Eating Technology

Advancement in technology comes after tremendous effort.  At times technology appears to be too cost prohibitive and time consuming to continue expending the efforts required to develop a technology to the point where it can be used profitably.  It is also a challenge to get to the point where a new technology requires less, not more, time to use it.  Yet at the same time, entrepreneurs plod on creating newer and newer technologies.  We value the efforts of entrepreneurs for their substantial risk taking because ultimately, their successes benefit us.

Similar to entrepreneurs, in the field of research scientists expend tremendous effort at what seems at times a painstakingly slow pace in order to discover on the outer fringes of science.  What is similar between entrepreneurs and scientists also makes the relationship between entrepreneurs and scientists even more interesting, and that relationship could not be more exemplified than by those on the forefront of technology in the food industry.

Obviously there is technology in the food industry.  Farm equipment has become increasingly effective and efficient.  Farmers now drive GPS guided equipment while sitting on comfortable chairs with dust-filtered warm or cool air blowing on them depending on the season.  My grandfather, whose family was like most farming families at the turn of the twentieth century,  shared with me that when he was a young boy guiding the farm equipment across the fields the last thing he wanted the equivalent of the equipment’s engine, a horse, to do was blow air.  Certainly technology has come a long way in improving farm equipment and the associated pleasantries of working on a farm.

What brings me to this topic, however, has relatively little to do with these advances in technology and more to do with a deeper application of technology in the food industry, technology posed to change the way the world thinks about what it eats.  Technology posed to change how food is, and I’m going to use this word deliberately, created.  Yes, not harvested, not grown, not slaughtered: created.   Biotech meets the dinner plate and a whole new type of technologists emerge, food technologists.

With rising demand for food, in particular food that provides the necessary nutrients and proteins, food technologists are charting new ground in the production of new products designed to reduce the carbon footprint, the land and even the killing required in order to put protein on the plates, not just of Americans, but of everyone in the world.  At VLAB’s “Where’s the Beef?” event yesterday the question was asked, “Does the biotech industry have the potential to disrupt the food chain?”  The answer is yes.

Eating technology does not mean you’re going to find computer chips in your next steak; it does mean, however, that at some point in the future the steak you eat may have been created by using technology driven 3-D printers, cultured similar to how bacteria is cultivated for yogurt, or brewed similar to how yeast is used for beer.  That meat, at least according to Andras Forgacs, Founcer & CEO of Modern Meadow, will be better for you because it will contain less of what is bad for you.

While it may be hard for someone to stomach the idea of eating meat grown in a dish, technology is furthering advancement in developing non-animal sources of protein.  You can see those products at grocery stores which are beginning to sell more (and better tasting) vegetarian and vegan friendly products, products like those created by BeyondMeat.  Ingredients developed by Solazyme may also find their way to a plate in front of you.  Regardless of the company that delivers the product, rest assured that the reason the non-animal protein problem will be solved is because technology is at work disrupting the food chain.