The Future of Food

The Future of Food

Louis Sztayer Edwards
IORMA Researcher

The Current Status Concerning Food

Since the dawn of time, food and water have both remained a necessity for our survival. We have been able to use our intellect to form near-perfect meal plans as well as working out which foods contain the most beneficial nutrients and vitamins for us. We can see through this that the way we look at food has changed as time has passed, our understanding of how beneficial it can be to us has only grown.

However, despite all this progress, there remains many different issues surrounding food globally. Poverty still is a massive problem, with food shortages affecting many different Less Developed Countries (LEDCs), and wasted food can lead to problems of its own, with its rotting process greatly contributing to the emission of green house gases such as methane.

As a result of these issues, we need to start looking towards introducing more innovative ideas into the world of food. One way that this has already started to be done, and in a variety of ways, is through the involvement of technology. In modern societies, technology has already started to become synonymous with food, as it is almost always used in the process of cooking, and they come in many forms too, such as air fryers, food processors and food mixers, all of which are used to make the cooking process more efficient. However, these are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the relationship with food and technology, it only goes deeper and will continue to expand further as we see new possibilities open up to us.

One of the most frequently discussed coming-togethers of food and technology has been the development of GMOs. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) involves the alteration of genetic makeup of living organisms, usually in order to better suit a specific purpose. It can be easy to see straight away why some would be against it, there could be worries about how healthy they are to consume, especially the effects in the long term, which can be hard to measure.

There also may be those who argue that scientists who are trying to attempt this are trying to play around with the role of God too much, and that this could only lead to consequences. Despite these worries, there are still a lot of reasons as to why GMOs could be beneficial to us, for example, we could eventually look to create the “perfect” crop.  Whilst growing crops naturally is usually perfectly fine, there still remains many issues, like the fact they usually require the usage of pesticide in order to protect their crops, and this in turn can seriously affect us as it is very difficult to get rid of pesticide residue.

Through the use of GMOs we could make the necessity for pesticides completely obsolete, and instead include an anti-pest factor inside of the crops – without it being harmful to people in anyway. Using GMOs we would also be able to increase the shelf-life of products, which would subsequently help to bring down the overall costs of them, and on top of all of this, we could also enhance the nutritional value of these crops, helping to combat any deficiencies, and allowing us to grow crops not just in a more efficient manner, but also in a way that benefits us health-wise. There still remain constant worries and paranoia around GMOs however, and there likely will be for a while, as developments on this scale are rarely not met with skepticism and anxiety, but there is still much more time for further developments to do with GMOs and hopefully alongside them, increased awareness on the potential benefits that they could bring to us.

Tackling food poverty on a global scale has and continues to be a serious issue. It only appears to grow each year, and the Covid crisis also hit vulnerable areas particularly hard and only exacerbated this issue. For example, it was noted that in 2020 over 2 billion people did not have access to sufficient food, and that between 720- 811 million people went hungry the same year, almost 10% of the global population!
(United Nations – Global Issues Food)

As well as this we have waste an enormous amount of food continuously, with around 1/3 of all food produced globally being said to go to waste. This waste also heavily contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, with food waste being a huge contributor to both methane and CO2 emissions (25 Facts About Food Waste | Earth.Org – Past | Present | Future). This issue is undeniable, and changing the way we think about and deal with food waste is necessary in order for us to live more sustainably on earth.

One area that we can see this being worked upon is through the food tech company called Copia. Copia have set it upon themselves to help to redistribute excess food to those who really need it, even describing the issue as “the world’s dumbest problem”. Copia encourages businesses to sign up with them through benefits such as increased tax deductions, and through the workings of a mobile application the process is incredibly simple. Once a business is signed up, a collection for excess food can be scheduled through the app, and once the delivery driver has collected the package, it will be taken to a non-profit. Whilst we are still a long way from solving this issue, Copia are definitely one organization that are using their resources to their advantage, and appear fully intent on utilizing that for the greater good.

