Mixing Food and Tech: The Next Frontier in Innovation

Elias Kruger

How about your tech, would you like some fries with that? Swedish tech food designer Erika Marthins says: why not? The designer believes that bringing tech to our food will help us see it less as a strange intruder of our realities and more as part of ourselves. Are we talking about eating wires or transistors? Not at all, Marthins’ elegant creations use tech through appropriate means in order to make food interesting.

One of her inventions is a chocolate vinyl record that actually plays music. This dark chocolate delicacy can play your favorite tunes and then offer you a treat as delightful as music to your ears. How about edible robots that autonomously move in your plate? I am not so sure about this one as it may conjure images of live animals about to be consumed. Consider then the clever lollipops that carry a hidden message by how it bends light inside of it. That is candy with a science lessons for free.

While Marthins’ creations range from the bizarre to the cute, the mix of tech and food will only become more relevant in the future. Just as in other applications, technology will be enlisted to solve intractable problems. Consider the growing needs of a burgeoning global population. Can we continue to feed all humans without causing significant harm to our planet?

That is why the case for lab-grown meat is becoming more compelling. Our passion for animal protein forces larger swathes of arable land to be used for cattle. It also diverts the production of staples from feeding humans to feeding the animals humans will eat. It is clear that this production chain is not sustainable as a growing global middle class demands access to meat.

The idea of lab-grown meat can sound gross until you start seeing how it could help address the problem described above. Certainly there are concerns about safety and long-term health effects. Can we trust human-made processes to provide what nature has provided us for millions of years?

The underlying question in this debate is whether using tech to improve food yields is inherently good. We tend to see “natural” as synonymous with “good.” In this perspective, technology-enabled processes, which are considered artificial, are seen as harmful or at least inferior to natural processes.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. As technology enters all spheres of life, does it even make sense to keep this separation between natural and artificial?

Q2. Aren’t all these practices in some sense natural?

Q3. Will technology make the future more sustainable or contribute further to environmental degradation?