackable infrastructure
SIGNAL: Exposing inspection gaps
SIGNAL: Speculating no more