Futuring a Synthesized Food Revolution

There have been many different fictional depictions of synthesized foods. In a world where environmental conditions seem to be pressuring society to rethink the way we live, food has often been a discussion when it comes to alternative ways to satiate our appetites with non-tradition methods of preparing food. From television and movies to children’s books, there have been many examples of synthesized food thinking.

In the television series “Star Trek”, the show portrayed a technology called the replicator, a machine, or more specifically described as a molecular synthesizer and protein sequencer, capable of creating (and recycling) objects. Replicators were originally seen used to synthesize meals on demand, creating any type of food or beverage on command, but in later series they took on many other uses.

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Roald Daul introduced the idea of a three-course meal all packed into a single piece of gum in his book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, 1964. Soup, roast beef, a baked potato and blueberry pie and crème have all been synthesized into a single bit.

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“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” took alternative food sources to a whole new level. An American children’s book written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett, the book details a bedtime story narrated by a grandfather to his grandchildren, describing the daily lives of citizens who live in a town that is characterized by its strange daily meteorological pattern. This provides the townsfolk with all of their required daily meals by raining food. Although the residents of the town enjoy a lifestyle devoid of any grocery shopping or cookery, the weather unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse, devastating the local community with destructive storms of either unpleasant or dangerously oversized foods. What was once a idealistic vision of food consumption soon becomes a nightmarish circumstance of taking what the citizens had for granted.

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Soylent Green is definitely the most “dystopic” and pessimistic view of where alternative food production could go. The film portrays the future, ironically the year 2000, as a dystopian future suffering from pollution, over-pollution, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and year-round humidity due to the greenhouse effect. Much of the population survives on processed food rations, including “soylent green”. In the end of the film, the main character discovers that soylent green, the ubiquitous and ambiguous patty replacing all other food sources, is in fact people. I would like you, the reader, to imagine what sorts of food technologies could exist to replace “eating people” if we were living in a world similar to the movie’s conditions in the year 2100?

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In the design field, it’s well known that engaging the consumer in a ritual can enhance a product experience. The designer can add indulgence through ritual rather than adding more sugar, salt, and fat. Former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler says that many of the foods created by large food companies today are designed to be irresistible, to provide ideal sensory pleasure through visual appeal, aroma, taste and flavor, texture, and mouth feel to entice consumers to keep coming back for more.”

It has been documented that if a snack contains a variety of contrasting but complementary ingredients, we are likely to consume more of that food. In the case of junk foods, this is a bad thing. However, by combining different healthy foods that Americans don’t get enough of, like fruits and vegetables, into one snack, there is an opportunity to increase their intake. Visualizing taste and nutrition matters the most.

Another opportunity for designers to influence people’s eating habits are through nudges. A “Nudge” is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic options. Nudging can attract our attention and alter our decisions. People have the ability to respond to nudging, whether that is to respond to the nudge or choose to ignore it.For most of us, self-control issues arise because we underestimate the effect of arousal. How can we promote investment goods (eating healthy, exercising, etc.) and discourage sinful goods (junk food, smoking, drinking alcohol, etc.)?

How can these sociological and design approaches be used to make food technology approachable, nutritious and promote investment goods? In the next upcoming slides, I will pose a series of images and questions of where design and technology could go to address many of the societal issues we currently have with the way we consume and manufacture/farm food, and how they could be altered in a synthesized food revolution.


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What if 3D printing became so advanced that we could print fruits and vegetables? Organic, healthy, nutritional food could be printed for the same cost as a donut or cookie. Designers could use the advance in technology to make healthy options as desirable as possible, mix and matching textures, colors, etc. How would our landscape look if a big mac cost the same as a delicious, seasonal cob salad?

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What if farms, slaughterhouses and excessive agriculture was replaced by food printing labs?

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What if 3D printing technology was so advanced that we could print food architecture the same way current companies in China 3D print concrete houses? You could live in a home made completely of cheese, which would provide meals and over time disintegrate and be completely removed from its space, leaving the land to be rebuilt upon instead of demolishing brick and steel structures.

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It may seem really foreign and uncomfortable to eat genome sequenced, artificially printed foods that is societally accepted, but is it any stranger than the artificial and synthesized foods we already seemingly consume without fear? A Twinkie will take centuries to decompose, a famous example of food that isn’t actually “real food”.


