Photos by DigiDaan

Future Food Exhibition

Our Food, Design & Empathy correspondent, Lotte Meeuwissen, visited the new exhibition "Future Food" at the 'NEMO de Studio' in Amsterdam. Questions such as 'What will you be having for breakfast, lunch or dinner in 2050?', 'Where will this food be sourced?', 'And how will it be prepared?' drive this speculative exhibition. Lotte talked to the curator Chloé Rutzerveld about the visitor experience and Chloé's visions of our food future.

Last week I visited the exhibition “Future Food” at the Studio, NEMO’s newest venue “The Studio” at the Marineterrein in Amsterdam. While wandering through the space I got to understand new production techniques for foods of the future and tried my first grasshopper. It was an eye opening experience which made me realize that the use of those supposedly futuristic ingredients in our own kitchens are already more accessible than we might think. I chatted with Chloé Rutzerveld, a Food Futurist and the creative brain behind the exhibition. Her curious mind which is in continuous search for “what’s next?” made Chloé join forces with Next Nature Network. Together with Tanja Koning and graphic designer Sjoerd Koopmans, they created “Future Food” to make us all wonder about new ways of food production and consumption.

How did you start working as a Food Designer? And what is your link with Next Nature Network?

My first food design project was in 2013 at the Technical University Eindhoven in the Next Nature Lab about cultured meat. I created the project “In Vitro Me”, a bioreactor jewel to create personalized cultured meat. This critical design project asks the question; how far are consumers willing to go to continue eating meat in the future? With the project I wondered why would we continue to depend on animal stem cells and asked my audience whether they are willing to create meat from their own (stem)cells and use their body as a production site. My start as Food Futurist is in this way clearly linked to Next Nature Network. After I graduated I started my own food design studio but Koert van Mensvoort remained sort of a coach to me. I became one of their first fellows, and at the moment my project “In Vitro Me” is part of their exhibition Meat the Future. Next to that their editor directed my Food Futures book which I published in 2018, and this year we developed the Future Food Formula 2.0 together.

While viewing the exhibition a lot of new technologies felt more approachable to me. It made me curious to actually try new ingredients such as insects and in vitro meat. With what kind of mindset do you want your audience to leave the exhibition?

The exhibition is about food science and technology. We explain, in a very comprehensible way, how certain systems or production techniques work. We want our audience to gain new perspectives on cultured meat, steak from soy, grass fed milk without the cow, DNA diets, the direct production of nutrients through micro-organisms, indoor farming and functional foods. Next to that I want to inspire my audience to speculate and wonder about the future of food. To do so we show a couple of futuristic food scenarios that question the status quo; why do we still not eat insects? Would we eat them if we develop them into broiler insects; bigger, tastier, more nutritious, without the wings and hard shells like we did with our chickens, cows, pigs? Or would we have ethical issues with that? I believe this is a super interesting discussion. To bring this question to life I created a set of 3 regular insects with their broiler version as one of the more speculative future food scenarios.

Photos by DigiDaan

"I want to make our audience understand how a certain future food is made"

Altogether, I want to make our audience understand how a certain future food is made. I believe where the ingredients come from and what that product could mean for society, is the most important aspect in this question. Because how can people form an opinion about something if they have no idea how it’s made, or how it tastes? I hope after visiting the exhibition people can form an opinion based on facts and knowledge and dream about their weirdest, wildest future food fantasies.

Photo by Chloé Rutzerveld

Photo by Chloé Rutzerveld

Just before stepping into the enormous mouth and entering the exhibition, it asked me the question which future food scenario I preferred. Which food scenario do you expect for the future?

I think more food scenario’s can exist next to each other. However, I do believe we will take the animal entirely out of the equation. We will find plant-based or micro-organism based solutions for all animal products. Next to that, I expect that the functional food industry will expand rapidly. I believe we will start consuming highly personalized food depending on our bio genome. But before this can become a reality we need designers to bring back the sensory experience and pleasure to those personalized foods, because no one enjoys eating powders, bars and shakes for the rest of their lives. That’s why the close collaboration of scientists, food technologists, food industry and designers is highly necessary!

In your installation “Future Food Formula 2.0” you make your audience experiment with ‘growth recipes’. How do you expect this scenario to evolve in the near future? For instance, do you think in the near future books with recipes on home-experimentation with growth recipes will be available for the general public?

The installation is based on actual science, but with a layer of speculation. You can immediately see how a crop responds to light, CO2, temperature, pH etc. If we move to indoor farming and can regulate the growth conditions separately with a so called ‘growth recipe’ you can basically design your own crop. You can make it bigger or smaller, with more nutrients, more dense, slightly morphed or blue instead of red etc. The dream would be that one seed would hold all genetic information to create endless possibilities of different kinds of tomatoes or other crops. The ‘recipe’ to make a cherry tomato, heirloom or regular tomato would indeed be listed in some sort of home-experimentation future cookbook. In this way you can experiment with the recipes inside the kitchen of your own home.

The exhibition mainly addressed themes revolving around the functionality of food. What’s your opinion on the social aspect of food. For you, is food more a practical or a social happening? And how do you see the social side of food evolving in the future?

For me food is both, depending on the situation; my physical and emotional needs, how busy I am, the location, if it’s during the week or on the weekend. Even though in my work I mainly approach food from a functional side and look at the crossover between tech, science and innovation. In my personal life I get a lot of joy out of the social side of food, which makes me realize the importance of it. The past years this social side was never a key in my work, but to integrate new food technologies into society I believe it is a crucial point and something that I want to explore more in the future. At this point the question is how we can get experience, joy and the social aspect of food back when we would all start to eat efficient and functional foods. I believe it is a new eating experience which is in need for new rituals. For instance, when finishing an expo, working 24/7 and travelling a lot in between, I would love to see the concept of a gas station for people. A station where you can scan my fingerprint and a computer would upload my DNA data, while my smart watch uploads the amount of energy I spend during the day, and a perfectly balanced functional shake would come out of the machine. A healthy, personalized power boost to keep me going, perfect! But, at some point this would be boring when eating together with friends or family or on holidays. I would miss real food and delicious veggies and fruits. So as I already mentioned, food designers are definitely needed to create an additional layer of experience (social and sensorial) to compensate the functional foods.

You can visit Future Food between 10 July and 6 October 2019 at The Studio at the Marineterrein in Amsterdam.

This article was written by Lotte Meeuwissen, our Food, Design & Empathy correspondent.