3D Food Printers: The Good Side of Food Technology

It's easy to read my constant barrage of attacks on the GMO industry and come away with the impression that I'm some kind of food Luddite, frightened of new technology and a believer that we should all go back to living in caves and eating woolly mammoths. (You know, the true Paleo Diet.) But this isn't the case at all.

Instead, there's simply a great dearth of food technology developed that actually helps instead of hurts the way we eat. Which is why good news in that realm needs to be highlighted. Things like the 3D printer.

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Last week, the German company Biozoon announced they're near completion of a 3D food printer that may change the way a lot of us eat, and for the better. The technology takes various powder mixtures that are put into the machine and outputs them as actual, honest to goodness meals that look and taste like real food. But the printed food will differ from actual food in one very significant way: It will dissolve in your mouth.

And why is this a good thing?

They allow a new form of nutrition for people with chewing and swallowing difficulties who are unable to eat normal food. The person affected can be provided with a balanced diet adapted to his or her needs. The concept focuses on increasing quality of life.

That's right: Hospital food's about to get all sorts of futuristic!

This development is an important one in the realm of elderly care, seeing as over 60% of elderly patients have trouble chewing and swallowing their meals. The options for hospital patients are currently either normal food (most of which isn't all that joyous to eat) or viscous gruel (which is even worse). But with this new invention, there's finally going to be a third, better option. (This is also good news for someone like myself, who's needed the Heimlich Maneuver four times in his life.)

Unfortunately, this is one of the few cases where new food technology has been used for the greater good.

See, looking back through the history books, the advancement of food tech has not been all that great on the human body. Back in 2011, Dr. David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston published a piece arguing that it hasn't really helped out mankind since, well, a long, long time ago:

Ludwig begins his story with early hominids, who got by on a diet consisting primarily of plants and insects. Then, about 2 million years ago, the first "transformative technology" arrived on the scene: stone tools. These made it possible to hunt large animals and - along with the discovery that meat could be made safe to eat by cooking it in a fire - allowed humans to evolve large brains. Since then, however, technological advances in food production have done at least as much harm as good, Ludwig argues.

12,000 years ago, the move towards grain-based meals -- while allowing for the expansion of our species -- cut down on how many nutrients we consume per calorie. The next big shift in food philosophy during the Industrial Revolution brought with it the mass production of flour and sugar, which has led to the current state of processed fast foods. (Ultimately leading to things like the Doritos Loco taco and the double Quarter Pounder cheeseburger, which, while they may be delicious, are not all that great on our bodies.) In short, we haven't developed anything worthwhile since our days in caves.

That said, the centuries of missteps doesn't mean we should abandon trying to create new food-based technologies. The world's population continues to grow while our food supply continues to decrease. Our rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease are still unnecessarily high. We have work to do, and a lot of it. And the 3D food printer -- specifically, the focus of this particular device on providing nutritional benefits to those who need them -- is a giant step in the right direction of where food tech needs to go.

Perhaps the biggest difference between something good like this and something not so good like GMOs, or high fructose corn syrup, or simply the continual production of processed foods, is that it's not hidden. It's not insidious. It's out in the open. People who use it know exactly what they're getting. Sadly, you can't say the same thing about the others.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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