Golden Rice and Glow-In-The-Dark Jello: Imagining the Future of Food Design

How should we make sure that our food is being redesigned for good, rather than just for profit?

Food—the substance itself, as well as its methods of production and consumption—has always been the subject of tinkering and design. The color of carrots, the shape of silverware, and the layout of supermarkets are all products of human ingenuity applied to the business of nourishment.

Today, food is being redesigned more fundamentally and at a faster pace than ever before. This process is taking place in a wide variety of different contexts, with very different goals in mind, from corporate food technologists re-shaping salt crystals to maintain palatability while combating heart disease, to synaesthetic experiences designed by artist-entrepreneurs such as Marije Vogelzang. On the one hand, the Gates Foundation is backing genetically modified "golden rice," engineered to contain higher levels of the essential micronutrient, beta-carotene, while, on the other, design provocateurs Dunne & Raby recently proposed expanding the amount of food available for human consumption through a range of DIY digestive system hacks.

As these examples begin to show, the design of food has the potential to reshape the world, let alone what we eat for dinner. So when the nonprofit The Glass House Conversations asked me to come up with a question that would kickstart a public debate, I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more about who is redesigning our food, how, for whom, and to what end. What are the opportunities and gaps in food R&D today, who is setting the priorities, and what should we be investing in, in order to use food as a tool to design a better future?

Here's the way I tried to sum all of that up on the Glass House Conversations site:

In an era when food justice, food security, climate change, and obesity are such pressing issues, should there be public funding for food design R&D, and, if so, who should be receiving it?


Excitingly, several people have already jumped in with really interesting responses. Foodprint Project co-founder Sarah Rich argues that "food design" needs to be better defined, and perhaps even broken out into different categories, before good decisions about funding priorities can be made. Several commenters point out the risks of public funding—that government's inevitable rigidity and risk aversion will mean that it fails to find and fund the most innovative ideas, for example.

From the UK, Fire & Knives editor-in-chief and Guardian journalist Tim Hayward comes down in favor of public funding for food design R&D as a necessary alternative the "appalling results" of leaving it to market forces, while entrepreneurial synaesthete and jellymonger Sam Bompas argues that food design also requires arts funding, to escape the inevitable pressures of use-value and encourage more radical invention and exploration. Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, industrial designer Carly Hagins thinks money would be better spent on consumer education initiatives; Design Observer blogger Alexandra Lange makes a convincing case for a R&D focus on food delivery systems; and Alphabet City founder John Knechtel blends public and private, advocating a network of "food entrepreneur incubators."

What do you think? From nanotechnology and genetic modification to fruit vending machines and smaller packaging sizes, we have a range of tools at our disposal to rethink food, from agriculture to distribution. Which directions offer the most potential, and how should we make sure that our food is being redesigned for good, rather than just for profit?

You have four more days to add your voice to the conversation here. Jump in!

Images: (1) cake, reformatted by Danklhampel; (2) Save Food From Fridge, by designer Jihyun Ryou; (3) baby carrots, repackaged by Crispin Porter + Bogusky.


Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

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"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.