This article originally appeared on VICE India.
It’s the year 2050. With a swelling global population and once-abundant resources that are no longer available on the planet, what’s on your plate and lunchboxes is no longer the same. The 2019 you would have never recognised it all. Using technology to plug gaps that exist in the food system, trends spread faster than science, and what we eat is more engineered in every way possible.
The prospect of what the future of food will be seems to us as exciting as terrifying. At the recently concluded media arts festival, Eyemyth, one of the sessions saw the forces behind the platform Edible Issues talk about what the future of our food looks like. Here, they draw up some of the scenarios from the future for us.
Scenario 1: Kids use synthetic biology to grow their own meat (protein) for their mid-day meals.
We don’t know what Winston Churchill was thinking (smoking?) when he said way back in 1931: “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium." But his words are eerily closer to reality.
Since its worldwide debut in 2013, lab-grown meat has come a long way. The idea of using tissue culture to “grow” parts of meat is touted to be more efficient, clean, and environment-friendly.
Where does India stand here? By 2050, we would have a population of 9 billion in the world, 1/6th of which will be from India. In addition to the population, growing affluence and changing dietary patterns might further lead to an increased demand for meat. Sustainability of meat production isn’t the only problem that lab-grown meat will solve.
According to the Indian Dietetic Association, Indian vegetarian diets are 84 percent protein-deficient so an affordable meat alternative could potentially address the problem of protein deficiency in Indian vegetarian diets. As India looks to become the hub for cultured meat research, these products could be hitting the grocery shelves sooner than you think.
On the other hand, the mid-day meal system is rife with problems. Either not each child who is entitled to it, gets it. Or what they get isn’t nutritionally beneficial. Technologies like cultured meat have great potential to solve this.
We’re envisioning a food-future where kids are so tech-savvy and the information is so widespread and open-source that children can grow (DIY) their own lunch, according to their nutritional requirements.
Scenario 2: Elderly folks receive their drone-delivered meal based on real-time data from their gut sensors.
Around a 1,000 species of microorganisms live in our guts, but we can only identify less than 5 percent of them. There’s so much more research that needs to be done to understand what’s in your gut, what kind of bacteria you have, and how they all react to what you eat. And all these tiny little organisms could shape your body; turns out, you are literally what you eat.
While obesity and undernutrition prevail in India, it’s not a one-size-fits-all model anymore; it’s about what suits you the best. Scratch all that you know about what we should eat because that’s about to change. With data being more pervasive and our being able to track every single bit of our body, eating for our gut health will shape how we eat.
But food delivery companies know what we eat when we eat. If they could have access to our wearable data now, could they, in the future have access to the ingestible sensors in our gut? Could this food then be customised and drone delivered , just the way your gut would like it?
This might seem like a plot of every badly written sci-fi movie, but hear us out. With more research on gut bacteria and nutrition, this isn’t really so far-fetched. And Zomato is already testing drones to deliver food, so how far is this not-so-distant future of getting digital dabbawalas to deliver your food?
Scenario 3: Not everyone can afford their traditional food identities so now pills that taste just like real food would, are rationed.
Imagine this: You walk into an Idli Villas, a Sunday breakfast spot that has been your staple for as long as you remember. You have watched the menu change, from vegan coffee to keto vadas and now the most common item served are these pills.
Yes, pills, but not the low-tech soylent version you know from 2014, (which are so much cheaper now than most foods). I’m referring to the synthesised food pills that taste just like the good ol’ idli and vada and dosas and chutney.
Are you thinking why we aren’t buying the “real” food—the stuff that is grown on the land and harvested, and cooked with fire? We buy those in our dreams (VR created food dreams on demand!) where a meal cooked with soil-harvest food is not unaffordable like it is today.
Innovations in agriculture have grown in leaps and bounds and as the organic community reconsiders gene editing technology like CRISPR, the intensification on our land has had an effect on the ecosystem.
But why were idlis so cheap, you ask? That’s because the rice was heavily subsidised by the government in the Public Distribution System (PDS).
But in the future, we see a government scrambling to feed 9 billion people and with non-fertile land and cheaper technology, manufacturing “PDS-Pills” that are less resource intensive, more nutritious and taste like tradition but seem like the simplest way forward.
Edible Issues is a platform where they foster dialogues around food systems in different ways.