Future of Food
This project was a collaboration between Ryan LeBreton, Mathura Mahendren, Kristen Webster, and Rachelle Bugeaud (that’s me!).
As foreshadowed by the title of this post, this project provides a window into the future of food, with a thematic focus on the future of mealtime, and an underlying focus on the future of food waste. The future we were anticipating was 27 years away, set in 2045. Faced with a timeline longer than many of us had lived, our joint toolkits of both strategy and foresight methodologies proved useful in unpacking possible futures that might unfold.
Our exploration began with the capturing of signals of change across various sectors that might impact the domain of food waste. As signals amplified one another and patterns appeared, we identified emerging trends and mapped out their direct and indirect impacts on future worlds. To prevent ourselves from falling into the trap of a single future, we built out four plausible but provocative, distinct but comparable scenarios for 2045. These scenarios captured the macro-environment of their worlds and how they came to be, as well as smaller scale narratives describing day-in-the-life stories for particular personas. Lastly, we built out a representational exhibit set in 2045, that provided our audience a window into mealtime in Toronto, assuming a scenario of continued growth.
Our foresight exercises were paired with a those of an organization within the meal-kit industry. The project culminated in a strategic plan for said organization as well as a speculative futures exhibit entitled Trashorite Shimmer.
“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” With William Gibson’s quote in mind, we began the hefty task of imagining possible futures by looking for glimpses of 2045 that might already be embedded in the present. We were looking for tangible, specific evidence of change. To ensure that we were being inclusive in our research, we searched for signals across six domains: Society, Technology, Economy, Environment, Policy and Values. We looked at sources we would not typically frequent, to unearth a diversity of perspectives and mitigate researcher bias. Upon clustering these signals, patterns of trends began to emerge within and across various domains. To truly understand the implications of these trends, we workshopped how each might influence the way we define, relate, connect, create, consume, destroy in the future. This section presents a compilation of the emerging trends and implications, as well as a summary of key insights gleaned from their synthesis.
Some of the identified trends informing this project were:
Foreign agricultural alternatives: North American food producers are leveraging global agricultural techniques to encourage sustainability.
Print-a-meal: 3D printers are gaining the ability to produce tasty and
nutritious food in an efficient manner for use in hospitals, homes,
Agricultural robots: Robots, drones, autonomous vehicles, and artificial intelligence
are working together to take over the jobs of human farmers.
Lab to table: Using new technologies to reimagine both how and where
produce is grown.
Corporate consciousness: Major corporations are being held responsible by environmentally conscious consumers.
Reduce, reuse, recycle: Increasing environmental consciousness and awareness gives
rise to new uses for food waste, leading to the emergence of a circular economy for food.
Sustainable eating: Consumers are moving towards environmentally conscious
eating, made easier as acceptable substitutes for real meat increase.
Dr. Dinner: Increasing awareness and application of the preventative and
healing properties of food.
AI vs. food waste: As our homes and workplaces become smarter, our devices and
gadgets will tell us how much food to grow, how much to buy, and when to consume it, thus reducing food waste.
Residential robots: At home robotized farming may create better indoor air quality
for homes, as well as reduce consumer’s reliance on grocery store varieties.
Smart home, smarter surveillance: Increased use of smart technologies welcomes surveillance into the home.
You, but better: As wearable tech is popularized, the line between human and
machine blurs, giving rise to transhumanism.
Having understood the impacts of trends past, present, and emerging on the meal-kit industry, we chose to widen our focus again to imagine the future of mealtime in 2045. This time, scenarios were our medium of choice. A scenario is considered a tool for building resilience in changing times, a story about what could be, and equally, a provocation to stimulate new thinking. In employing a combination of rigorous scenario generation methods, we developed four distinct, plausible but provocative scenarios for 2045. These scenarios capture the macro-environment of their worlds and how they came to be, as well as smaller-scale narratives describing day-in-the-life stories for particular personas. This broader focus and resulting scenarios yield insights for a range of stakeholders, including mealkit suppliers, restauranteurs, makers of kitchen appliance/furniture, producers of wearable tech, and departments of agriculture.
This is a world in which technology has become intimately integrated into the lives of citizens. Enlightened through experience to the perils of climate change, environmental sustainability has become embedded as a core value within the human psyche. Food is largely viewed as an experience, and transformative technologies enable increasingly conscious citizens to produce and consume food responsibly and sustainably.
This is a world where technology has become transformative and where the overall state of the world’s resources is characterized by single-uses, ultimately resulting in a wasteful society that ships its waste to outer space and inhabits a squandered environment. Food is seen as an experience, with technology enhancing the storytelling ability of food, as well as tech providing heightened tastes and sensations.
This is a future of collapse in the wake of an anti-AI and robotics civil revolution. Civil services are highly monitored and controlled by a crisis-based government. The environment is thriving, since production and major polluters have been halted. Food is produced through self-sustenance agriculture, with major innovations being made in home organization and layouts, and veganism is on the rise out of necessity.
