Dystopian Food: Beyond Bugs and Beans for 2019's SXSW PanelPicker Proposal

When there's nothing left to grow, eating will get weird. 

In the dystopia, menus will be unrecognizable. You can’t stew a Bolognese if the greenhouse gases from cows make them too dangerous to raise, just like you can’t brew a beer if the land can’t grow hops. Climate change, pollution, and overpopulation are making traditional food growth and harvesting difficult, and it’s only a matter of time before we have to rethink what “food” is entirely. In a new SXSW panel, Inverse brings together three food and science innovators who are preparing us for that daunting future.

Recent years have introduced meat and dairy alternatives, like lab-grown meat, insect protein, and nut milks, but eventually those will become inaccessible as resources become scarce. You can’t farm mealworms without grains to feed them, and you can’t get almond milk if the trees can’t grow. In the dystopia, food will have to be recycled. Scraps and sewage will become sustenance.

If it sounds gross, that’s because it is — but it doesn’t have to be. With the right engineering, wastewater becomes beer, discarded grains become wheat, and human waste becomes nutritional goo. The future may not look promising, but these scientists and food innovators, guided in a frank discussion by Inverse science editor Yasmin Tayag, firmly believe we won’t starve.

Meet the panelists:

Joseph Roman, Ph.D., is a conservation biologist, author, and fellow in the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont. He’s the founder of Eat the Invaders, an organization devoted to Earth’s numerous invasive species and how to keep them under control by eating them.

Philip Saneski is the Vice President of Product and Commander in Chef of ReGrained, a company that recycles spent grain from beer breweries and turns it into (delicious) nutritional bars stacked with rescued protein, fiber, and nutrients that would otherwise have been thrown out. He led the launch of the world’s first food waste product development student competition through the Research Chefs Association, focusing on how ingredients historically considered “waste” will be manufactured.

Lenny Mendonca is the owner of Mavericks Beer Company and a lecturer in marketing at Stanford University who, in 2015, spearheaded the creation of Tunnel Vision IPA made of recycled “grey water” — that’s treated sewage — as a response to the California drought. Its success spoke to the “rebranding problem” of getting the public to consume recycled food and waste.

If you’re interested in learning more about food of the future, please upvote our panel in the SXSW Panel Picker and leave a comment explaining why the panel should be selected.

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