Q&A

In­ven­tor Ir­win Adam Ey­del­nant on the fu­ture of food

Toronto Life - - Contents - By luc ri­naldi

You have a doc­tor­ate in bio­med­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing. How’d you end up in food? My plan was to be­come a pro­fes­sor. I had a po­si­tion at U of T, but I be­came dis­en­chanted with academia: the work gets so es­o­teric and siloed that real progress is dif­fi­cult to achieve. I’d done some food projects, so I de­cided to make a busi­ness of it.

What were the food projects? While I was in school, an ac­quain­tance asked if I could help with a con­sult­ing project for Pep­siCo. That’s where we came up with the ed­i­ble cloud.

Sounds low-cal. How does an ed­i­ble cloud work, ex­actly? We cre­ate a cloud in a glass ves­sel. A small crys­tal vi­brates in a liq­uid and breaks it into tiny droplets, not so small that they fly away but not so large that they con­dense. You can pour it, drink it, flavour it any way you want. That was how this part of my ca­reer started.

And now you run Fu­ture Food Stu­dio in Lib­erty Vil­lage. How do you turn stuff like ed­i­ble clouds into a vi­able busi­ness? We work with large food and bev­er­age com­pa­nies like AB InBev, Kraft, Camp­bell’s, Gen­eral Mills. We’ve done re­search and pack­ag­ing. We’ve helped hos­pi­tal­ity groups cre­ate tech­nol­o­gyen­abled din­ing rooms, where ta­bles trans­form as guests in­ter­act with their meals. We helped Bud­weiser do work­shops on taste and flavour. And we work with emerg­ing food con­cepts.

Emerg­ing food con­cepts—can you trans­late that for non-fu­tur­ists? Those are the busi­nesses we start up, like the tem­po­rary Mu­seum of Ice Cream in New York—120,000 peo­ple were on the wait­ing list to get in. One thing you could do there was eat a candy that trans­forms your sour taste buds into sweet taste buds, so when you eat a le­mon slice, it tastes like lemon­ade. There are mo­ments when peo­ple can turn on their brains and learn—or they can just take self­ies in a pool of sprin­kles. That works, too.

A pool of sprin­kles!? Some peo­ple are in­evitably go­ing to dis­miss what you’re do­ing as a se­ries of gim­micks. With every­thing we cre­ate, you can come in and say, “That was cool,” and leave. If some­one thinks it’s a gim­mick, at least they’re talk­ing about it.

Your stu­dio also does re­search, right? On what? Our re­search fo­cuses on per­son­al­ized eat­ing. We’re look­ing into a de­vice that you would im­plant or wear that would con­tin­u­ally mon­i­tor your phys­i­o­log­i­cal state. It would be con­nected to, say, your iPhone. When you eat some­where, your phone would know what the menu is, where the food is sourced from and what the nu­tri­tional con­tent is. And that would em­power you to make a se­lec­tion based on what you need at that mo­ment.

In what ways will eat­ing be­come “per­son­al­ized”? We’ll be able to make let­tuce more salty, more sweet, more earthy, more green-tast­ing, what­ever that means. Imag­ine you’re vi­ta­min B-12 de­fi­cient; you’ll be able to get a spe­cial B-12 tomato.

What new foods are go­ing to be on gro­cery store shelves in the next 10 years? It’s not 10 years from now—it’s next year. We’ve al­ready seen a bleed­ing veg­gie burger, and peo­ple are work­ing on cel­lu­lar agri­cul­ture: chick­en­less eggs, cow­less milk, lab-grown steak.

Will peo­ple ac­cept food from a lab? They al­ready do. Beer is made in a lab; it just looks a lit­tle dif­fer­ent be­cause they put a restau­rant in­side the brew­ery. If you eat kim­chee on Bloor, you’re eat­ing lab-al­tered food. It’s just fer­men­ta­tion.

Peo­ple may also balk at the idea of eat­ing crick­ets. Why are they sud­denly on menus and at the CNE? The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion put out a huge call for in­creased in­sect con­sump­tion. They re­quire less in­put than cows and they have more pro­tein. Two bil­lion peo­ple al­ready eat in­sects. In Toronto, it’s still small: lo­cal com­pa­nies are mak­ing pro­tein bars, pasta sauces and tofu equiv­a­lents from crick­ets. In North Amer­ica, they’re mostly sold to cat­tle farm­ers as an al­ter­na­tive to soy­beans and corn.

So farms and gro­cery stores will change. What about ac­tual din­ing? At the end of the day, it’s still go­ing to be you and me hav­ing din­ner to­gether. None of this is go­ing to change the so­cial as­pect of eat­ing. There’s not go­ing to be a pill that gives you every­thing.

So no trays of liq­ue­fied food à la 2001: A Space Odyssey? That’d be nice. I love that tray.

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