I’m currently sitting writing a book about the metaverse from a farm near the French border with Switzerland. I’m surrounded by fields of wheat, and heavy pre-summer rain, or is it climate change? Whatever it is, it’s bolstered by the chorus of cicadae around my feet.
I'm contemplating making my classic spag bol as we speak (don’t tell my publisher)—and I dream of having a replicator so that I don’t have to think about whether to do the Godfather version or any other variation on the theme. Let’s face it, making Italian food isn’t hard, but one day soon, or now, food is going to change, and I will get that replicator.
If food is evolving it seems to be slow enough for us, the consumer to not notice it, but food evolution is more than just whether you have a strawberry milkshake flavour kit-kat or not. In this article I want to look at the impact that web3 is having on food and how that’s shaping the game so that everyone gets a piece of the pie.
Eat Your Greens
As the world's population continues to grow and the effects of climate change become more pronounced, sustainability will be a key consideration for food production and consumption. I am a really simple person when it comes to this and I know a great deal of research before practice has already taken place. I mean, the UN Sustainable Development Goals illustrate the need for ensuring everyone has access to food, and that’s pretty difficult in migratory, poverty or pestilent situations. Also, these days you don’t have to live in a third world country to be poor! The rise of food banks and growing numbers of malnutrition in young people amounts to some serious problems in the food chain as a whole—can we forgive ourselves? I think we already have because we allow food producers to continue to make crap food and our farmers will continue to struggle against marginalised markets.
Can future technologies and the metaverse—combined with the principles of Web3—contribute to developing new farming techniques, reducing food waste, and making the food industry more environmentally friendly? I think it definitely has some long term benefits but some unfortunate short term fails. Let’s see if my hypothesis is correct.
The metaverse can provide virtual environments where vertical farms can be simulated and optimised first. By using advanced algorithms and machine learning, farmers can experiment with different layouts, lighting conditions, and crop varieties virtually before implementing them in the physical world. This allows for more efficient use of resources and reduces the environmental impact of traditional farming practices. Vertical farming is happening now, and Futurae Farms (US), CubicFarms (Canada), AeroFarms (United Arab Emirates), InFarm (Germany) have a combined value running into tens of billions—very cool indeed. But I want to know: which of these are deploying web3 techniques? That’s right, none of them. Raiz Vertical Farms is using ReFi (regenerative finance) to address climate change using tokenised farm delivery subscriptions. Building NFTs on Near (which I’m a huge fan of by the way), Raiz “makes and releases digital artworks of plants linked to impact metrics such as carbon emissions and water savings—significant issues in traditional agriculture and industrial farming markets.” Raiz are young farmers in the city doing extraordinary things with web3.
Web3 technologies might also facilitate the creation of decentralised marketplaces where farmers, food producers, and retailers can connect directly with consumers to sell surplus or near-expiry food items. By eliminating intermediaries, reducing transportation costs, and leveraging blockchain for transparency and traceability, these marketplaces can help reduce food waste and create a more sustainable and efficient food supply chain.
Smart contracts can enable accountability to a high degree in this space too. The use of smart contracts, which are self-executing contracts with predefined rules, can be utilised to ensure transparency and accountability in the food supply chain. For example, by recording and verifying every step of the supply chain on a blockchain, from farm to table, consumers can have access to trustworthy information about the origin, quality, and sustainability of the food they purchase. Wang et al wrote a super white paper where QR codes are used for traceability between smart contracts and you can download a smart contract protocol from GitHub right now if you are so inclined to. Overall, I reckon that the role of decentralisation in this space is ripe for some support. But start small, Raiz really needs you.
The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices can enable precision farming techniques. Sensors can collect data on soil moisture, nutrient levels, and plant health, while AI algorithms can analyse this data in real-time to optimise irrigation, fertiliser application, and pest control. This leads to more efficient resource usage, higher crop yields, and reduced environmental impact. AI is the cornerstone of precision farming with literally everyone using this and robotics across agriculture over the last 10 years. But IoT needs some uplift, wouldn’t you agree? Crop productivity can be enhanced in one hour. What are you doing with your lunch break?
