Anyone who thinks this year’s South By Southwest did not have any groundbreaking tech announcements clearly missed the Oscar Mayer bacon-scented iPhone alarm attachment.
Not to mention the 3-D-printing, tweet-activated Oreo-making machine, lab-cultivated cow cell meat chips and a cookie cup full of milk from the inventor of the cronut.
All of which sounds delicious. Maybe. In any case, it’s happening and has been one of the more interesting areas of venture investment of late.
At the Future of Food panel yesterday, four young food entrepreneurs talked about an industry ripe for disruption and the challenges they face getting people emotionally onboard with these unfamiliar sources of nutrition. It is a challenge, the inventors said, that was much more difficult than the science itself.
“Once you start to see food as a form of hardware, you start to ask, why can’t it get better,” said Rob Rhinehart, the maker of the food-replacement drink called Soylent, suggesting the famous movie about how yummy people of the dystopian future had become, much to the horror of a dyspeptic Charlton Heston. “What does it look like to have food with updates?”
That means we will all one day forget about our old foods, much as we’ve forgotten about rotary telephones, said Josh Tetrick, the founder of Hampton Creek Foods, which has created an egg replacement made from vegetables that recently received $23 million in Series B funding.
“There was a newspaper story in 1889 about how, ‘Edison’s electric light substitute is gaining share over the gaslight,’” he said. “What was the substitute before just becomes the thing you do.”
Ethan Brown, the founder of animal protein replacement company Beyond Meat, said he sees meat in terms of components, rather than pieces of cows, much as one might consider the innards of a computer. “The origins historically may have been from cows and chickens,” he said. “But when I think of meat I think of the end game: Protein, lipids, trace minerals.”
Andras Forgacs, the co-founder of lab-made-meat company Modern Meadow, brought out steak chips he wanted to beta test on the audience and said that making meat and also leather in a lab saves resources.
“You don’t waste as much material, because animals don’t come in the shape of a couch or a handbag,” he said.
“A couch cow? That would be an amazing feat,” Rhinehart added.
Someone from the audience asked whether consumers will miss their old foods when they transition to lab-made foods. Beyond Meat founder Brown said he took the issue very seriously.
“It’s incredibly important that you don’t lose the trappings of meat. Chimpanzees will exchange meat for sex. Meat still has to carry that masculine component,” he said. “You see that with our packaging, masculine black packaging.”
In that light, this Oscar Mayer iPhone attachment, which wakes you up with the smell of bacon, seems like overcompensation. Here’s a video about it:
And, just to remind you where all this new-fangled food experimentation could end up — just sayin’! — here’s that classic ender from “Soylent Green”:
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