What Will Food Look Like In The Future?

Marije Vogelzang

A shared dining experiment among strangers conducted by eating designer Marije Vogelzang.

Will experimental cuisine or pared-back sci-fi food powders be the story of our future food?

“Food is comparatively dull,” says Edouard Malbois, “despite the fact that food gives structure to our lives.” He adds that fashion, design or art is vibrant, progressive. And yet food, on the whole, is static. We eat what recent generations have eaten. “But at the luxury level there is a need for more experimental foods that stimulate on all levels and that can operate at the same level as fashion or art. In fact, there is also a need for massive change at the everyday mass-market level.”

Malbois might well know. He’s head of French company Enivrance, which works for firms such as Nestlé and Lavazza, but also, more unexpectedly, for L’Oreal and LVMH. His job, as a food designer — a newish discipline that also attracted industrial designers such as Paolo Ulian and Kuniko Maeda — is to look at macro changes in the wider world and assess how and what we will eat in decades to come. It’s for these companies that Malbois has proposed foods such as ‘chicken’-style vegetable drumsticks, cereal eggs, double-headed lollipops, fruit reconstituted as aspic-like blocks and bound pages of spices that can be torn out of a ‘book’ as and when needed.

Marije Vogelzang, another leader in this fledgling field, working for Procter & Gamble, Virgin and Absolut, has proposed soft cheeses as paints with your bread as a canvas; and intensely flavoured ‘emotion foods’, printed with phrases that, combined with the taste, are designed to elicit specific feelings. Might such ideas be the future of food? Superficially, they might look more arty than edible, conceptual than consumable. But they’re a reflection of forces shaping how we live and eat; and that, time pressured and travelling more, we eat sporadically and often on the move.

Even among enthusiastic kitchenistas there’s a growing demand for convenience. At the same time there is the pressure to eat better — might more interesting foods coax us away from those that are simply saltier or sweeter? And that pressure is not just for health’s sake but to tackle long-term impact on national budgets and even family structures. “These new foods are not just about new colours or packaging, they’re reinventions. They’re introducing ideas that we can eat something in an entirely new way,” says Malbois.

This is why, according to the SIAL International Food Fair (held bi-annually in Paris) the turnover of new food ideas is set to rocket: some 50 percent of sales of mass-market foods today are products that were unknown five years ago, but half of all new products on our supermarket shelves will be pulled within two years. A cornucopia of genuine variety and innovation may be the supper to come.“That’s what people want: food with benefits, that saves time, money, effort, that they can understand what’s in it, that’s simplified,” argues Jakub Krejcik, founder of functional foods company Mana. “People think more in terms of inputs and outputs now, and that means there needs to be a shift in the food industry’s attitude. That’s happening. And fast.”

That, at least, is the utopian view. But, as stresses Rae Jones, a food trends analyst working for Arla and Coca-Cola, a much bigger factor may not be building entertainment or convenience into mid-21st century foods, but sustenance. This takes into account factors such as population growth; an expanding, aspirational and apparently voracious middle class; demand for meat leading to a misappropriation of land and grain for cattle; declining fish stocks; peak oil and so-called peak water; the impact on agriculture of climate change; declining land productivity; even the inflexibility of international supply chains.“It’s easy to be gloomy but all of this might add up to a perfect storm when it comes to food security,” says Jones. “The dystopian, longer-term view may well be that getting enough food will be more the issue, not just getting foods that stimulate all the senses,” she adds. “Add that to this drive towards amenity in the way we consume food, at least in first-world nations, and it’s not impossible to foresee having to swap our very physical, sensuous enjoyment of a varied diet with, say, just popping some kind of synthetic biology food pill instead.”

Some of us, perhaps, already are doing something close. Recent years have seen a boom in brands offering a new generation of high-tech, chemical-rich food replacement powders and drinks, not in order to help reduce calorific intake, but to provide all the necessary nutrients of a square meal in a quick hit without, as it were, having to eat actual food. Not for nothing does one, Soylent, nod in its name to Soylent Green, a 1973 sci-fi thriller that (spoiler alert) sees a global food crisis tackled by creating a life-sustaining foodstuff out of human corpses.

“It’s quite a sci-fi idea too, that we’ll all be living on powders,” says Tobias Stöber, founder of Bertrand, one such ‘scientific’ product. “There will be other ways to tackle the food crisis over the coming century. I think the idea that anyone wants to use these food replacements all the time is marketing. After all, we all like real food.”

Davide Bonetto, founder of Bivo, a new Italian food replacement brand says: “The fact is that it’s going to be vital to create new foods that are sustainable, affordable and smarter. I think that’s why it’s an idea that might be more easily accepted by younger generations. Older generations such as my grandmother’s find it hard to understand. The problem is that food, as a culture — and especially here in Italy, where it’s like a religion — is something nobody really wants to challenge. Okay, so if the opportunity is there I would still rather eat my grandmother’s carbonara. But we have to re-think what food is about, what it can be.”

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