Future foods – Are we ready?


Is cooking an art or chemistry? Marcel Boulestin, the first cook-turned-television star of late 1930s, resolved this dilemma when he categorically said, “Cooking is not chemistry, but an art as it requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements.” With two new emerging technologies that are going to revolutionise the food sector, Boulstein can be proved right and wrong, at the same time.

Food sector has always been influenced by new technologies. Cellular agriculture and 3D food printing are the two new technologies that are expected to change the way people will interact with food in near future. Of these, cellular agriculture is pure chemistry, proving Boulestin wrong and 3D food printing is combination of both, chemistry and arts, proving Bouletin partially right.

Cellular agriculture is animal-free, and, cultured & plant based versions of meat, milk, and eggs. They are milk without cow, eggs without hen and meat without animal. Some start-ups, food companies have already begun research in this direction and in some cases the research has reached conclusive stage. For instance, the milk prototype was ready by December last year and testers have described the milk as ‘having the same mouthfeel’ as milk from cow. Yeast is reprogrammed to produce milk proteins by inserting the genes for casein and whey proteins into the yeast cells, and the fats are sourced from plants. They all are combined to make milk. As this milk is molecularly identical to milk from cows, it can produce cheese, yogurt, kefir and cream.

On the meat front, experts are confident that technologically it will be possible to replace all conventional meat production with cultured meat. This method is also environment friendly as it would result in a 96% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and uses 45% of the energy, 1% of the land and 4% of the water associated with conventional beef production. The researchers in the field feel that there are some funding issues in this area of research as it lies at the intersection of medical research and food science. But, it offers significant promise for a more sustainable, stable, safe and diverse food system. 3D food printing is another technology, which some expert feel is going to be the third industrial revolution. The 3D food printing will be very positive from the point of sustainability as the food will be prepared without negative industrial impact.

The main question in the Indian context here is are we ready to face these innovations in our food systems? Despite some benefits any major innovation always comes with such fears, as if like a package deal, in India. People oppose them on different grounds – two most common grounds to oppose are losing jobs and safety. Even computers faced such fears in India. In reality, such inventions do not reduce the jobs, but merely change their pattern – conventional jobs are reduced, but new types of jobs are created.

When it comes to food, the fear factor over safety is very strong. Fear of safety and potential adverse effects on health of these types of foods. We have not yet been able to resolve the issue of GM foods, while two more interesting future food developments are shaping up and may reach our threshold any moment.

All those who are apprehensive about these developments should remember British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s prophetic words as back as in 1931, “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

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