Scientists have already proven it’s possible to grow a burger in the lab using a few cells from a cow. Someday, it might also be possible to grow food from fake plastic cells—and get all of the nutrition we need without relying on nature or a farm.
A new project from designer Johanna Schmeer imagines what that food might look like in the future. She designed seven different products to provide everything we theoretically need to survive: water, vitamins, fiber, sugar, fat, protein, and minerals. Bioplastic cells filled with enzymes would mimic natural cells and pump out lovely delicacies like protein paste.
The designs were inspired by scientific research published earlier this year that showed, for the first time, that it is possible to make a plastic cell that can carry out a chemical reaction. Eventually, the authors of the study think they’ll be able to create a bioplastic cell that looks and works pretty much like the real thing.
That's not to say any of this is a sure thing yet. "It’s a purely conceptual project, and it’s not technically possible today to make this concept a reality," says Schmeer. "But the project is based on scientific research that is happening today, and it is something that might be possible in 40 to 50 years."
The designer wanted to show what it might be like to eat fake food—and what might make the experience potentially as good as eating the real thing.
"What we perceive as the taste of food is actually a combination of what we see, touch, smell, and taste," Schmeer explains. "So instead of trying to imitate traditional food, which might not be possible in a satisfactory way, maybe a new, artificial sensuality would need to be found for this type of food—by, for example, placing an emphasis on the visual and tactile senses."
In one of her products, a set of bright green nozzles drizzles syrup from a spongy white shape that looks a little like a giant peanut. Another device sprays out a cloud of red vitamins, while a third product squirts out protein from a tiny pouch. Each of the products are shown in action in this video:
At a time when we need to figure out how to feed billions more people by 2050—and increase global food production by 70%—maybe there are reasons to consider fake food. Still, the designer says she isn't advocating for it; she just wanted to get people to think about the possibilities.
"I am not proposing this as a solution or something that should happen," she says. "Instead the project aims at creating discussions about the possible future use of bio-functional materials in domestic products and about potential applications, like the production of food."
"Producing food is just one example of what enzyme-enhanced products with biological functions could do," she adds. "Other functions could be producing biological light, or improving air quality."