At SXSW, we were excited to watch the panel discussion on the Future of Agriculture and Eating. The panel featured some of the most prominent thinkers and technologists involved in what is now widely being called “The Fourth Agricultural Revolution.” From robotic advancements in field-based agricultural production, to lab-based enhancements to cultured meats and similar proteins and even biologically-integrated tracking devices for monitoring our intake of sugars, fats and other nutrients, the tech revolution is coming for our food. Bringing a diverse background of experience and specialization in the agricultural, food service and technology industries, the panel at SXSW broke down some of the most important ideas and insights currently captivating investors and customers alike in the food industry.
Lab-Grown Meat and Cultured Proteins
Anyone who’s paid attention to the environmental movement in the last two decades has seen how much attention has been (rightly) focused on the contributions of the global meat industry to the continued production of greenhouse gases. Methane from cows is a much more potent contributor to warming than Carbon Dioxide, and the amount of land and energy it takes to raise them is just overwhelming. Finding a better way to produce meat - or something like it - for human consumption has been an important and central challenge of the Fourth Agricultural Revolution.
Panelist Max Elder, of the Food Futures Lab and Institute for the Future, has written extensively on the subject of cultured meats, and ways to integrate them into a more sustainable, and responsible food system. Many of the panelists in fact pointed out that, without changes to production and distribution methods, the total energy inputs needed for the food system will more than double by 2030. It’s clear that new technological solutions to protein production will need to be integrated into the food supply chain in the future. And new startups like Co-oking, the culinary coworking space currently growing up at Start it, can provide the kind of kitchen space that new culinary entrepreneurs will need to create the dishes of the future with the ingredients of the future!
Nutrition science and food science have known for a very long time, and have been telling us, that the amounts of different macronutrients and micronutrients that we eat have big effects on our health and well-being. More cholesterol can lead to blood pressure problems, more sugar can bring on diabetes.
But even with advances in food packaging and labeling over the last several decades, many people are still confused about what kinds of foods contain what, and how much of what they’re ingesting when they eat. Well, with new technologies coming out of university labs, and wireless connections to phone apps, we will all soon be able to get a much more detailed and accurate picture of what we’re eating at any time. Some are sensors that you can swallow and help you monitor your gastrointestinal health, others are like this small 2mm x 2mm sensor that attaches imperceptibly to your teeth and monitors your glucose intake. And there’s more technology like this on the way! As sensors get even smaller and more accurate, they’re getting integrated into all steps of the food-cycle, from planting to eating. At Start it @KBC, companies like Mealhero, who provide ready-to cook meals for busy professionals are integrating their service with nutritional quantification, and staying ahead of this important technological and health trend! You are what you eat, and now you’ll know what that is.
Home on the Farm, Downtown
Almost all the land on earth that’s suitable for agricultural production is already in use, much of for centuries. But the global population is still expanding, and on track to reach 9 billion by the middle of the century. Where will we find the space to grow all the food we need for these additional people?
It might seem a little counter-intuitive, but according to our panel at SXSW, much of may come from right downtown in major cities. Vertical farming, as it’s called, has been discussed for years, but owing to new technological advances, is getting “ready for prime time,” and deployment. According to panelist Robyn Metcalfe, of Food+City, major metropolitan areas in the 21st century are going to start relying more on themselves for some kinds of foodstuffs. In fact, new technologies coming on-market soon with high-intensity, low-power lights have the potential to make hydroponic vertical agriculture in major cities a reality within the next decade. And for a lot of specific foods, where the major component of price is transport, this can really help out the foodservice industry with cost control, a place where Start it @KBC’s own Foodcost is already shining
People are always going to need to eat. But if we’re going to be eating better, healthier and more sustainably in the future, both for ourselves, and for the planet and environment, then technology is going to have to be part of the picture. This Fourth Agricultural Revolution we’re experiencing right now is going to reshape every aspect of our food, from where it comes from, to how it gets to us, and how we manage our own eating habits. The panel was very excited about these changes, and they certainly hold out the possibility of major improvements in health and sustainability. For entrepreneurs out there, it looks like the sky is the limit for getting involved in food technology! Hold on for the next few years, because it looks like a lot is around the corner!