Talk

“I am completely uninterested in food.
But eating food together makes
our lives better.” Chris Anderson talks about
the future of technology and food

Chris Anderson

Ajinomoto Co., Inc. newly established the Consumer Data Analysis & Business Creation Dept. in the spring of 2018. Its mission is to make the future of food enjoyable. In this series of FUTURE FOOD TALK, we shall look together at the different paths we should be taking by talking to people in different fields about the future of food.

Chris Anderson, author of books on digital society’s paradigm shift such as, MAKERS and FREE. Formerly, WIRED magazine’s US editor-in-chief, before becoming CEO of 3D Robotics, where his brilliant change of direction into the drone industry was a big talking point. Chris talks about the current place of food in our lives which has been changed so much by technology.

"I am completely uninterested in food.” But, it means a lot to sit with others around the dining room table

Chris Anderson: Food is as essential to human life as sleeping. But I consider both to be a waste of time. For geeks like me who are enthusiastic about robots and technology, eating and sleeping is a biological necessity, but I’m not into either food or sleeping.

I would like to have a pill that feeds me and another pill that deals with sleep (laughs). If I can get this from pills it means I can work more. I am completely uninterested in food. All I ever eat is cereal and Diet Coke. So I think I must be a terrible example for this (laughs).

But, it means a lot to eat food with other people. That's because it’s one of the few opportunities where people can come together and have a face to face interaction. In a world where we're so distracted by phones it’s so easy to live a life without any face to face experience. In such a world, the traditional way of eating together around the dining room table becomes one of the last kind of anchors of face to face relationships we have. So food becomes the glue that holds us together. One of the common threads that binds society.

And that’s the same for me. I really enjoy the dining room table experience. When I grew up we had a rule which is that everybody eats dinner together around the table and we would have debates. You had to come with your opinion, you had to bring evidence, and I learned a lot about rhetoric and how to have an argument. We have been doing the same thing with our kids. We all eat together, we'll have debates or we'll have quizzes. There's one conversation, no phones at the table ever. That's the part of the meal I enjoy.

Learning about the cooking and food supply chain, and schools in the future

The Internet originally started from a very global perspective, connecting people across distances. But as more and more people came online, the natural shape of the community emerged as being quite local. And it’s the same for food.

Global supply chains allow us to get whatever food product we want in any season. But the cost of that is the transportation and the quality of those products. If you’re eating tomatoes in winter they've been shipped from someplace else and they're probably not very flavorful. That's why local agriculture, like farmer's markets, have become popular.

The so-called Local Food Movement began with a restaurateur named Alice Waters, owner of a popular restaurant worldwide called Chez Panisse which uses organic produce from here in Berkeley. It recognizes that in today’s highly productive environment compared to agriculture from 100 years ago the cost of it is not just in terms of the quality of the food, but also the environmental aspects and also this sort of lack of touch with the seasons.

My children go to a school which has a project called the Edible Schoolyard. The school has really large gardens and they not only learn about the plants and what food is used in their school lunches, but cooking becomes an important class. It’s a school where you can learn about all the processes of cooking from the garden to the table, which season and where the food comes from and understanding how the entire supply chain of food works.

The geek side of cooking

Food is also interesting as an economic experiment. The ingredient delivery startup Blue Apron serves ingredients, not finished meals. It’s a service in which recipes and locally sourced food are delivered regularly so people can cook the food by themselves. So what you're able to do is kind of have a farmer's market-like experience delivered to your door where you can experiment by yourself in a limited time.

In these food communities brought about by the technology of the Internet, it’s not just about recipes, it’s gardening, it is experimenting with the new materials, new plants and flavors, it’s about being creative for a better diet. I think one of the most powerful effects of the Internet is the ability to trade and to create communities of people who are experimenting with food.

There are many cases where cooking has democratized food, empowering individuals to experiment and be creative. Nathan Myhrvold, a former CTO at Microsoft, has this extraordinary laboratory designed around innovation and cooking, and he has a series of books that are about using physics and chemistry to experiment with different foods and flavors.

It’s about understanding the chemistry of what happens during the cooking process, experimenting with the different combinations and flavors. So there's definitely a geek side to food. Geeks want to turn everything into an algorithm to find the answers. They want to turn code into an algorithm, they want to turn their dating life, their sleep, and of course their food into an algorithm (laughs).

This is probably also true from the perspectives of preventive medicine and personal health. How can I improve my IQ and performance with less sleep or on certain diets? What’s the best, most efficient thing for my health? We geeks believe that there is some scientifically managed diet out there based on practical aspects, not taste, that will make us smarter, faster, more productive. This is what we're always looking for.

Even cooks are makers who want to democratize what already exists

The difference between just being a consumer and becoming a producer is that the individual has the right to experiment. So even if you go to a store or restaurant and buy something that’s been created by someone else, you can go home and change it, add your own creativity and ideas to it.

We already have the tools and recipes, and we now have access to an unimaginable range of ingredients and information online. We've always had stoves, we've always had recipes but now we have these ideas. So just like when I talk to people about a book at a book club and gain new perspectives, so might I discover new recipes and dishes by entertaining and experimenting with food.

In my book MAKERS, which talks about the Maker Movement, the third industrial revolution in digital manufacturing that occurs when digital technology interacts with the real world, more choices and democratized change in certain areas are brought about through technology. We usually think of makers as being people who are involved in electronics or mechanics, but for me any cook is really a maker, and if anything cooking is a predominant area of the Maker Movement.

Food is a stage that encourages creativity and innovation for those who want to get something back in their hands. In that sense, there’s something in common between cooking and reshaping the world using technology. Everybody is a maker, absorbed in the idea of democratizing what already exists.

Chris Anderson
Co-founder and CEO of 3D Robotics, a drone developing company, Anderson served as editor-in-chief of Wired U.S. magazine between 2001 and 2012, during which time he wrote The Long Tail, Free and Makers. All of these books became best sellers worldwide. He lives in Berkeley, California.
Ken Sato
Ajinomoto Co., Inc. General Manager, New Business Creation Group
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