The world will need to rethink its approach to food as the planet warms and the population grows towards an expected 9.7 billion people in 2050. Several options are on the menu, including wider adoption of insects such as crickets and meal worms as a source of protein; artificial meat made from vegetable protein, or grown in vats; using Spirulina and other forms of algae as a food supplement, or a foodstuff in its own right; and futuristic protein shakes that provide a nutritionally complete meal in a glass—handy for the busy astronaut who needs to get back to exploring Mars. Or perhaps we’ll use food robots that download recipes and 3D-print our meals from cartridges of ingredients, opening up all kinds of new shapes and textures for the cooks of the future to explore.
These different approaches each have pros and cons. But one thing is clear: consumer preferences will play a big part in determining the outcome. So which of these futuristic foods would you want to see on your table? Thanks to the magic of augmented reality (AR), which projects virtual objects into the real world, you can take a close look at Spirulina (and other future foods if you follow the link) in the comfort of your own kitchen. The Economist has teamed up with Kabaq, a startup based in New York that operates at the intersection of AR and food.
To examine the blue-green algae, all you need is a smartphone with the Snapchat app. If you are reading this on a desktop or laptop computer, use the Snapchat app to scan the Snapcode below; if you are reading this on a smartphone, simply tap on the Snapcode and the Snapchat app will open. You will then be able to add Spirulina as a temporary “lens” that lasts 24 hours (ask a teenager if you need help using the app). Within the Snapchat camera, you can then tap the red lens icon to place the food in the world
Use your fingers to move, zoom or rotate it—and, most importantly, decide whether you’d want to eat it. (Alas, AR technology does not yet capture taste or smell.) Tap the plate to see an infographic explaining the implications of your food choice; there’s also a brief audio commentary. Tuck in!