With more than 7 billion people living on earth today and an additional 2.5 billion anticipated by 2050, food demand is rising at an exceedingly fast clip. In a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientists warn that climate change is already affecting our ability to grow food and feed our overflowing population. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put it bluntly: “The heat is on. We must act.”
Our food future may look stark, but scientists and entrepreneurs are teaming up to invent new ways to deliver calories and reduce waste. There’s an exciting burst of innovation and disruption happening in the field of food sciences and sustainability.
Biochemists and culinary chefs at Hampton Creek Foods are collaborating to create plant-based alternatives that taste just like eggs. And after “TechKnow” visited their kitchen-slash-research-lab in San Francisco and witnessed the symphony of scientists, foodies and strategic planners all working together to imagine a more perfect egg — without the chicken — it was even more apparent that interdisciplinary partnerships that incorporate smart tech and sustainable thinking will be changing the way we eat forever.
Here are some other exciting food science developments to keep an eye on.
Smart expiration tags
A team of researchers has developed color-changing smart tags that can tell you how fresh your food is. The labels are small gel-based tabs that stick to containers of food and are programmed to change color based on the expiration cycle of a product. The tabs will start red, switch to orange and yellow — and then, when food goes bad, turn green. (The gel is made of gold nanorods, which naturally start out red and eventually absorb other compounds to change toward green.)
NASA has been looking into 3-D printing to determine if the technology can produce a nutrient-stable food source for crew members in space. Anjan Contractor, a 3-D printing innovator, recently told Quartz that he envisions a world where everyone “feeds themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time.”
Food as fuel
Each year, the average person produces nearly 475 pounds of food waste. About 25 percent of the food in your refrigerator will end up in the trash can. A new kitchen device called the Food Cycler sterilizes, deodorizes and turns food scraps into safe, sterilized compost that can be reused as soil.
With the rise of wearable tech and the dawn of the Internet of things, it’s fitting that a tech startup would engineer a powder designed to deliver all the essential nutrients you need in one 8-ounce glass of water. Enter Soylent, a food substitute that does just that. Inventing food sources that offer essential nutrients in an easy-to-deliver container can be a key lever for fighting global hunger. One of those is Plumpy'nut, an edible paste made of peanuts that's specially formulated to nourish starving children.
Learn about more food science innovations on "TechKnow," Saturday 7ET/4PT.