From petri dish to plate - Danish Food Cluster

From petri dish to plate

Column by Lone Ryg Olsen, Danish Food Cluster

Many new types of foods originate from a lab rather than from the field, and as a consumer, you will increasingly start asking yourself: What is natural?

Dinner is served, and there is chicken from the bioreactor, vegetables created on an assembly line, and a nutritional drink based on modified powder from chickpeas on the menu.

Well, the chicken is grown from the cells of a real chicken, but no animal life was sacrificed during the process. The vegetables look like those from the field, but they have never touched the soil nor been hit by the sunlight. And the drink is specifically made to match your nutritional needs, but it is scientists and not a farmer who stands behind.

New means that challenges our perception of what is natural are being used in the fight to provide the world’s growing population with good nourishment, and to meet the wish for more proteins from the globally exploding middleclass.

“Long term predictions are being made on how the laboratory meat will be so cheap, tasty, and safe that many consumers will prefer that option on an everyday basis.

In Denmark, we still say “from farm to fork”, but will we at some point start saying “from petri dish to plate”? Many countries invest heavily in laboratory-made proteins based on both chicken as well as cow, and tuna as well as turkey.

The process of growing meat in a bioreactor is still all too expensive. However, scientists within the field estimate that in the near future, maybe in two years’ time, there will be more efficient and economic solutions on the greatest challenges with growing proteins. Long term predictions are being made on how the laboratory meat will be so cheap, tasty, and safe that many consumers will prefer that option on an everyday basis.

Others believe in the plant-based alternatives, where advanced technology is being used to make the veggie patty perform just like one of the more CO2 unfriendly beef patties; with the perfect crust and a juicy centre.

The industry is also seeking closed systems that can for instance produce greens independently of soil and with a highly decreased water and fertiliser consumption compared to the one we see today. They want to stop soil cultivation and move the plants into robot driven facilities with various floors, where sensors optimise the working procedures.

The arguments are to take care of the environment, have a more efficient production independently of the climate, and 100 % food safety. And if it tastes good, it may be without importance whether soil and sun is in the picture.

For other products, the sales numbers may instead rely on individual health, where a drink is for instance put together from whatever you need, rather than being a standard product. Longer shelf-life and less food waste together with practical solutions for a busy schedule are also arguments.

But is it natural? And who even decides what is natural? Once, our daily meals in Denmark often consisted of porridge, which we have happily changed so that we can surround ourselves with a large variety of foods from all around the world, all year round. Once, roasts and chicken were feasts, and now it is a human right to have the delicate meat every day.

That human right now challenges the available resources, which is why the food of the future is now the most eminent playground for entrepreneurs, scientists, and investors.

As a consumer, change is the only thing you can count on and if you are feeling a bit doubtful about it, you can just take it easy. The meat from the cow, vegetables from the field, and the milk from the udder are not going anywhere. The real deal may become a bit more expensive and exclusive, to benfit the farmers and the traditional producers, but you can still do exactly what you are used to.

The question is whether you want to or if you will automatically start choosing some of the new solutions. Natural or not.

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About the author

Column by Lone Ryg Olsen
CEO, Danish Food Cluster


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