One of my favourite BBC Radio 4 programmes is Digital Human, an occasional series devoted to exploring all things in the digital world. A few weeks ago there was an episode about food (which you can listen to here) and how technology is influencing our eating habits. One of the features was about 3D printing and food, which, to me at least, sounds quite horrific. Who wants to eat pancakes that have come out of a printer, made from goodness knows what (although would they be any different to current factory produced ones?).
While I guess it is fun to think that the technology can create new shapes of pasta, or fancy chocolate creations, do we really want or need a 3D printed food vending machine that can produce crisps and other snack foods? We are all well aware that modern food is often very highly processed and is seen as contributing to overweight and obesity and diet-related diseases. Surely we don’t need increased access to ultra-processed foods (see an earlier post on this) such as 3D printed pizza. Watch the video here to see it being made if you really want to. This technology isn’t just about producing processed food, but also new forms of fruit such as square bananas, though why anyone would want this I cannot imagine.
Pasta from a 3D printer
However, projects like Chloé Rutzerfeld’s Edible Growth (watch her speak here), have quite a different focus, looking at how technology can help to produce nutritious and sustainable food. The experiment involved printing out a sort of biscuit into which was put a printed combination of seeds, spores and yeast. The biscuit itself was made from dried fruits, vegetables and Agar Agar (an algae based substitute for gelatin). This then functions as a sort of soil or seedbed of nutrients for the seeds and yeast. After about five days, the plants have sufficiently grown and the product can be eaten. If you wait a little longer, you will give the plants some more time to grow, and the food’s taste will intensify.
Grow your own snack
This project was aimed to show that manufactured food doesn’t have to be bad or unhealthy, and to try to seek solutions for sustainable and nutritious food. However, the majority of 3D food projects seem bent on making convenience foods which are commercially profitable, and not aimed at providing healthy or long-term viable food sources. NASA’s investment in printed pizza is a case in point. Which way this will go in the next few years is hard to predict, but please, just don’t make me eat a 3D printed pizza.
Picture credits: http://3dprintingindustry.com/2016/05/11/food-of-the-future/