“Well, that was an encouraging day!” Rosa, a brain augmentation engineer reflects. She takes a few intentional deep breaths, then steps away from her desk, grabs the bag Kush, her robotic assistant packed earlier, and jumps into her waiting autonomous-driving vehicle for the 40 min ride into Portland. She is so looking forward to dinner with her sister. While there are many ways to connect virtually with one another these days, nothing beats sitting around a table having a meal together, and this weekly ritual is one she tries hard not to miss. Her mother has told them both so many stories about the Good People dinners her friend Raman started twenty something years ago — how these gatherings nourished her inside and out, and ultimately fed many of the huge food innovations that fuel her daughters now.
Rosa often tries to envision what her mother’s world felt like when she was the same age. The country was moving in dramatically bi-polar directions: healthy hipster urban singles ate organic kale delivered regularly from the local biodynamic CSA (community supported agriculture) co-op and joined forums to learn how to create permaculture gardens, while at the exact same time, many migrant laborers actually harvesting our country’s industrial produce for the mega-farms were facing sky-high rates of obesity, diabetes, and early mortality. There were so many areas that lacked access to affordable produce and healthy proteins they were described as “food deserts” (such a sad idea, she thinks). This inspired young activists to create well intentioned interventions — such as social impact bison jerky — in hopes of lifting “at-risk” communities out of poverty. While these well intentioned efforts helped address worrisome local issues, they did little to tackle the big, systemic inequities that increasingly worried her mom.
As these discussions and local experiments continued to command attention among both Good People diners and government officials, frustration finally gave way to optimism when it became clear that emergent technologies were ushering in potent new ways to address food inequities (and so many more), and so the Food 4.0 Revolution — and F4.0F Fund — were born. Given the population’s declining health, despite years of genomic and social science research funding, it wasn’t difficult to get support from a handful of local tech billionaires, city council leaders and even some visionary execs at the big food companies that existed at that time. By then, they all shared a desire to leverage highly disruptive innovations of artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, and nano, crypto + bio-technologies to create real solutions to mounting problems of food insecurity, poor health, food + resource waste …and even loneliness, a growing social epidemic with big health implications.
Rosa’s mother, an R+D scientist at a big food conglomerate at the time, and her father, a machine learning engineer at a fast-growing cognitive consulting start-up, met at one of these dinners and got excited about aeroponic/vertical farming. The ability to grow millions of pounds of produce in a fraction of the time, with no soil and very little AI optimized gray mist, felt like a really tangible solution to so many of the issues they discussed! What started as a hobby in the basement of their Mission District condo, quickly became an enterprise expanded by the Food 4.0 Fund, and then served as an important catalyst to a movement that ushered in a food renaissance. Their vision was to fuse all they were learning about micro-nutrition and cultural traditions with the same technologies that were completely transforming banking, healthcare, energy, and education, to complement carbon sequestering land farming and provide enough healthy food for all.
Now, thirty years later, Rosa, Kush, and their intentional, multi-generation innovation community are the benefactors of this huge shift — as are nearly half the world’s 9.2B population — able to reliably supply all their food needs on their 80 acre campus, for a fraction of the cost of when she was born. This has completely wiped out concerns about food security, equitable access and chemically-laden, mass-produced products that have been sourced to so many illnesses now that our understanding of food and our body’s chemistry have been mapped, linked and are passively analyzed daily. It’s a totally different world these days!
Today traditional mega-grocery stores have given way to Holo (a community powered cryptocurrency) enabled CFCs: Community Food Co-ops, that provide a locally curated, wide range of vertically farmed produce, and easily digestible, brain-boosting grains, as well as all new kinds of freshly produced plant, insect, and algae proteins. Solar powered LEDs coax plants to full growth in repurposed manufacturing facilities at 15x the efficiency of horizontal land farming, and cell-cloned forms of clean meat and dairy are now grown in a range of high tech, neighborhood “barns”. An AI application, affectionately named Guissepe, that was created in Chile in the early 2000’s, has become a widely accepted way to balance the natural resources of a local geography with the nutritional needs and taste desires of that community, ensuring ecological balance and cultural integrity.