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There is a lack of transparency and trust when consuming food. Often times, it seems that when eating processed foods, ignorance is bliss. Could food technology take advantage and change this approach to eating, or would it become even more heightened?


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If we could print all of our meat, then there would be no need to farm livestock, which in turn would reduce CO2 emissions substantially. “Soylent Green is people!” isn’t so farfetched when humans are already consuming bio-augmented, penicillin injected fattened, featherless chickens and are being fed cows that were fed remnants of other cows during the mad cow disease outbreak.

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Printing food that looks desirable and delicious, but is actually nutritious and healthy could help rid the world, particularly the United States, of the obesity epidemic. Instead of going to a fast food chain because that is the only affordable option for a lower class family, you could now print an kind of vegetable for the same price.

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Printers could come into the average household, replacing the kitchen and ushering a new movement away from the stereotypical, stay at home mother.

These may seem like farfetched, unapproachable questions and situations, but with the amount of ambiguous food already out there in people’s daily lives, this may be the solution to combat a lack of transparency in the food market. If the world’s over consumption and production rate continue to balloon, leading to devastating environmental impact, bioengineered animals raised to be slaughtered, and larger cost disparity between junk food and “organic” food, then perhaps considering a synthesized, artificial food future may not seem like such a horrendous idea.



“How Design Can Help Kids Eat Their Broccoli”, Joey Zeledon, Smart Design, February 17, 2015 : http://smartdesignworldwide.com/news/food-product-design-how-design-can-help-kids-eat-their-broccoli/

“The Dystopian Future of Food: How Close will Reality be to Science Fiction?”, Alice Barsky,  https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2015/10/the-dystopian-future-of-food-how-close-will-realit.html

“Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness”, Thaler, Richard H.,(Introduction + chapters 1-5), February 24, 2009.

“Star Trek Replicator”,  Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyMYKWIAR5s


Cambridge Lecture Response

I agree with Damien when he said, “There are certain people that have very little presence and consideration in design education. Workers are entirely marginalized in practically every design program in the country.” The faculty and curriculum in Industrial Design are not teaching us to address these social issues, but rather unconsciously teaching us to continue to feed it. So much of design and projects students are working on in the ID department right now is discursive design, design or presentations meant to start a conversation. I think this is a start towards students/millennial taking notice of the environmental impacts of their work, but it isn’t enough, and I don’t think it’s the faculty or curriculum that is driving it. I think it is in many ways a response to the lack of effort to minimize our waste. In order for more students to make better and more informed projects, instead of creating solutions to problems that don’t exist, more of the curriculum needs to be aimed at addressing the environmental and social problems addressed by Damien. This illusion of permanence and path of self-destruction, the “ecologically uneven exchange and displacement of design”, seems to be an accepted reality, with talk of colonizing on mars as a completely reasonable discussion, while globalizing social housing seems ludicrous.

The Rise of Capitalist Consumer-Topia

The Development of the Machine Age in the 1920s fed a consumerism trend that permeated America’s culture, sparking the Industrial Revolution’s rapid growth and obsession with speed and efficiency. Donna Goodman’s A History of the Future: “The Machine Age in America” details the history of design and manufacturing that has led to a Capitalist Consumer-topia in our society. The new heights of mass production has left some wondering if industrial design is an industry that we should seriously fear. With groundbreaking innovations, such as Henry Ford’s assembly line igniting the beast that is now the current rise of planned obsolete design, designers must shift their thinking from a consumerist mindset to a focus on social innovation and open sourcing knowledge.

In his book “Design for the Real World”, Victor Papenek prefaces saying, “There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them.” He continues by saying, “And possibly only one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care, is probably the phoniest field in existence today. Industrial design, by concocting the tawdry idiocies hawked by advertisers, comes a close second.” This is Papenek’s commentary on what has become of capitalist consumerism that drives current product design. Papenek believes we must design within a social context, and that design should make a conscious effort to create meaningful order.

The rise of capitalism is moving consumers to be drawn into design and redesign of areas previously free from commodification. In a society where money is the self-constituting value of all things, the drive to manufacture and mass-produce anything and everything increased exponentially during the Industrial Revolution. This formed heightened competition and the need to add value to more products. Planned obsolescence, such as the current obsession to constantly need to update your apple phones and computers, plus having to often fix their expensive components, and Consumer Engineering, the enthusiastic encouragement of wasteful consumption, are forms of hyper-commodification that at the core, will continue to redesign to be ahead of the next trend.

