Introducing the panel on the future of food, Caleb Harper said that often discussions about food and climate change can be disempowering. They can make us feel as if there’s nothing we can do to avoid looming disaster.
Kimbal Musk spoke first, showing a short film on what he does to reconnect people to food, eating and farming. “Food as community” is his vision. As a first step that means eating real food; a potato and not a deep-frozen, flavour enhanced, fat boiled french-fry. “Obesity is something we have done to our kids”, Musk said. An important step in getting people to eat better throughout their lives is educating children about food. This does not need to be arduous. For a child, pulling a carrot out the ground, experiencing that moment when yanking a little green thing makes that familiar carrot shape pop out, is like witnessing a magic trick.
Next, Molly Maloof spoke about how technology is beginning to and should increasingly enable food as personalized medicine. Optimal health, she argued, is not a goal but a process; a lifestyle, a choice. Broad guidelines, however, are not the best way to change behavior, said Maloof. She posits people want individualized advice. Beyond that people want convenience. According to Maloof, one of the barriers to eating healthy foods is that it is a hassle to eat five fruits and vegetables a day.
Furthermore, healthy diets can be expensive, however. But disease is more expensive. And in the United States food is the primary cause of preventable deaths. “So what I’m saying is we should be letting food be our medicine and technology deliver it.”
Indeed, the food industry is big business. A 21 trillion dollar industry, in fact, according to Sam Kass. "And right nit's one of the most inefficient big industries on the world," said Kass.
Globally we waste around a third of food produced. We produce more calories than the world'd population needs, but not the right kind and these aren’t distributed equally. Food accounts for around a third of the world’s greenhouse gases.
"Food is an expression of who we are as a culture," said Kass. The challenge for technology is to enhance our food experience rather than be a barrier.
During the discussion that followed the panel argued technology aimed toward improving our eating experience needs to reveal the truth of food to show what we are buying to eat. Then, to understand what we should eat, we need tests that reveal our physical needs. These tests should be palatable and comfortable for the end consumer.
Caleb Harper ended the discussion by saying that the food industry is already incredibly centralized. “But now farming is sexy. And there’s a trend toward decentralization. So what do you see in the future?” The panellists said that young people value experience more than material things and food is becoming one of those valued experiences, so it is worth looking into from an economical perspective too. Trust is also a big issue in the food industry – and this is where decentralized local production can score.