Synthetic Food: Why Bother?
Today’s article is about Synthetic Food. No, I don’t mean food with artificial ingredients. I mean food that’s 100% artificial. I mean food that’s literally produced in a factory (and originally developed in a lab). I mean food that has never seen a field. I mean food that was never alive at any point.
What’s so hot about Synthetic Food? Well…
Ethics. Some people are concerned about the treatment of animals and/or the environmental cost of meat production. Artificially produced meat promises to address both of these issues.
Food supply. Food production depends on numerous factors like the weather, soil quality, availability of arable land, etc… Synthetic food eliminates these dependencies and hence is more reliable. Imagine poorer countries not having to worry about famines due to droughts.
Nutrition. Currently, we try to get our nutritional needs by eating a variety of foods. This is another way of saying we don’t know what we need and are playing the odds. With synthetic food, the nutritional profiles of our foods can be made complete so that anything we eat, from a dessert to a meal can offer a complete nutritional profile.
Dieting. Currently, dieters have to watch their food intake. With synthetic foods, tasty foods with no calories can be produced. This promises to do for food what artificial sweeteners did for diet sodas.
Two Big Challenges
Perception. Many people still have a knee-jerk reaction to artificial products, not realizing that our standard of living is thanks to these products. Medicine, communication, transportation, etc… are not natural. Unfortunately, this kind of resistance can hinder the funding and adoption of synthetic foods. Yes, there have been (and will continue to be) mistakes, but the gains have dramatically outweighed the mistakes.
Knowledge. Synthetic foods that are superior to natural ones are theoretically possible. After all, nutrients are just chemicals, so why can’t we manufacture them? The key is knowing everything the human body needs; do we know this? Further research may be necessary.
Steps in the Right Direction
A Nutritionally Complete Food created as a space experiment in 1965. It wasn’t tasty, but it did do the job. Given how long ago that was, should show that we are up to the challenge.
Speaking of appetizing, how about synthetic gourmet dish?
Finally, for further reading, you can try Magnus Pyke’s Synthetic Food. It’s an older book and a rather dry read…
Many people bemoan the long list of chemicals in our food, but I wonder if the problem is that we don’t have MORE chemicals? Part of the shelf life, cost and availability of food is thanks to these chemicals. For all that can be said about our artificially produced foods, a good deal of the world has better access to food than at any point in the past. Say what you will about obesity, but the fact that the poor (in industrialized nations at least) are generally MORE obese is a dramatic improvement over the past where they simply starved.
People are industrious; they invent and they mass produce, so why not take that to the production of food? Maybe this increasing list of chemicals will continue to grow until all traces of natural ingredients vanish in our foods. Will that be so bad?
1. Would you eat synthetic food?
2. Are there any types of foods whose synthetic equivalents you wouldn’t eat?
3. What concerns (if any) do you have about synthetic or artificial foods?