“In Design and Consume to Utopia: Where Industrial Design Went Wrong”, Tara Andrews addresses Consumer Engineering, describing it as a strategy to increase consumption for depression recovery, as a sort of economic backdrop to the rise of the industrial designer. The goal is to have any plan to stimulate the consumption of goods. The principal works in theory when the economy is in need of economic stimulus, but industrial design has been so heavily implicated in the current crisis of ‘ over-consumption that Andrews puts it as, “the moment industrial design came into being is when ‘ the artist entered the factory ’.”

Some say the machine age has ruined humanities ability to create. William Morris was a huge proponent of human craft, and was one of the leaders of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a rebellion against the machine. Ivan Illich, an Australian philosopher, talks about the role of machine versus human in chapter 2 of his book, Tools For Creativity. Illich says that the machine was designed to replace slaves, but in fact, machines enslave men. Instead of using the technology to make the most of the energy and imagination we have as individuals, all that energy goes into developing the next well-programmed machine. What the assembly line and automation of production have replaced is the intrinsic social relationship people have with tools. Illich claims that people have become so focused on the race to output products that industrial tools and processes have denied humans the possibility of enriching their own environments with his/her own vision.

Several key events and innovations occurred in the early 1900s that has lead to the way we produce and manufacture products today. Goodman articulates several key innovations and designers that had an influential part in shaping the rise of industrial design as a profession.

The development of electricity was a major catalyst of the Industrial Revolution. The system of electricity (light bulb, power supply, socket, switches, wires, fuses, etc.), invented by Thomas Edison, was first created in 1879, and provided the power to illuminate cities at night and power new subway systems. However, the invention of electricity was not fully utilized and implemented until the U.S. government brought electricity to homes of the average consumer in the mid 1900s. In 1910, only 10 percent of homes had electricity; 90 percent of the nation’s households had electricity by 1940.

Electrification led to the invention of many new products, such as refrigerators, washing machines, manufacturing systems, etc. By the 1920s, the beginnings of mass production, mass advertising and mass communications had begun, and in turn the rise of industrial design as a profession. And no other product symbolizes the momentum of design as a profession more than Henry Ford’s Model T.


Henry Ford’s Model T.

Henry Ford designed the Model T automobile on the premise that everyone should be able to buy, own and drive their own car. After witnessing an assembly line at a meat-packing factory, he applied the same principals and system to building his automobiles. The assembly line reduced the amount of time to put a car together from 12.5 hours to 1.5 hours, significantly lowering the price. The division of labor increased efficiency beyond even Ford expected. In 1914, Ford raised the wages of his workers from $2.34 to $5 per day, which allowed his workers the earn enough to buy a car of their own, and in turn stimulate the economy.

The rise of Fordism and the efficiency of the assembly line.

Ford’s iconic assembly line system was challenged by General Motors in the 1920s. Henry Earl, GM’s industrial designer, designed several different automobiles for several different types of consumers, in several different colors. Earl was also able to design the cars so that they were all made of the same parts, keeping cost and labor low. This competitive design forced other manufactures to diversify their lines and generate products for a variety of different consumers, not realizing that this competition to iterate was the start of an endless cycle to feed over-consumptive habits to the public.

In the 1920s and 1930s, American industrial designers transformed the boxy silhouettes of early vehicles into sleek, streamlined forms, using dynamic curves to imply speed and movement. This style later on was also applied to other products, such as clocks and radios. This became the time of sleek, seductive, glamorous products that expressed America’s obsession with speed and efficiency, the desire to produce more and more at a faster rate. Streamlined design captured the public’s interest as a symbol of an era of progress.

In the late twenties, designers became more aware of the need to promote aesthetes into products. Raymond Loewy looked to establish design as an added value to products. On his business card he would give to clients, it said, “Between two products equal in price, function and quality, the better looking will outsell the other.” Henry Dreyfuss was the first major industrial designer to develop the concept of ergonomics and human scale in design. This was used to full effect in his design of the telephone of the future, where he measured thousands of hands and ears to design the most universally ergonomic telephone.

Public sentiment was focused on the future. The rise of the streamlined era of buildings, cars, trains, etc. all represented the enormous pride of inventing something new, the goal of surpassing all other buildings and inventions. Designers envisioned a city of taller skyscrapers and faster modes of transportation as an environment of the future. Architects became obsessed with designing the most sleek, tall skyscrapers, casting dark shadows over the city and setting an ominous tone for how the future of design and utopia was perceived.

