Our food system doesn't need funky design. It needs better distribution networks.

The Food Embassy
© Agri Meets Design (via Facebook) -- At The Food Embassy during Dutch Design Week, 2017

There's more than enough food to go around, so why can't we focus on getting that to hungry people, instead of futuristic food products?

How to feed a growing population with resources threatened by climate change is an increasingly relevant discussion all around the world. While everyone has different opinions on what to do to ensure the human masses don't starve, Marije Vogelzang thinks the solution lies in design.

Vogelzang, a Dutch woman who describes herself as an 'eating designer' (she came up with the odd 'Volumes' project -- silicone-covered rocks designed to sit in one's plate to reduce the amount of food eaten), says that the global food situation today is "sick" and that "designers can help us change perception on food, and understand the true value of food, to build a healthy future."

She's quoted in Dezeen:

"There are many issues in the world of food, looking at how many people do not have food and how many people have too much food. I think the division of food is sick. If we keep on consuming the way we do, we won't have the foods that we have now, so we need creative ideas to change this food system."

Creative ideas were certainly at the forefront of the show she curated during Dutch Design Week this fall. Called The Embassy of Food, it featured futuristic, interactive, and, in my opinion, very bizarre innovations meant to improve food security, resolve issues of scarcity, and propose alternatives to meat.

Some of the projects described made sense to me, like salt-water-grown vegetables, mushroom- and insect-based sausages, foods made from abundant acorns, algae farming. But others struck me as utterly ludicrous.

growing algae© Agri Meets Design (via Facebook) -- Volunteers blow on the algae to make it grow, then eat some afterward.

Take, for example, the "enzyme-enhanced bioplastics, which could offer essential nutrients to humans once traditional sources become depleted." I don't know about you, but I think if things reached the point where bioplastic was the only food source available, I'd be content to acknowledge my end had come.

Another designer suggested that "synthetic biology be used to modify the human digestive system", so that we can eat like hyenas. Hyenas, in case you're unaware, eat and digest rotten food.

Then there's the Pink Chicken Project, a cynical proposal to alter chicken DNA to give them bright pink bones. Why? Vogelzang told Dezeen:

"Because we consume so much chicken that eventually in the future you will see a pink layer in the earth that is made of chicken bones, to mark the Anthropocene, the time we live in now."

pink chicken project© Agri Meet Design (via Facebook)

While these design projects are interesting and thought-provoking -- and, as my colleagues have pointed out, can be interpreted as brilliant, provocative statements on contentious topics like genetic engineering -- I doubt these could ever be serious solutions to the very real problem of food insecurity.

What we need are better distribution networks, not bioplastics and synthetic vegan fish, clever though they may be. There's more than enough food to feed everyone on Earth, but we need better ways of delivering it, using it, and diverting waste.

Designers should be focusing on this, but really, they're not the ones who will fix this situation most effectively. It's the farmers, the supermarket conglomerates, the municipal policies, the shoppers and the home cooks who will determine whether there's enough food to go around in the future -- or not. Artistic design plays an inspiring role, but to be portrayed as a solution in and of itself seems short-sighted and simplistic.

Our food system doesn't need funky design. It needs better distribution networks.
There's more than enough food to go around, so why can't we focus on getting that to hungry people, instead of futuristic food products?

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