Sky’s the Limit
In this world, technology has been broken down and a new system rebuilt. As a result, society has become very regulated, and the class divide has worsened. A virtual curtain divides nations, and international relations are non-optimal. As a result, food production must be carried out in-country and food is only consumed for sustenance. It has been genetically modified to enable growth in various conditions and is concentrated with nutrients so people eat less.
Trashorite Shimmer: A speculative futures exhibit
As the final module of our exploration, we drew on Designed Futures methodology to develop one of our scenarios - Trashorite Shimmer - beyond its literary format. We chose to create a representational exhibit, with the intention of providing our audience with a more visceral and holistic understanding of the risks and opportunities inherent in this future. We sought to use full sensorial engagement - including touch, sound, smell, and taste - to enhance the audience’s experience of the scenario. By assigning each audience member a stakeholder persona with a strategic interest in the future of meal-time, we were able to elicit a wide range of perspectives on the perceived risks and opportunities represented through the various artefacts.
Camilla is nudged out of her sleep by the sound of an autonomous drone delivery, just as her 5th sleep cycle comes to a close. She takes a deep breath, inhaling the scent of citrus and her light self-adjusts its brightness as she opens her curtains. Her mirror reflects back not only her face, but also her entire body - a compilation of biometric data that her bed sheets have gathered overnight as she slept. She inserts her AR contact lenses that having been charging overnight and tunes into the steady stream of messages that flood in. She smiles as she notices the daily morning concoction that Jeb, her AI housekeeper has prepared for her and left by her bedside. Camilla’s mother calls Jeb the “Mrs. Doubtfire” of the 21st century. Today’s tarte citrusy concoction must mean that her Vitamin C levels had shown up as particularly low.
With the smart counter, the plant’s hydration levels are displayed, ultimately increasing the lifespan of your green friends.
Self-adjusts based on the time of day, presence of people, and amount of natural light in the room. Can also be adjusted manually.
Notifies Camilla of the time and weather, as well as more personalized details like appointments, to-do’s, and biometric information.
Daily morning fortified beverage that has been prepared to match any deficiencies sensed in Camilla’s biometric data.
Multi-purpose digital surface that can charge devices, sense objects, and well, hold things.
AR Contact Lenses
The personal digital assistant that Camilla never needed.
This is Camilla’s canvas as she sets out to prepare her family’s meals for the week ahead. She has received her latest edition of Accentˆ, her weekly healthy living supply kit. It includes lab grown meats that she must incubate for the week ahead and caffeine poppers for the weekends she works late at the restaurants. Camilla is most excited to start planting, harvesting and cooking with the new collection of seeds that she has ordered from Accent^. NEMA investors had sponsored a global research trip during which Camilla had first tasted the feijoa fruit in Uruguay and bambara nuts in Mali, and these genetically modified seeds would allow her to grow these once-exotic fruits in her home and restaurant greenhouses. As she works, she munches on some fruit that she had printed before starting and catches to the day’s highlights on her favourite newsblast. As she cleans up and slides the remaining waste into the Home Refuse System, she remembers that she needs to update it to a more efficient software. Her annual trash bill that she had received this morning had caught her completely off guard!
Home Refuse System
Sorts and packages waste into compacted, colour-coded packages. Final destination: outer space.
3D Printed Fruit
Fresh fruit with a long shelf-life, printed right at home.
Selection of proteins for incubation.
3D Printer Goo
With a printer right at home, the only supplies you need for a healthy, tasty meal are cartridges of Printer Goo.
Accent Supplies Box
Weekly kit that includes the latest, trending AR artistry and lab-created ingredients. Includes seeds, caffeine “poppers”.
Interactive countertops and backsplashes display recipes and cooking instructions.
With her husband travelling for work and her kids fast asleep, Camilla’s desk is a snapshot of her happy place. As she works through planning and designing NEMA’s spring menu, she snacks on the Venus Fly Trap Brownie that she had concocted at work today. “Spice with a bite!”, she’d caption it. Perhaps a smidge too spicy though, she thinks as she washes it down with sip of Almond Mylk. Maybe the Anti-Bee Bot protesters had a point - this naturally pollinated almond milk was definitely less sweet than its Bee-Bot pollinated predecessor that the protesters had driven out of business.
Off to the side of her desk lies the mail she has brought in but has yet to look through.
Includes Camilla’s monthly trash bill, citizens and businesses are charged per kilogram of trash produced. Yes, spam mail is still a thing.
With adjustable brightness settings, accessible via the smart desk.
BeeBot Free Almond Milk
Naturally pollinated almond milk is making a comeback.
Collapsible Shopping Basket
Fully collapsible shopping basket from NEMA, the restaurant where Camilla works as a Master Food Experience Designer.
Camilla is enjoying a Venus FlyTrap Brownie and a deconstructed cheesecake.
Interactive countertop where Camilla is working on her restaurant’s new menu.
Here’s a little behind the scenes of the making of the Trashorite Shimmer exhibition pieces.