In a lecture on design integrity, Frank Lloyd Wright, deeply committed to the authenticity of architecture, stated, “We see an airplane, clean and light-weighted, the lines expressing power and purpose… Why are not buildings, too, indicative of their social purpose?” Wright believed that architecture and design should relate to its region and culture, to coexist with the nature around it, raising the integrity of both the building and its surroundings.

In 1937, Wright designed “Fallingwater”, a building that expressed the essence of his organic philosophy, integrating nature with machine-age concepts. “The design unified the house with nature through a dynamic composition of dynamic forms.. It demonstrated how a modern building could relate closely to its site and environment and showed an organic concept could be as modern and machine-like as a white box. (Donna Goodman, pg. 108)” Goodman uses Frank Lloyd Wright as an example of designers who grew cynical and tired of the machinist ideals and approach to architecture. Wright called for designers to take more consideration for what is around them, to design with nature, and not to destroy it.



Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

“It is about time that industrial design, as we have come to know it, should cease to exist.” Papenek continues to state in his book, “Design for the Real World”. “As long as design concerns itself with confecting trivial ‘toys for adults’, killing machines with gleaming tail fins, and ‘sexed-up’ shrouds for typewriters, toasters, telephones, and computers, it has lost all reason to exist. Design must become an innovative, highly creative, cross-disciplinary tool responsive to the true needs of men. It must be more research oriented, and we must stop defiling the earth itself with poorly-designed objects and structures.”

Papenek discusses how as a culture we design to make profit, and the fact that we delay the release of designs by a year and a half to go through a patent application is absurd. As designers, we should feel that it is wrong to take money from the needs of others, but unfortunately in our capitalistic society, design is driven by monetary purpose. Papenek states that design can and must become and move towards a way in which young people can participate in changing society. Papenek says designers can’t continue to design with a proprietary mindset like it has been done in the past; he says designers must work together to design for a sustainable, considered future.

In the 21st century, an even playing field has been set, with the Internet providing a leveling effect for the mass public. With information so attainable, we must find a better way to take advantage of sharing knowledge. The problem with the privatization of knowledge, particularity green technology, is that this is an incredibly inefficient way for change. If our society wants to progress, we must must move towards more of a knowledge commons economy. Tesla is an example of a company that has looked to share the wealth. In the spirit of the open source movement, Elon Musk, CEO of Telsa Motors, has publically shared his patents on Tesla’s electric cars, accelerating the advent of electric transport. Patents often are an impediment to innovation of positive change, and Musk, although is still creating product in a consumerist world, is at least setting an important example of open sourcing knowledge.

Apple on the other hand is a company that prides itself on secretiveness. The company keeps all its new updates and products under wraps and has big launch days to release the new, “highly anticipated” new product. They also have been criticized for designing products that have planned obsolescence built into them. An old MacBook laptop charger isn’t compatible with the new MacBooks, so you have to end up buying an adapter or a completely new, $80 charger. The first IPad didn’t have a camera built into it, and IPhones are constantly being redesigned and promoted as the next best thing. All these “innovations” are driven by the continuous desire to increase sales and profit margins.



Apple products have become a ubiquitous necessity with today’s consumer’s lifestyle.

“Our profit-oriented and consumer-oriented Western society has become so over specialized that few people experience the pleasures and benefits of full life, and many never participate in even the most modest forms of creative activity which might help to keep their sensory and intellectual faculties alive. (Papenek, pg. 6)”

Industrial design as an industry, as a profession, and as a practice from designer to designer, must shift its focus if there is to be change in how we as a society view and feed a Capitalist consumer-topia. Designing is a generalized human capacity, but we must find new roles in the world that look to feed and support social innovation and collaboration, to help the needs of others. To continue to design to be obsolete, to design to be consumed, is not how we progress as a society.


Works Cited>

Goodman, Donna. A History of the Future, Chapter 3: The Machine Age in America. New York: Monacelli, 2008. Print.

Papenek, Victor. Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. New York: Pantheon Books. 1972. Print.

Andrews, Tara. In Design and Consume to Utopia: Where Industrial Design Went Wrong. Volume 7, Issue 2 (pg 71-86).New York: TEAM D/E/S. 2009.

Illich, Ivan. Tools For Conviviality (ch. 2). New York: Harper & Row. 1973. Print.