Could 3D Printing, Open-Source Liquid, And Bugs Solve A Looming Food Crisis?

With population growing and the possibility of a food crisis looming, bright minds are stirring up solutions that could change what and how we consume and distribute food sustainably — without sacrificing nutrition.

Whether you live to eat or eat to live, food is vital for survival — unfortunately, the way we eat now may not always be sustainable.

There are a number of issues regarded as threats to global food consumption as it is today. These include:

Overpopulation and rising prices

Global population is estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050 – demand for food, therefore, will also grow by 70%.

Food prices are near their historic peaks, according to the World Bank, a volatility that can result in devastating malnutrition and developmental issues for those in poverty, and rising obesity in the US.

Poor distribution and waste

Already, more than 800 million people worldwide don’t have enough to eat, and more than 47 million in the US need food assistance. And it’s more than just a health and inequality issue — shortages of food have lead to mass unrest in Venezuela, Egypt, Haiti and more.

Another report by the Natural Resources Defence Council finds (pdf) that even though 10% of energy and 50% of land in the US is used on food, about 40% of American food goes uneaten.

Climate change and policy

The result of extreme weather and climate change on crops is a cause of concern as well, as rising temperatures and rising levels of CO2 damage yields and drive prices up, a UN report finds.

And as scientists search for cleaner energy solutions, the biofuel industry uses arable land to convert plants into energy, causing food prices to rise, less food to be produced, and contributing to world hunger.

Meat production

Increasingly meat-reliant diets, especially in China, and the demand driven and met by industrial livestock production is linked to climate change, spikes in grain price, deforestation, obesity, all while perpetuating what many would argue is animal cruelty.

How to feed the masses? Let them eat science

It’s evident that more food needs to be grown and less wasted — but US agriculture is also facing a shortage of trained scientists able to implement the change that is necessary.

Still, researchers, entrepreneurs, hackers, and economists alike are doing their fair share of work in an attempt to deliver calories, reduce waste, and alleviate potential crises ahead in inventive ways.

Some of the more radical and ambitious, yet potentially groundbreaking science-driven ideas include:

Drinkable nutrients: Young software engineer Rob Rhinehart has created an open-source, FDA-approved drinkable product called Soylent that, for $9 a day, provides all the necessary nutrients and minerals needed for survival.

Mass production and distribution could benefit starving children and adults around the world, much like the similar nutrient-engineered peanut paste Plumpy’Nut.

3D printed food: Systems & Materials Research Corporation, a company recently funded by NASA, has created a trial 3D food printer with a vision of someday allowing all humans to print nutritiously appropriate food from their own kitchens.

Egg replacement: Egg-replacement startup Hampton Creek Foods, which has recently attracted nearly $30 million in funding, produces egg-free alternatives to food products — these could affordably reduce global reliance on chicken and the health risks associated.

Food as fuel: A kitchen device called the Food Cycler allows users to dispose of uneaten food and scraps and convert it safe, sterilized compost that can be reused as soil.

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Bugs: The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization report on “Edible Insects” details how insects provide a quick, cheap, and efficient alternative to counter nutritional insecurity.

The first edible insect farm in the US even opened in Ohio, breeding crickets and grinding them down into tortillas and chips — a sustainable form of protein with a small carbon footprint.

The takeaway

  • A food crisis driven by overpopulation, rising food prices, extreme weather, climate policy and waste could threaten the world within the next 50 years.
  • The world will need more food, less waste, more efficient distribution, and more Agricultural scientists to solve the issue.
  • Radical solutions show great promise in creating innovative approaches to delivering nutrients where they’re needed, with less waste and cost to the environment.

Though what exactly the food of the future will look and taste like is still a mystery — as is whether you’ll be drinking or printing your dinner someday — the role of science and technology in feeding a growing world is a crucial one.

And in a rapidly changing world, a healthy portion of creativity may be a vital ingredient to a sustainable solution.

What are your thoughts on the threats to food security and the potential solutions? Tweet us @curiousmatic.

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Jennifer Markert