Future Innovation Concerning Food

Vertical Farms

Vertical Farms

With regard to innovation in the agriculture sector, one that has been largely successful has been the implementation of vertical farming:


As the name Vertical Farms implies, it incorporates the idea of growing produce in columns, and typically occurs indoors within an easily regulated environment. This is a very different procedure to the traditional agricultural ways of farming, as it relies on technology as opposed to the powers of nature, and this can have a range of pros and cons due to that. One of the biggest benefits of vertical farming is the fact that everything involved in the farming process is controlled. One of the biggest issues with traditional farming is how reliant it is on the weather conditions, and with how unpredictable they can be, its not uncommon for crops to be ruined in a drought, for example. As well as this, different types of crops require specific conditions for them to be grown in, meaning that some times specific fruits or vegetables can not be so easily obtained during certain seasons. Vertical farming solves both of these issues as factors such as the temperature and lighting can be altered to ensure consistent and healthy growth of all the crops allocated to that area. This would make the harder to grow crops much easier to obtain, giving consumers a much more varied selection of produce available to them.

Being indoors also means that vertical farming protects the crops from pests, making pesticides completely unnecessary, and thus making sure that the produce is as pure as possible. However even with all the benefits there still remain some barriers to its full potential, namely the cost. In order to be able to upkeep these controlled conditions, there is a high energy cost required, and due to this also a high financial cost. The cost to initially set up vertical farming is already quite high, so the fact that it costs a lot just to keep it constantly operational only adds to that. There is also quite a high skill barrier regarding how to run a vertical farm, as there are many high tech systems that need to be properly installed, however there have been many open-source projects set up dedicated to making vertical farming much more accessible (e.g. Growstack) so hopefully the growth of these projects can help to spread knowledge of vertical farming further. Despite all the costs that vertical farming has, I believe that it is absolutely one of the best farming alternatives, and that hopefully in the near future the energy usage can be replaced by some form of sustainable energy in order to keep the costs lower.

Lab Grown Meat

3D Printing

At first thought, 3D printing and food coming together seems almost inconceivable, but both are closer than you would think. 3D printing has been big and only gaining more traction for a while now in multiple different industries, and I believe it could also have great benefits in the food industry as well.

One of the reasons for this is due to the materials that 3D printing incorporates into it. They can use a type of plastic known as PLA (PLA, also known as polylactic acid or polylactide, is a renewable and biodegradable thermoplastic polyester) as the “ink” for it, which whilst not perfect, is still one of the more eco-friendly types of plastic. As well as this, PLA is extremely beneficial in terms of waste, as it creates exactly what it needs so there is no excess product.

Due to this, we can see that 3d printing the packaging for food suppliers could be massively beneficial for the environment. As well being involved in the packaging process, 3D printing could also find itself involved in food making too. There has already been people creating chocolate sculptures through 3D Printing, but there have also been breakthroughs in “bioprinting”, which utilizes the same method of printing that you would expect from a standard 3D printer, but instead works with living matter such as biological tissue and cells. As well as being extremely important in the future for the potential of creating fully functional replacement organs, It has also seen usage in the area of a sustainable meat “replacement”.

For example, last year a Food Technology organization known as Steak Holder Foods (formerly MeaTech) printed an 104 gram steak that was completely void of any typical plant-based alternatives. In fact it was said to contain genuine fat and muscle cells, making it closer to a genuine form of meat as opposed to being an alternative. However, this method can be significantly more beneficial than the traditional one in multiple ways; it’s much less demanding in terms of the requirements for its production as it  doesn’t need anywhere near as much land and it is much more energy efficient, it also reduces food waste by significant amounts, as it only produces the amount of food needed, no more or no less. Through bioprinting, the nutritional value of food can also be altered, meaning that through using this method, we can not only have a form of food production that is much more efficient, but also one that benefits our bodies much more too. It also helps to reduce the global greenhouse gases as cattle farming has a major impact on it through the release of methane, so there are clearly multiple benefits to implementing this long term.

