Data-driven food?

Published in FSD Update

Is 3D printing really the answer to the world's food problems?

Understand that I am not decrying 3D printing. It is fascinating technology and, as the NASA article pointed out, it could be used to allow astronauts to create parts for spacecraft or even planetary structures such as living quarters. And visions of the future have always intrigued me. As a child, I read science fiction books by the shelf and watched every sci-fi move and show that would come on our TV: "Lost In Space," "Star Trek," even "The Jetsons." I would be awed at all the technology available in the “future” and thought how neat most of that stuff would be to have.

But when it came to food stations, I was simply bemused. The idea of food devolving into vitamin pills and freeze-dried, extruded meals made me sad. To me, food has always been something to be celebrated, and how could anyone get excited about a three-course meal in pill form?

Over time, we have seen many of those fantastic sci-fi gadgets and systems become part of our everyday lives. For the most part, technological advances have made our lives easier. Quite often, however, they have come with a price. Cell phones have made communications easier, but to an annoying degree. Social media have helped connect people all over the world, but with a consequent loss of privacy.

Food would be no different. All of our efforts to promote a local and sustainable lifestyle would come to nothing if the world embraces what Jeffrey Lipton calls “data-driven food.” We might create a more efficient way to sustain human beings, but at the same time we’d be removing from their lives one of life’s quintessential joys.

The good news, at least for my generation, is that this technology will likely not be widely available until after we’ve passed on. I know one thing: I’m not ready for technology that would allow the menu and the meal to become one and the same.

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