With the world population on course to reach nine billion by the middle of the century, entrepreneurs need to come up with ways of making food cheaper, more abundant and more delicious before we run out of time. Fortunately, it appears that technology will once again thwart the predictions of Malthus and provide us with more than enough of the food that people want to satisfy their needs. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that technology is impacting the food and food preparation industries.
Instant Food Startups
Sustainable nutrition isn’t just about producing more food, but the kind of food that will benefit people’s health. Currently, we’re on a collision course for disaster, with high-fat, high-sugar Western diets leading to costly and debilitating chronic diseases in old age.
But that’s all changing. There are a growing number of startups trying to get around one of the main issues that stand in the way of people eating healthy: all the preparation involved. People don’t want to spend their evenings chopping food and stirring saucepans: they just don’t have the time or energy. So now companies are looking at ways of using straining and freeze drying methods to offer customers instant meals. Whole plant food gets placed on a stainless steel mesh and then dried out, put into packets that consumers can then rehydrate quickly if they need a meal.
Many snack companies also use dehydration to create products that people can pop in their mouths instantly, like dehydrated mango chunks: no chopping required.
In years to come, it’s likely that commentators will regard hydroponics as prototypical vertical farms. Hydroponics already enjoy considerable success on a small scale, providing flashy restaurant kitchens and schools with instant access to herbs and greens, direct from the plant. But in the coming years, the technology looks set to take off, with electronics companies like Philips developing specific LED bulbs that emit light in the perfect wavelengths for plants to photosynthesize. Over time, hydroponics may provide the basis for new kinds of farming that bring production inside, taking the pressure off natural ecosystems and rewilding land.
Food Waste Tracking
Food waste is a big problem. Estimates from the USDA suggest that around 40 percent of the food that American buy in the store goes to waste. Efforts are being made, thanks to tools like social media, to raise awareness about food waste and put it to good use.
Campaigners, however, need to be careful that they don’t create adverse incentives. We need to be able to put the food to good use, but we don’t want people gaming the system to get free food or fodder for their livestock.
Drone farms sound pretty futuristic – and they are. The hope is that farmers can use to take the labor out of managing crops. Drones equipped with cameras can scan crops for potential issues and deliver targeted doses of herbicide to unrecognized plants, avoiding the current blanket approach. Eventually, farmers could use drones to replace some manual labor.