Technology is already transforming the food industry, from precision farming to 3D printing of food. In the future, can we expect to see even more innovation in this area? With the potential for personalised nutrition and the use of artificial intelligence to optimise food production and distribution, I’m wondering why we’re using technology like basic individuals to increase ultra-processed foods—it makes no sense. But the global food printing market does and that has increased in value to $11.3 Billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 50.2%. Did someone say replicator? I would 100% eat insect protein if it was repackaged into something that looks like a rasher of bacon (sorry veggies and vegans—I’m the issue here) because if we eat what we’re eating now, we’re just part of the Soylent problem. A certain brand of plant-based burgers is only double the price of a packet of ultra processed grillsteaks because of technology—it takes time to print a plant based burger, and that costs money. So whilst my replicator idea is a little way off yet (come on Mattershift, I need my Earl Grey Tea—hot, not cold) carbon nanotube membranes are waiting in the wings to bring us what we want, what we really, really want.
I am one of these food consumers who drank, smoked and ate crap in my 20s, wore moisturiser and bras in bed in my 30s and in my 40s I turned to lactose-free and more biohacking to solve the problems caused by bad decisions in my 20s. Let’s be honest, it’s not the final collection of mistakes I made in my 20s, but I might need more than a girdle and a toothpick to work that out. With an increasing focus on health and wellness, food developers will need to take into account the changing preferences of consumers like me. This could involve developing new plant-based proteins or creating new ways to deliver nutrients through food. I’m currently experimenting with Yourheights: a one–pill strategy to deliver vitamins and nutrients to my brain.
The role of food—aside from health and wellbeing—is in its cultural connections. My love of spag bol is eclipsed by my love of gyoza and mandu. They aren’t just food for me, they’re memories too. So while technology and innovation will play a role in shaping the future of food, it's important to also consider the cultural and traditional aspects of food. For example, many people have a deep connection to the food they grew up with, and preserving these traditions will be important. I live in a country that wouldn’t know a Sunday roast if it came up and whacked it in the face. Yorkshire puddings, what? So I want to know how the metaverse will impact the traditions and connections we have to food and drink for good and bad. Look, so many metaverses drop brand activations in their feature releases from Cipriani to Taco Bell. What’s the why for brands, and do consumers really want food that they can’t taste (yet)?
In this virtual space, it's possible that people could purchase and consume virtual food, which could have implications for how food is marketed and sold and vice-versa. If I go to Tokyo’s Toshima Ward I will be able to buy a lovely Bento from Green Lawson, so what? Who cares? It’s a convenience store staffed by avatars who are controlled by home and remote workers. It’s a phygital reality that we should start getting used to and I for one am a fully signed up member of this club. It's difficult to say for certain whether the world will buy food like this in the future, as there are many different factors that could impact consumer behaviour and preferences. However, the idea of using avatars to serve customers in a convenience store is an interesting concept that could potentially offer benefits such as increased efficiency and convenience.
If this type of technology were to become more widely adopted, it could have implications for the food industry as a whole. For example, it could lead to a shift towards more automated food service, which could reduce the need for human labour and potentially lower costs for consumers. On the other hand, some consumers may prefer more traditional, human-driven interactions when purchasing food, so it's likely that there will continue to be a variety of different food purchasing options available in the future.
Here’s what I want to see happen soon, if they aren’t happening already:
In-metaverse grocery stores—I hear that Edeka is a big mover in this space, so I’m keeping everything crossed.
NFTs to be developed as food coupons - this is what these things were made for surely? (In amongst everything else NFTs were made for, I guess)
Personalised nutrition as smart contracts, why not? I’m taking my weakness for chocolate with me to the grave.
Functional foods: Yourheights has nailed the brain care case—what am I missing?
The future of food is likely to be shaped by a combination of technological advancements, changing consumer preferences, and environmental and social factors. I’ll be 100 in 2073 and hopefully still carping on about the metaverse (because anger is an energy) predicting exactly what types of food we will be eating in then is limited by not just climate, geopolitics and socioeconomics but also by our cultural desires—a one-pill world is a way off yet but what is certain is a continued innovation and evolution in the food industry that if we’re passionate enough can be democratised towards sustainable transparency. What do you think? Are you hungry enough for it?