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Future Thinking

Why we need to make good processed food

Can we create meals that are both satisfying and enjoyable but more convenient and better tailored to our physical needs? Glenn Zorpette thinks so.

Processed food has a bad reputation: nutritionally bankrupt, and loaded with sugar, fat and salt. But it doesn’t have to be unhealthy, says Zorpette, Executive Editor of engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum. As populations increase and the effects of climate change begin to take hold, we will face shortages in protein, so it’s important to realise this and investigate how to use processed food to address this.

Meat has a very large ecological footprint, so what are the alternatives? Zorpette is particularly optimistic about meat analogues based on vegetable protein. One significant advance in the area is high-moisture meat analogues (HMMAs). They are similar in texture to cooked chicken, though he thinks the flavour is not quite there. So adults used to eating chicken breasts in a light sauce may not take to the substitutes, but it is a promising possibility that younger people may grow up with these substitutes and get used to them.

There will come a time when we all know our full genetic sequence, says Zorpette, and doctors will be able to tell a person’s nutritional needs from this information. We can also measure people’s activities through wearable technology. So it’s not too hard to envision a world in which all this information is fed into an app or device that helps individuals to understand their optimum nutritional needs. It may even be the case that we have machines at home that can print out this food for us.

Glenn Zorpette spoke to BBC Future at SXSW Interactive in Austin Texas. 

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