The Future of Food May Look Different Than You Think

If we had a dollar for every time we heard food companies talk about the “future of food” and how they’re creating it, we could buy a lot of Peanut-Free Spread. These days, it seems like every innovative food and beverage brand has staked their claim on defining the future of what — and how — we eat.

It’s clear why the industry is so focused on shaping what’s to come: where we’ve been and where we are currently aren’t exactly working. From changes in climate that affect growing conditions and stability of key crops to unfair and unjust working conditions in producing the foods we know and love, our food system is in need of some serious adjustments for the better. But in focusing so much on where we’re headed, it feels like we’ve lost some of that connection to how we got here in the first place and how we can carry that history of what we eat into the future.

Current Projections: Living in a Simulation

Companies that champion the use of novel food technology more often than not lean into the aesthetics and perceived excitement around new kinds of foods made in new kinds of ways. And for a segment of consumers, namely Gen Z, this undoubtedly carries some weight. It probably comes as little surprise that findings from the Food Tech Consumer Perception study indicate that Gen Z consumers are among the most likely to try and adopt food grown using technology (77% of respondents), with Gen X and Baby Boomers on the other end of the spectrum (58% of respondents in each category). So while among younger demographics there is a stronger willingness to try food produced using technology, among all groups there is a considerable amount of consumers who are apprehensive at best. Why is that?

While food produced using technology has come a long way in recent years, the emphasis has been skewed strongly towards the technology—and less on the food. And for most consumers, those two ideas don’t exactly go together like peanut butter and jelly. Technology, at its core, is meant to be empowering and connect us in new and exciting ways. But when it comes to food, technology can feel cold and foreign, going against our beliefs and preferences around what and how we eat. And lately, it seems like more and more food technology companies are playing into that tech-forward approach. Case in point? Simulate. We could infer a lot about the plant-based chicken nugget producer from their name alone, but stepping even deeper into their futuristic messaging sheds some light on how some brands are pushing the envelope on their technological approach—and how some may be taking it too far. For example, here are some of Simulate’s key claims around their “most advanced chicken nugget on the planet.”

  • Kills You Slower
  • Secret Formula
  • Tech Specs
  • New 2.1 Software
  • A More Advanced Taste
  • Engineered with a Proprietary Extrusion Cooking Method

We’d venture a guess that those descriptions don’t exactly make your mouth water. Just because we use technology to produce food in new ways doesn’t mean we have to lose the more subjective connection we have to what we eat. Because let’s be honest, nobody wants to think about their food killing them (even if it is slower than the alternative), wonder what mysterious ingredients go into its “secret” recipe, or knowing that our favorite foods got a software upgrade no different than our favorite apps.

Future-Proofed, Not Futuristic

We know that there is an urgent need for changes within our food system, and that those changes will be fueled by new modes and methods of technology. But for many of us, the idea of technology playing a key role in the creation of our food is something we need some time to warm up to. Yet so much of the messaging we see around food innovation throws us into the deep end, so to speak.

None of us are too fond of the idea that our food was concocted in a lab with ingredients we can’t pronounce and through processes you’d likely need a degree in chemistry to understand. At the end of the day, we all want to feel connected to what we eat. We create rituals, pass on traditions, and get to know one another — all through the food we put on the table. Even in the face of inevitable changes to what we eat, we can’t afford to lose all that.

As humans, we crave connection and understanding—and that extends to what we eat. We want to know that even if technology played a role in creating the new versions of foods we love, we aren’t losing everything we cherish about those of the past. Focusing solely on the future of food can burn the bridges that connect it to the past, and more importantly, keep people from crossing that bridge in the first place. It’s no secret that we love technology and the advancements it can offer, but we need balance. We need to know that we can still enjoy our favorite foods in ways reminiscent of how we always have.

So, no simulated food with secret inputs made here. Just real food, made from real ingredients, that reminds you of the food you grew up with—and can take proudly into the future.

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