As it becomes easier and cheaper to track the trillions of microbes living in your gut, maintaining gut health could become a game. In “Gotta Eat ‘Em All,” a Pokémon-style game, you would use an intestinal sensor to get real-time data about your gut microbiome, and then use computer vision to hunt down foods in real life that can help you boost the diversity of those microbes. When you capture a new microbe in your gut, your score in the game goes up.
The concept of the game is an example of a trend that Institute for the Future researchers call “scalable biodiversity”– a growing focus on biodiversity at the microbial level, which may, in turn, also impact biodiversity at the scale of farms.
New studies of gut data keep revealing the uniqueness of each individual microbiome and a corresponding variation in what each of us needs to eat to optimize health. They are suggesting that the typical diet needs much more diversity, because a lack of diversity is linked to diseases such as type 2 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.
While industrial-scale food production has traditionally used a sterile environment, that may change. In Italy, one major cheese producer is already changing production methods to manage, rather than obliterate, microbial ecosystems; preserving this diversity also optimizes the flavor of the company’s parmesan.
2. CHURCHILL’S CARNERY
Would you like to try some Tasmanian devil tartare or great white shark sushi?
At the imaginary Churchill’s Carnery (a cultured meat restaurant in future Sydney, named after Winston Churchill’s prediction that we’d eventually grow chicken breasts separately rather than raising whole chickens on farms) the researchers envision people lining up to eat rare “meat” produced in bioreactors. Customers would visit the warehouse to watch as products are made just as they do in beer breweries today.
Cultured meat or “clean meat” is already deep in development today as part of a larger shift to protein without the environmental and animal welfare problems caused by raising livestock traditionally. The cost of making a burger from cow cells, rather than a cow, has fallen dramatically.
In 2013 Mark Post, a researcher at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, announced that he had created a burger made from real meat grown in a lab (20,000 strips of muscle tissue) for the unreasonable price of $325,000. Two years after, he shared with ABC News that the price has dropped to just over $11 for a burger ($80 per kilogram of meat).
In 2017, Memphis Meats unveiled prototypes of cultured chicken and duck. The next step may be to go beyond trying to re-create meat that’s available today to make food that is currently unavailable – either because the animals are rare or endangered, or because food scientists have concocted something that has never existed before.
3. CLEVER KITCHEN AGENTS
You want your “vitAImix” blender to make a blueberry smoothie for you – using the trending recipe it downloaded – but because everyone else is trying to make the same recipe, your kitchen can’t cheaply source the local, organic, aeroponically farmed berries that you want. The solution: you tweet about a fake food safety scandal involving blueberries, and the price drops. Your fridge places the order.
The long-hyped internet of things is finally manifesting itself, and as more objects come online the food system will become more efficient and more responsive to demands and external forces like a changing climate. As data proliferates, retailers will use machine learning to automatically change prices in real time and respond to predicted future demand. Appliances, in response, will use their own algorithms to try to get consumers the best deal.
Kids in school in 2028 might grow their own cheese for lunch. In a concept called “Lunchabios,” researchers envision a Lunchables-like a synthetic biology kit that would be created for children. Kids would use a bioreactor to culture cheddar, and then pair it with premade crackers and ham at lunch. A “Pro-GMO” certification on the package celebrates genetic modification, unlike GMO labeling today.
Lunchbox bioreactors are possible because the technology is becoming cheap enough to make it accessible for everyone.
5. SURFACE HACKERS
It’s the not-so-distant future in a Seattle seafood market, and the digital pricing displays for the food have been hacked by an activist group.
Screens that would normally show the price, freshness, and nutrition of the fish now show “digital graffiti” about slave labor in seafood farms, overuse of antibiotics, and genetic modification.
The scenario is an example of the convergence of two trends. Already, thanks to Twitter and other tools, food companies no longer control the narrative about the products they create. As the range of new communications platforms grows, including digital displays in retail stores, but also technology embedded in kitchens and virtual reality simulations, there will be more opportunities for “rewriteable narratives”.
While some platforms can be hacked, others will be more open to consumers to begin with. Brands that are already becoming more transparent about their products might become more so, recognizing that sharing the data builds trust.
6. INCENTIVIZED RECEIPT
In China, a future food delivery box may be “curated” by food safety specialists, with an added transparency fee to help guarantee that consumers get healthy food. The receipt also lists a fee to support health insurance for farmers, a tax for waste, and a government-supported discount for choosing plant-based foods.
It’s one example of the growth of informed eaters; if consumers in the past didn’t know how their food was made, that is changing.
In China, one company is already tracking chickens throughout their life cycle, using block chain technology, to give consumers proof about the quality of the meat they buy.
Around the world, using tools like LED-lit counter-top gardens, more people are growing their own food; others are helping crowdfund more responsible products like cricket protein bars. Consumers are becoming more engaged, and less passive.
Original article By Adele Peters, Fast Company