2016

The influence of technology on daily rituals: How far would you go?

As the "slow food" movement takes hold, tech may be the key to making food production and consumption more convenient and sustainable.
When you think back to 10, even five years ago, food “trends” and habits were very different. In those days, supermarket aisles and café menus seemed to make sense; perhaps a fancy sour dough bread or a soya product here and there, but generally food was quite simple… let’s say, recognizable. But these days we’re faced with unpronounceable super grains, mystery green powders, activated almonds (whatever that means) and vegan everything! That’s because, well… welcome to the food conscious future. 

Consumers are experimenting with alternative eating styles. In 2014, one-third of adults tried a specialty regimen.

Institute of Food Technologists

We’ve well and truly entered an era where, thanks to the dominance of trendy super foods, the rise of the vegan army and reality cooking shows, we’re experiencing a complete turning of the tables. Societies are shunning chain restaurants and processed or fast foods, instead opting for organic farmers’ markets and sophisticated culinary journeys that are all about nutrition and control.

But with this “slow food” movement has come greater expectations, which can’t always be met under our current food processes and easily available options. So as we launch further into a future of food awareness, how much are we willing to let go of certain habits and rituals to allow technology to help us really take control of what we eat?

If we look at the stats, according to Innova Market Insights’ Top Ten Trends for 2016, “Many consumers don’t actually need products that are free from gluten, wheat and dairy, but are demanding them anyway as they believe them to be healthier.” The US Department of Health and Human Services states that “4.1 million kids under the age of 17 suffer from true food allergies.” And, the Institute of Food Technologists recently reported: “Consumers are experimenting with alternative eating styles. In 2014, one-third of adults tried a specialty regimen.”

Looking at where tech can fit in amongst these trends, we’ve already seen products such as kitchen scales that weigh your food, while at the same time send its nutritional information to an app; smart microwaves that read recipes out loud and recommend which food you should cook based on your nutritional requirements; and robots that can do the cooking for you, perfectly following recipes thanks to new wearable and 3D motion capture technology.

But despite the possibilities, these tech advancements may never really take off. Our user research reveals that especially for family caregivers, the thought of turning to tech raises some concerns. By giving away some of the cooking responsibilities, they worry their role will seem less relevant. Many also fear that their culinary identity and heritage will be lost. But instead of viewing tech as threat, think of these innovations as enhancements, not replacements: the key, perhaps, to making food production and consumption more convenient and sustainable.

You could still cook from scratch when you wanted, and ensure you uphold family traditions, but now you would have more options to meet your nutritional needs and time constraints. If you have special dietary requirements, imagine if meals and snacks could be especially made by new sophisticated technologies to take with you on the go. It would be 100% personalized. What if hospitals could use this technology to create food that is nutritional, easily digestible and tastes as good as food you would get in a restaurant?  Maybe the result wouldn’t look exactly the same; for instance, if your food is being made into a meal or a snack using technology, then maybe liquids would be semi-set – something I’ve actually seen in fancy restaurants made by top chefs (yes, semi-set tomato water with a drizzle of basil oil exists).

So, how about it: Would you embrace this food future? If you could trust that it would taste good, it was healthy and nutritious, what would hold you back? 

Images: Moley Robotics prototype video presentation