With the holiday season in full swing, minds often turn to family gatherings, festive parties – and, of course, food. But while we in developed countries take it for granted that we can generally eat what and however much we want, that bounty may not last. Climate change, epidemic viruses infecting livestock and high population growth threaten our food supply.
The future of food – and ways in which technology can help secure or improve it – is a subject that will impact everyone, including consumers, the big agricultural companies who grow or raise our food or, for that matter, every industry imaginable due to the common human need to eat.
Stern Speakers represents two researchers at the cutting-edge of trends that could soon reshape what we eat and where the food originates. Read more to acquaint yourself with the leading innovators addressing such a fundamental aspect of human life and survival.
MIT researcher Caleb Harper is applying the latest advances in artificial intelligence and computer technology to how we grow fruits and vegetables. While virtually every other industry has been revolutionized by digital technology, agriculture remains constrained by industrial-era economics and geography. Harper’s “food computer” – the subject of his acclaimed TED Talk – uses artificial intelligence to replicate any climate imaginable, from Tuscany to Napa Valley, to grow any kind of vegetable or fruit in a controlled environment. “So they make a recipe. This much CO2, this much O2, this temperature. We create a world in a box,” says Harper. These developments could offset the impact of climate change, for instance, by allowing a crop that is being harmed by drought to be grown in a different place, by artificially recreating its ideal climate.
Meet the New Meat
Human beings have raised and slaughtered animals for meat for tens of thousands of years. While both the human and domesticated animal populations have expanded enormously, the earth’s resources continue to deplete. This presents a dire risk to the meat industry, which will find that it has fewer resources available in years to come to support an ever-growing population of livestock. Isha Datar, executive director of New Harvest and pioneer in cellular agriculture, offers a partial answer to this looming threat. She is devising methods of creating animal parts in labs, which can then be used for human consumption. This is not synthetic meat, but real animal products that are grown independently of living animals. Such a revolution would make meat a more viable option in a world where it will soon become more expensive and less available.
As we wish you a peaceful start to the holiday season and the delicious meals you will be sitting down to enjoy, it’s imperative that you remember that there are vast challenges and opportunities alike in the years ahead when it comes to the future of what we have on our plates. Caleb Harper and Isha Datar offer a new perspective for imagining how we will grow, raise and source our food – and how it will impact not just your dinner but your company and the industry in which you work.