High-tech food: The future is here


bitten: a food conversation

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On Feb. 6, I attended bitten: a food conversation — a conference in New York City that focused on the exciting culture of food, featuring thought leaders and entrepreneurs who shared their stories and ideas for the changing food industry.

Among the emerging trends presented were a number of product and supply chain innovations that are revolutionizing what we eat, with a focus on incorporating environmental responsibility into how we get our food.

Mike Lee, creator and predictor of the Supermarket of 2065, feels that environmental responsibility is the future, rather than a trend, and his fellow speakers presented a number of innovative products and technologies. Lee first presented a product concept of a fictitious sustainable snack called “Crop Crisps” that takes crop rotation into account so that no two flavors are available at the same time.

Meanwhile, new sustainable super foods are already emerging — although it’s hard to say which will take off and which will be a temporary sensation. John Foss founded the Chia Company by taking the farmer’s market concept of knowing where food is throughout the supply chain and wanting to take it global, providing the world with a seed rich in Omega 3 and protein. 

But if chia isn’t your style, how about crickets? Gabi Lewis and Greg Sewitz co-founded Exo, a company that makes and sells products made with cricket powder. Bugs are the protein of the future, they claimed, because they are uniquely sustainable and are high in nutrients. While we may think this is disgusting, they remind us that 50 years ago sushi was considered a disgusting new food as well. As for the taste, they brought samples and I can say the peanut butter and jelly protein bar tasted like … a regular protein bar. 

But of course we don’t think meat will become a thing of the past. Andrew Forgacs, co-founder of Modern Meadow, said: “The future is cultured, not slaughtered,” presenting a mind-boggling technology that will actually grow meat. He explained that it’s unnecessary and not environmentally responsible to raise and slaughter the whole animal when we can simply take cells from that animal and then grow the cells into meat that we can eat (or leather that we can wear). Not only does it leave the animal unharmed, it’s nutritious and better for the environment. Cultivating food isn’t new — we do it with wine and beer already — it’s just an extension of that idea, he explained. 

And while this had the vegetarians sitting behind me saying, “Hm, I guess I could technically eat that,” there are major technological advances in growing vegetables as well. AeroFarms, co-founded by David Rosenberg, is growing plants without soil or sun and with more nutrients — in half the time. By only using the spectrums of light plants need and stripping out what they don’t, pests become blind to the plants, eliminating the need for pesticides. Additionally, by oxygenating the roots, there is no need for soil, and they are able to stress the plant to produce more antioxidants. He calls it “engineering horticulture meets data science” and they are already building the largest vertical farm in the world in Newark, New Jersey. 

As the process of growing vegetables is being revolutionized, we already see a shift in how we purchase them. With the popularity of farm shares and CSAs, Benzi Ronen founded Farmigo to solve the problem of demand from consumers and supply from farmers, by building a network of locals who order produce weekly directly from the farmer (like a CSA with more control). 

While these innovations may or may not catch on, how and what we eat in the future will surely change, and that comes with the need for change in our food system. Being more responsible with how food is produced is equally as important as how it is consumed. And if that means in 50 years we will be buying crickets at the supermarket with our lab-grown hamburgers, then we certainly have a lot of change to look forward to.

For more information on bitten: a food conversation, read the full post here.