High Tech Food: Silicon Valley Wants to 3D Print Your Next Meal

3D food printing and other “processed” food innovations.


Until very recently, the relationship between technology and food production, especially when it comes to processed food, has been much maligned. But the emergence of a small group of innovators out of Silicon Valley—backed by major venture capitalists and grants from the likes of NASA—is changing the way we understand processed food by creating sustainable alternatives to some of the hallmarks of our industrial food system.

Several of the food tech startups are tackling the problem of our collective reliance on animal products by creating plant-based “beef,” “poultry,” or “eggs” using advances in food processing. Such companies include Beyond Meat and the (unrelated) Beyond Eggs, each aiming to produce healthy, non-animal-based products that will be seemingly indistinguishable in taste and texture from the real thing. These companies are hoping to follow in the footsteps of the multi-million dollar company UnReal and their Unjunked Candy line (peddled by Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen).
But the most interesting—and perhaps most innovative—of the food tech start-ups are companies that include two-year old Modern Meadow, a Silicon Valley-backed firm using recent breakthroughs in printing technology to create 3D-printed food. That's right—essentially printing what’s on your plate. This seemingly sci-fi Soylent Green is made using the latest in tissue engineering to create cultured muscle cells that are then manufactured, layer by layer, using “bio ink.”
With the help of venture capitalists like Peter Thiel, one of PayPal’s founders, Modern Meadow is working on a beef prototype, as well as leather, using bioprinting, and they plan to test tuna and pork in the future. Because these products use no animals, the carbon footprint, including land use, chemicals, and transport is drastically reduced (next to cars, factory-farmed meat is the biggest global contributor to greenhouse gases). And besides the environmental and health benefits, 3D-printed food is also being heralded as a solution to food shortages.
Similar reasoning and technology is fueling the Texas-based Systems & Materials Research Corporation, which was just awarded a grant from NASA to pioneer food printing for astronauts on missions to Mars. Their 3D prototype so far only prints chocolate, but the company aims to fight hunger with a liquid-based printer that "bakes" (or solidifies) as it prints, eliminating food waste. Pizza, for example, would one day be made with home printers using oil, cheese, bread, and tomato powder “cartridges” that would have long shelf lives and be readily available at your corner store. That would put a whole new spin on your favorite slice.

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Photo (cc) via Flickr user Anthony Albright\n
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