Food, Glorious Food … And Now in 3-D

One of the most intriguing stories in the Bible is the discussion of how the people of Israel were fed during their 40 years in the desert. On occasion, God would create a miracle and the Israelites would be allowed to enjoy actual meat. But the vast majority of the time, the Israelites subsisted on a substance referred to as manna.
Manna is described as a very light substance that would fall from the sky and come to rest on the dew of the morning. By the way, this raises the question of  how it was that the Israelites were always close enough to mass amounts of foliage , in order to host the quantities of manna necessary to feed everyone. But I digress.
Manna actually fascinates the commentators and has a whole history specifically around it. It is said that a sample of the manna was kept in the holy Ark and would one day be presented back to the Jews, with the understanding that it would once again feed the masses. Another tradition surrounding the manna was that it could be made to taste like anything that the consumer wished. This begs the question then, why the Israelites so much wanted  actual meat, if the manna could perfectly simulate the taste. Once again, I digress.
Food scientists have long been looking for some type of food source that could be manipulated into a whole variety of products. The idea would be that this food source would be inherently healthy and contain the complete mix of nutrients that a person needs to survive and even grow. It might very well be that these food scientists will not have much longer to wait.
3-D printing has been in the news for a couple of years now. It has existed for longer than that, but there has been a whole new level of interest in the technology. In the world of manufacturing, it is still cheaper to produce items in mass quantities, rather than 3-D print them. But the cost of 3-D printing as well as its speed, are constantly improving. I suspect that the day will soon come when warehouses  full of 3-D printers will manage to produce a whole range of items better and faster than present manufacturing machines and humans. This will be a revolution in manufacturing. What is astounding to me, is that 3-D printing was still considered a novelty at the beginning of this decade, i.e. five years ago. Once again, the rate of progress is staggering.
In the following article, the authors describe a whole series of 3-D food printers which can already produce edible, nutritious and variously shaped food products. These products, like the pastes they come from, are readily chewable and digestible. This can make them ideal for young children, older individuals with dental problems and any person with a neurological problem that affects swallowing and more.
It is very important to remember that some individuals are extremely sensitive to the various elements of the foods that they eat. Patients receiving chemotherapy or those that are being treated with radiation therapy to the area of the mouth and tongue, can experience significant changes in their sense of taste. Foods that were previously desirable become intolerable. Conversely, it may be possible to find a new combination of tastes that is acceptable to these individuals.
When speaking to a large-scale manufacturer, it is effectively impossible to produce a given food with a whole range of flavors and textures. It simply is not financially viable to produce 100 different versions of a particular food. Clients of food stores will simply not buy enough of all of the different versions of the food to support this type of manufacturing. However, when dealing with 3-D printing of food, it will be possible to modify the texture and taste specifically for an individual, and then save these parameters as the particular person’s food profile. And, if over time, the person’s tastes change once again, the profile can be updated.
The pastes that are used by the 3-D printers can be shipped at a much cheaper price than packaged foodstuffs. In the same volume that a box of cookies would occupy, you could include enough paste for multiple complete meals. The 3-D printers themselves would need to be shipped separately and housed in a location that makes food distribution to the masses relatively easy. But once the printers are in place, and the various profiles have been loaded into memory, one only needs to insert the paste reservoirs and the 3-D printer does its magic.
It truly is hard to imagine how revolutionary this technology will be. In the westernized world, it may very well be possible to produce foods that are tasteful and nutritious and that can compete with any sugared breakfast cereal and cookie. Admittedly, these 3-D foods would have to compete in texture and shape with other regular foods, to truly capture the hearts and mouths of the public.But this is exactly why Gd invented version 2 and 3 of various software and hardware.
Once these issues are conquered, then overnight, you could have a family switch to eating a healthy mix of foods. Such a family would thus begin to conquer their overweight, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other factors that increase the risk of serious disease.
In the developing world, it could finally become financially viable to feed everyone. Citizens of a particular country will no longer be wholly dependent on sufficient rain during the winter or other rainy season. Ideally, the actual manufacturing of the various pastes would be set up in countries across the developing world. In this way, these countries could truly become food independent.
Of course, it would depend on the constituents of the pastes themselves, but you could effectively eliminate any issue of biological or religious restriction on allowable foods. If the pastes are gluten-free, then the children with celiac disease could eat what ever could be printed. If the pastes are kosher and considered neither milk nor meat, you could then print “pork” and eat it to your heart’s contentment. There will unquestionably be a multi-billion-dollar industry related to artificial tastes for all of these pastes.
In time, the issue will arise as what to do with farmed foods that are being consumed in much smaller quantities. I would not dare try to answer as politically charged a question as this. But suffice it to say, a fundamental part of our day-to-day lives is soon going to dramatically change.
I just want to note a business curiosity. I am actually astounded that the major food manufacturers of today have not bought up this technology in order to control it and simply make sure that any generated profits from it, make it into their own pockets. It could be that I am missing some basic point here, and I would be more than happy for someone else to illuminate me.
In any case, I would not even try and guess where this technology will be in 10 years. But, I suggest that everyone keep an eye on 3-D printing of food.
Thanks for listening.
About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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