The Future of Food: Farming It, Processing It, Packaging It, Selling It, Eating It?
Food is that stuff that comes wrapped in plastic from the store, right? Obviously not, but it’s easy to forget that in the blur of daily routine. In fact, food is immensely complex – and the future of food is even more so. Just about every aspect of human endeavor that is related to food is about to change in radical, yet often invisible, ways. Let’s start with the basics, and work backwards.
Why do we take food? Well, we need it for fuel, to provide energy to act on a conscious level, and energy for our bodies to operate, repair, and defend themselves beneath our awareness. But that’s not all that food is to us; it’s a matter of taste, choice, and enjoyment; it’s a matter of culture, celebration, devotion, and ritual; it defines where we’re from, what kinds of choices we make, and speaks volumes about who we are. That’s food’s present and past.
Why Food Will Change
The future of food is that it’s about fine-tuning our bodies and our health, and allowing us to become more than we are right now – without giving up any of that other stuff.
We’ve known for centuries that certain foods don’t agree with certain people. We’ve known for decades that some people are allergic or have an intolerance to specific foods that can dramatically affect their health and well-being. Examples include peanut allergies, which can lead to anaphylactic shock, and kill by suffocation in minutes, and gluten intolerance, which can lead, over a period of years, to depression, inability to concentrate, loss of energy, loss of weight, a weakened immune system, and ultimately death by malnutrition.
In the future, we will know how each individual’s genome will interact with different foods in unique, individualistic ways, so that the food that nurtures one person can drag down or do active harm to another. We are learning that the old folk saying, “One man’s food is another man’s poison” is literally true, but now we’re going to be in a position to know and specify which particular foods are good for each person, and which are bad. Indeed, I suspect that once the data are crunched, each person will have four lists of foods: foods that are optimal for us, and that we should eat consistently and in quantity; foods that are good for us and that we should eat regularly in reasonable amounts; foods that aren’t particularly good for us, that we should eat sparingly and infrequently; and foods we shouldn’t eat at all. And each person’s lists are going to be different, although with overlap. (I suspect that broccoli, for instance, will be on most people’s “A” lists, and chocolate fudge sundaes on most people’s “C” lists.)
And this knowledge will refashion the food growing, processing, packaging, and retailing industries. It will almost be as if every person on the planet will have a unique set of food allergies, and needs to know and gauge everything they eat. But how in the world will anyone, on either side of the serving table, be able to cope with this level of complexity? Answer: computers.