There still remain barriers to it however, for example the machines used for it are pretty high cost, making it inaccessible for many, and it can also take significant time to produce the food. As well as this, there is no telling how accepting the general public will be of it, as there will no doubt be many sceptics of it. However I still believe that the benefits still largely outweigh the cons, and in the future those negatives will likely start to become negligible as technological advancement continues forward.

Future Progress

Whilst there continue to be numerous global issues relating to food, whether that be shortages, waste or pollution, technology can help to at least mitigate some of the issues, and as we gain more confidence in the technology, we’ll likely see more progress in these areas. With how deeply rooted these issues are and how long they’ve been around for, there’s no doubt that this will not be a short-term fix. As well as that, the rapidly growing population may also lead to new problems like food sources becoming more scarce, and as a result of that, food prices for the general public increasing.

However, as we advance technologically, we will absolutely develop new ways of combating these problems, as we have done in the past. Globalization has already benefited the world in terms of food, as whilst accessibility of food is still largely lacking, it has helped the production and availability of it greatly and has allowed for organizations such as Fairtrade to help agricultural workers in LEDCs to make sure that they are being treated completely fairly and aren’t being exploited financially. 

There are also likely solutions being worked on right now in order to combat overpopulation, and at the same time other food-related issues, for example, we could potentially develop a form of synthetic food that would provide all our daily recommended intake of nutrients. This would not only help the problem of food scarcity, but could also allow us to eat more sustainably, and hopefully increase global accessibility to it at the same time.

I think that as amazing as all this technology is and can be, it needs to be used in conjunction with global policies that place more emphasis on putting an end to short-term and long-term food shortages, as I think that otherwise all these incredible advancements and projects could end up as wasted potential.

Even so, there remains a bright side with all the work being done, and hopefully we will see even more progress in the coming years.

‘IORMA Inevitable Evolutions ?’ – Food

IORMA Disruptive Technologies Strategy Director

The accelerating fusion of Humanity with Technology is bringing about profound implications and impacts for Humanity.

With a current global population of c8 Billion which is continually increasing, there is an urgent need to plan and bring about methods and solutions to ensure that future humanity can be provided with the nutrients that they require to survive and stay healthy.

In particular, the production and distribution of food globally will require new approaches and methods to provide the ever increasing volume of food and nutrients an ever increasing global population will require and can afford to obtain.

Current day methods will not be sufficient in the future, especially against a background of future climate change and ever increasing global population.

New Technology based methods exist and are being gradually introduced to complement and over time replace current methods.

However these new technology methods will have profound long-term implications for society, as with other sectors that are having to adapt to the impacts of new disruptive technologies.

Two technologies of particular relevance to the Future of Food are:

  • 3d Printing/Lab Meat
  • Vertical Farms

Future impacts of the application of these two technologies alone will affect the whole global food chain: Agriculture, Manufacturing, Distribution, Transportation, Retailing, greatly reduced use of Land, Major environmental benefits, no more raising of live animals to be consumed by humans (see footnote below) , reduced production and distribution/transportation costs, reduced human employment in the whole food chain.

For example : Global Animal Slaughter 1961- 2016.
Data Courtesy of Faun Analytics

(The main story is that chickens are – by far– the most slaughtered land animal. The difference is so great that it makes the rest of the chart unreadable. In the updated chart below, we show chickens in thousands, which allows us to more easily analyse the results for other species).

Also, opportunities for homes of the future to incorporate these new food production technologies and therefore immediately at the point of consumption (the home).

IORMA is commencing a major research and study project and will progressively report on the progress of this study on the IORMA web site and associated reports and events.

For those who are interested in participating in the Research Study, please click the blue button below to email IORMA:

The Future of Food

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