3D printed food – would you eat it?

If someone told you they had the next “super food”, one which would provide you with all the nutrients and vitamins you needed, one that tasted good and was appealing to the eye, would you eat it? What if then they told you that they had printed it? That the food was purchased from a company that made food in their lab to a specific recipe to ensure that it was perfectly balanced with everything you need to survive without excess sugar, fat and other “nasties”. That it came in a number of different colours and flavours , all natural of course, but other than that it was essentially the same. That it came with serving suggestions, these weren’t your usual serving instructions, more a design that you would plug into your printer to make it aesthetically pleasing.

Sounds a bit far fetched, doesn’t it? But there are a number of researchers that think that this day isn’t far away. Some of them at Massey University here in NZ. So while you initially go ewww yuck, you may find yourself tucking into a printed food item sometime in your life time. It would take some time to become common place but there is a possibility that it will be the only type of food that your grandchildren’s grandchildren know.

As all food moved to being created in a lab it would change the way that we lived. It could potentially remove the housing crisis in NZ, there wouldn’t be any need to have land for farming or crops. These would now all be created in a lab and that would take up less space than historical food production.

There are a number of benefits to this of course, it could drastically reduce our obesity problem. People would no longer have the option to reach for a sugar laden item of junk food – they could get something that looked and tasted like their preferred junk food, but it would be healthy and good for them. Fast food outlets would still exist, but again the food that they are printing would be healthy – they would just be fast food outlets for the fact that they had a faster printer than you did at home, that you could still get food while out and about rather than having to go home for lunch or bring a packed lunch with you.

However, there is a risk that once you get that sort of saturation it is difficult to come back to normal food production. There is a risk that “normal” food production will become so expensive that it will become the realm of the wealthy 1%, in a similar way to how organic food has become. It used to be common for all food to be organically grown, it just didn’t have a name, and then when pesticides etc became common place producers were able to command a premium for food just because it was organically grown.

While this technology is often promoted as a way of providing good quality food to those in developing nations, to people in disaster areas and to those who need it most there is a real risk that this becomes corporatized. That they get us used to this type of food and then the price goes up so much that it is out of reach of a small number of people in the economy. The people that may have grown veges in the backyard in the past as a way to survive on a low income.
So while this idea has some merits it also has some risks. Maybe we are best to leave this technology for printing confectionaries and for amusement and entertainment value rather than pushing to print all our food.

What do you think?

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