"As climate change warms the planet, insect populations collapse and soil nutrients become more and more depleted, the strain on global agriculture is likely to make food a central topic for change. Using objects, videos and storytelling, product and strategy consultancy Method imagine a not-so-distant future in which three radical solutions for feeding the world have been proposed. "
This installation is part of Life Rewired at the Barbican Centre: "A season exploring what it means to be human when technology is changing everything." If you get the chance go and visit the AI: More than Human exhibition (until 26th August 2019), as it features the Personal Food Computer also developed by Method.
Me & I ® : Precision farming and hyper-personalised food
What impact will technology have on our food system?
Visitors were presented with 2 types of food trackers: One small pill sized "gastro-sensor" to swallow which will stay in your stomach for about a month before it will naturally exit your body and you will have to swallow a new one. "This indigestible pill provides feedback on food-s progress through the stomach and gastrointestinal tract. It further analyses stomach fluids and gathers data on gut flora, ensuring optimum conditions for digestion and absorption of nutrients." The other is an oral sensor which humans would wear for 2 to 3 years. "This oral device houses a series of sensors which constantly monitor the user's saliva. As food is chewed and passes through the mouth, the nutrient balance is analysed, ensuring it aligns with Me & I ®'s prescribed Meal Protocols." Whilst you would be wearing these speculative sensors, the data collected will result in the creation of specific meal boxes prepared and personalised around your bodily needs. These boxes contain existing natural and organic foods simply picked specifically to suit your nutritional and psychological needs.
💭Debates about this food future: Regarding the data collection and GDPR requirements, who will be allowed to keep this information and ultimately who would they sell it to? Could it be to marketing companies as it is often done today, or even insurance companies, or the NHS so they could track your needs and adapt treatments to your body? Also even further, might the food provided in the boxes be genetically modified to suit our nutritional and psychological needs? For example some foods could include more vitamins or pro-biotics, whether this is done naturally using existing foods or synthetically in labs?
Urban Food Support How will hyper-urbanisation and reduced access to resources impact what we eat?
In this speculative world, we would all have 3D printers at home and have access to open source material such as instruction on how to make your own personal indoor urban farm. It is stated that "the world's urban citizens have assumed collective responsibility for the growth and production of their own food in closed-loop ecosystems." Most people don't have much space for an urban farm in their house or apartment anymore to feed a whole family so they would create communities of urban farms to grow food together, in any empty space available around the city such as abandoned car parks (because at this stage we won't be using cars anymore of course) and rooftops. Seeds (including exciting things like "rainbow asparagus" and "chicken flavoured tomatoes") for these urban farms would be sold by official seed dealers and people would have started to create their own "seed recipes" which would be passed down in the family much like a food recipe in our real world. However the rise of these urban farms has lead to "misinformation and myths" such as the sale of "fake seeds" on the black market. To help deal with this, "Urban Food Support" are here to "provide scientific support to help you understand your food for all our survival", in particular with tools like a Seed DNA Testing Device, "to verify the origin and contents of seeds before purchase".
💭Debates about this food future: There is still the question of equality here, how would everyone have access and afford a 3D printer (as today the prices are still pretty high)? Where would you get food if you didn't have a printer? How far would people be able to play with seed making, in an ethical and healthy way without professional knowledge?
Fairness Co-Op How will we effectively feed a massively growing
In this world, MonoMeal™ is the only food humans would eat. "The International Food Fairness Organisation created MonoMeal™: a nutritionally balanced meal that meets the needs of the entire global population." With no flavour, and a simple fluid and smooth texture, there would be no comparison in food consumption, we would all eat the same food. Gluten free and dairy free, MonoMeal™ would suit all dietary requirements, although it would contain some animal products but all ethical and sustainable of course, using only surplus roadkill from France for example. Served alongside MonoMeal™ would be an "olfactory stimulation device" to compliment the flavourless food: "it is common for an olfactory stimulation device to be placed at the centre of the table at a supperclub, emitting fragrances chosen by the host at different times to simulate traditional meal courses". These smells would be created by generations who remember smells of Moroccan markets or chocolate cakes and would pass this knowledge onto the next generation. MonoMeal™ is served using a unit guide to ensure equal distribution to all depending on body size and nutritional needs. "Portions are designed to help citizens reach their optimum physical state, allowing them to contribute fully to society". Prices would differ in different countries, much like food is priced differently in our real world. MonoMeal™ could even come directly from the tap here in the UK, and priced as water is on a meter.
💭Debates about this food future: How do you do to preserve and transmit smells and associations over generations if they are not physically available anymore? How can we as multisensory feeling humans still enjoy a meal if its tasteless? Will traditional food culture from around the world disappear?
Public voting as of 12th July 2019 (left to right): Me & I ®, Urban Food Support, Fairness Co-Op
Visitors could talk to a person from each speculative world and decide which food future they would prefer living in. Each presenter took the side of someone living there, comparing their world to our reality. As you can see the food future people felt the most comfortable with was the Urban Food Support, with the two other speculative solutions being on a close tie.
I personally felt like Urban Food Support was probably the most realistic close-future - urban farms already exist in some cities such as Rootlabs in London and Nabo Farm in Copenhagen, providing micro greens to restaurants and businesses, so people are more accepting of the idea and it won't be long before the public will have easier access to buying from these producers. 3D printing is also readily available, with just the pricing being an obstacle in regards to accessibility for having a printer at home. Me & I ® is also a realistic option - Fitbit and other health trackers already exist, and food boxes delivered to your home have existed for a few years now. It's just a matter of combining both to adapt to our nutritional and psychological needs. Regarding the Fairness Co-Op, this was the one that sparked the most questions as for me it was unthinkable to take away all the pleasure of eating food through taste, flavour, shape and texture and making it the same for all. Maybe it's just me but with food there is so much more about it than just eating, there are smells, colours, tactile experiences, situations and much more that come with the act of eating. We have just recently evolved from thinking of food as a simple necessity to now creating experiences and educating people through food, to then go back and take this all away for me would nearly be the worst solution. However, the topic is one we need to explore much further. I feel like we've talked about the issue of food fairness for years, many activists have spoken about this, yet not much has really been done. Food waste is still an issue we need to tackle much harder in our real world, even just in the UK there are people not eating enough and yet we still have surplus food and waste from supermarkets and at home (14% of national food waste in the UK originates from our homes - things we might've bought but not used, or the date has passed). So if this is even just to start the debate of what solutions we could create (even the most out of the box ideas), this is still a step forward.
In the end it was tough to decide which solution to choose because for me all concepts need to be researched, looked into and see how we can improve all aspects: the issue of food & health, growing urban space issues and less nature, as well as food fairness & equality around the world but also exploring right here within our cities.
Which food future would you choose?
11—13 Jul 2019, Life Rewired Hub at the Barbican Centre, London.
Visitor information here.
The installation might be extended so do go if you can!
Find out more about Method design lab here.