The promise of a cleaner, cheaper, safer, more abundant food supply has pervaded the discourse around what we eat ever since the advent of the modern era, when a pantry full of frozen, canned, and packaged foods was seen less as an anathema and more as a labor-saving miracle. Yet for some consumers and critics of the contemporary food system, processed foods have not lived up to this promise. In this view, the current food system has resulted in overproduction and waste, an overabundance of cheap calories and a dearth of affordable produce, among other issues. For others, packaged and processed foods are more a boon than a burden: convenient, fast, and sometimes more tasty or nutritious than their more traditional counterparts. Innovations like pre-nixtamalized, pre-ground corn for making tortillas have freed up time for women to join the workforce. Similarly, foods like frozen peas and canned tomatoes can provide a relatively affordable source of variety to diets that would otherwise be lacking during the winter months. Regardless of which end of the food technology spectrum one tends toward, the question becomes: what role should technology play in our future food supply?
Has the industrialization of our food supply been a blessing or a burden? Can food technology be used for good? Has nutrition been bred out of our food? Should we aspire to eat how our great-grandparents ate? What role might design play in envisioning a future of food that is sustainable, equitable, nutritious, and “good” on all counts? Are the industrial and artisanal mutually exclusive, and how might we imagine a new food ethic that incorporates the best elements of both?
This MOFAD Roundtable explored these questions by examining how technology (particularly culinary and food processing technologies) has shaped how we eat over the past century, and how it will influence our diets in the future. As we envision the next 100 years of food, which technologies should we look to for inspiration, and what moral, social, and cultural values should we aspire to incorporate into these technologies?