There’s a neat article in the Guardian today about designing new foods with genetic engineering and biotechnology.
Food, science, and design are intertwined from how we grow our food to how we eat it, from microwavable dinners to three-star molecular gastronomy at El Bulli. Designers like Oron Catts and James King who explore the possible future of synthetic biology and biotechnology present new ways of thinking about producing and shaping new foods like in vitro meat.
Although the work of designers such as Catts and King is speculative, it raises interesting questions about the future role of designers in the food industry. Traditionally their role has simply been to package the food, to make consumables more desirable, to make it stand out on the shelf. Scientists believe that another decade of research is needed before in-vitro meat becomes commercially viable, but it raises the idea of a new role for the designer: not just packaging what we eat, but designing it.
What role will scientists and designers play in creating new foods and producing old ones in the future? Will we be able to grow cruelty-free, sustainable, cost-effective, and still tasty meat in vats? Will we all have genetically engineered, customized vegetables growing in our gardens, as my iGEM team envisions? Can food designers help fix Americans’ pathological relationship to food? And at a more fundamental and much more pressing level, will we be able to figure out how to distribute food more fairly, to grow food in a changing climate, to use less water, less fertilizer, less pesticide? These questions are only going to become more important in the future, further connecting our food to our science in hopefully a thoughtful, fair, and well-designed way.