Seeds of Disruption
- Full research package now available for download along with an interactive online map!
- Featured in FastCompany Co.EXIST: "The Future Of Food, Mapped Out For The Next 10 Years"
- See the Food Innovation Program, a masters degree founded on this map
In 2013, IFTF’s food futures research program undertook a yearlong exploration into the ways that emerging technologies and sciences are reshaping the global food web. Along the way, we explored how several core strategies radically transformed, and continue to shape, our food system. Production aims for intensification. Distribution requires efficiency. Manufacturing is standardized for scalability. Shopping centralizes food in a common marketplace. And when it comes to eating, convenience and affordability still trump all else.
But it’s not clear that these strategies will work for future generations—they’re encountering limits. Today’s planetary challenges such as widespread food waste and the rise of chronic disease present a call to rethink the food system that we cannot ignore. Across this cycle of human food experiences—production, distribution, manufacturing, shopping, and eating—emerging technologies are poised to take us beyond those limits and transform our food experience.
We created Seeds of Disruption: How Technology is Remaking the Future of Food, a forecast map and set of four perspectives and Artifacts from the Future, to tell the story of how emerging information technology will reshape every step of the food system.
The forecast map—recently featured in FastCompany Co.EXIST—is a tool for starting conversations about how emerging technologies can be used to close important gaps in the food system. It includes forecasts of how technologies will disrupt core strategies our food system has pursued:
- PRODUCTION | Reorganizing intensification—from resource-intensive agriculture to low-impact alternatives
- DISTRIBUTION | Rebalancing efficiency—from large-scale efficiency models to distributed resilience
- MANUFACTURING | Remixing standardization—from standardized to personalized formulation
- SHOPPING | Rethinking centralization—from centralized shopping sites to just-in-time delivery
- EATING | Redefining convenience—from on-the-go eating to mindful food experiences
For each of these, the map includes signals—today’s innovations that indicate a direction of future change. For example, small food producers could learn from ColaLife's strategy to tap into existing distribution infrastructure by literally filling the gaps in shipping containers. Or small, autonomous robots, such as Prospero, could enable cultivation on hard-to-reach surfaces and depopulated rural farms.
At the edges of the map are “strains of uncertainty,” wildcards that are low probability but with the potential for high impact. These are seen in experiments such as Ghost Food that use multisensory technologies to explore future dining experiences in an eating landscape altered by climate change and biodiversity loss.
Technologies create bold new possibilities. But people, and their tastes and values, determine which possibilities become reality. These four essays explore how the world the forecast map describes intersects with human values for food freshness, sustainability, satisfaction, and convenience.
Each perspective includes a narrative, today’s signals of change from around the world, and an Artifact from the Future—an illustration that makes the future more tangible in the present. Licensed under Creative Commons, we encourage you to share and use these Artifacts as inspiration for your own ideas.
About IFTF's Food Futures Lab
For over 47 years, part of IFTF’s core business has been to connect innovators in Silicon Valley and around the world with industry leaders, policymakers, and the broader public. With Seeds of Disruption and our ongoing food futures research, we aim to align the minds, innovations, and resources reshaping the future of food with a shared understanding of how to take the long-term view—one that encompasses multiple scales, levels of uncertainty, and radically different possible futures.
Wherever you stand in the food web—from food scientists to farmers, entrepreneurs to politicians, to all of us eaters—we invite you to engage in this conversation, and seek the disruptions that have the potential for sustainability, equity, and resilience in the long term.
For more information
Publication Date / Preview Release
October 2013 / December 2014