While Rosa and her friends don’t get it, her dad still has this goofy grin every time he enjoys heaps of butter and cheeses which have been made with no saturated fat and animal dairy allergens, without feeling pangs of what he describes as the food “guilt” that became increasingly persistent in the days when obesity flourished and food actually came with color-coded warning labels of how good vs bad it was?! And he also never takes for granted savoring a burger or steak filet that required no pasture land, very little water, created no CO2 emissions and cost 50% of what its animal predecessor did in the old days. (Meanwhile, looking forward to tonight’s dinner, Rosa finds it barbaric to think of the cruelty we inflicted on these farm-show creatures now that we understand their level of emotional consciousness!).
Completing a session of TM meditation on route, she arrives refreshed at Devika’s home in downtown Portland. It’s a modular apartment in a retro building designed with a small, high tech family kitchen, including the most recent version of the Foodini 3DPrinter. Her kids love using it to create their favorite bio-matched breakfast cereals and lunch perogies; they just place their fingertip on the sensor, pick a flavor and viola! Exactly what each body needs and taste buds want. “Happy/Happy” Devika often chants with relief, as she shudders at the food battles she had with her mom as a kid.
On the top floor of the building is a spacious communal dining area with a beautiful climate controlled balcony and stunning views, where dinner is prepared and served each evening. While the apartment meals ensure each family member is getting a personally optimal diet based on their morning body chemistry analysis, it is the evening meal that seems to nourish folks most…and is a part of the day both new parents and older residents especially look forward to, as each craves that daily dose of support and interaction.
This space also invites a regular communion of guests and Rosa brings along a huge basket of freshly harvested Moringa leaves, an ancient tree with miraculous leaves from which her community makes a range of medicinal + nutrition products. Devika’s building also has an CFC in the basement, replacing what used to be a huge parking deck, but they can’t grow Moringa in the lower ceilings here, so she looks forward to these deliveries from her sister.
Devika, a food historian, just completed a VR lecture series that reminds her virtual students that technology has driven every big shift in food and symbiotically reshaped our societies. Her lectures are offered on-demand throughout the world and viscerally take curious learners into the time when the plow and sickle ended a nomadic era, eventually giving rise to towns and small cities. Then thousands of years later, they see how electricity enabled refrigeration and freezing allowed food to be stored, transported and saved over broad swaths of time and distance — which spurred the shift from individual family farms to large industrial enterprises, eventually run with huge machines and employing less than 1% of our population.
These innovations ultimately freed families to move out to newly-formed suburbs, shop in mega-grocery stores and shift their work into new computer-enabled knowledge economy industries such as the burgeoning era of food science (her momma’s expertise back in the day), and the adoption of GMO seeds that resisted infestation, increased yields and boosted both shelf life and nutrition. Food scientists learned to substitute natural ingredients with over 6000 chemical compounds such as “potato protein isolates” and “pulp extenders” which could be sourced, “manufactured” (vs grown) and sold at scale, allowing food companies to create consistent food forms, build demand around the world and turn into global conglomerates able to satisfy escalating shareholder and retailer appetites.
While in many ways these advances improved our standard of living and allowed Americans to spend ever less of their wages on food (down to less than 7% in when Devika was born), it also resulted in an industrial food system with huge and damaging external impacts — from tons (literally) of plastic packaging floating in the world’s oceans, to environmental crises (e.g., water use/waste/contamination and high carbon emissions), antibiotic resistance, chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, autism and depression, as well as a rise in devastating diseases such as cancer and heart disease. While some considered the backlash against this industrial food complex elitist at the time, historians today believe it was the moment we were able to fundamentally rebalance unsustainable inequities in many areas of life.
Rosa is proud of her family’s commitment to this new era of food. Tonight she enjoyed meeting the founder of Dinner Drones, a service she delights in watching dance through the sky as they share sunset dessert on the expansive balcony. Another perfectly planned meal, expertly prepared by robot chefs (and the kids in the building), with leftovers shared via drone with anyone around town who had to stay in that evening.
After lively conversations on the most recent test results of her updated brain augmentation hardware, she and Devika have a quick hologram chat their with their parents — now both working to expand vertical farming throughout Africa — before they head out to participate in an immersive performance playing in town this week. Later Rosa spends the night in one the building’s many cozy guest pods, where she has a fresh idea for the infinite e-novel she continues to collaboratively write (three years and counting). Dinner with family always makes her feel so well taken care of.
Nancy Giordano is one of the world’s leading strategic futurists and is Founder of Play Big. Find more about Nancy’s keynote speeches at www.nextupspeakers.com/nancy-giordano, and a www.nancygiordano.com.