Data-driven food?

Published in FSD Update

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

I read something a couple of weeks ago that disturbed me. Scientists are experimenting with the concept of “printing” food, using 3D printing technology. The Fab@Home Lab, at Cornell University, is testing the idea of fabricating food on a large scale. The National Aeronautics & Space Administration recently awarded a $125,000 grant to an Austin, Texas company to examine how to use the technology to create nutritious food for astronauts flying deep space missions.

According to an article that appeared on HuffingtonPost.com, Jeffrey Lipton, chief technology officer for a company called Seraph Robotics, posits that not only is the “printing” of food possible, it could be done in such a way that each order could be altered to satisfy the unique dietary needs of particular customers—the ultimate in customization.

Speaking at the Inside 3D Printing conference last month in New York, Lipton reportedly said, “Once you have the automatic collection of what you’re eating and when, you can predict, based off your activity levels, your planned diet and your health records, exactly how much and what types of food you should be eating. That’s really ultimately the long-term potential of food printing.”

NASA’s long-range perspective is to come up with a way to keep astronauts fed on missions that could take years to complete. In a press release, NASA said, “The current food system wouldn’t meet the nutritional needs and five-year shelf life required for a mission to Mars or other long duration missions. Because refrigeration and freezing require significant spacecraft resources, current NASA provisions consist solely of individually packaged shelf stable foods, processed with technologies that degrade the micronutrients in the foods.”

The goal of the NASA project is to determine whether a 3D food printing system would be able to provide a wide variety of shelf-stable items that would retain their nutritional integrity. According to an article on SPACE.com, mechanical engineer Anjan Contractor has printed chocolate and is working on the printing of—you got it—a pizza.

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