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Some recipes are passed down from generation to generation, becoming long-standing traditions. Others invite us to explore new regions or inspire us to reinvent our bodies. They even encourage us to reimagine the food spaces in our lives, from kitchens to marketplaces. The Food Futures Lab at Institute for the Future cultivates a community of change-makers who use food as a medium for innovation and who write the recipes for the next decade. We draw connections across their stories to forecast unexpected possibilities and we provide them tools for thinking about the kinds of futures they’re building. Using methodologies developed over nearly 50 years, we challenge assumptions and reveal new opportunities to make a resilient, equitable, and delicious future of food. We’ve identified five Ingredients for Change—capacities, tools, and platforms to reinvent food experiences—that can be combined into new recipes for innovation. Here is a taste of these ingredients, and some signals of where we already see them today, for the Global Action Review. For the full forecasts, see IFTF’s report, “Food Innovation: Recipes for the Next Decade.” Scalable Biodiversity: Toward Robust Ecosystems in the Gut, Factory, and Field Anxiety over the shrinking diversity of plant and animal crops is tempered by the realization of stunning diversity many orders of magnitude smaller, at the microbial level. Microbes have been our allies in food innovation for hundreds of thousands of years, but our understanding and command of these living ingredients is getting more granular every day. The ultimate promise of biodiversity at any scale is resilience. Embracing biodiversity as an ingredient for innovation builds a strong bridge between profitable businesses and climate resilient, healthy food systems. Forecast: Dynamic Personalization The premise that one healthy diet will work for everyone is becoming increasingly suspect. Even genetically identical twins respond differently to the same foods and research is revealing the role of the gut microbiome in these variations. With the proliferation of devices and services that will give people the ability to track their own microbiomes over time or at any given moment, the next decade will see a vast expansion of support for making food choices based on personalized, dynamic information. Signals:  The Unified Microbiome Initiative aims to span epicenters of research on the microbiome and connect researchers across disciplines. Within a decade, researchers anticipate bridging the divide between correlative and causative insights. The American Gut Project and the Human Food Project combine a vast collection of citizen-donated microbial samples and compare these DNA-sequenced populations with samples taken from people living traditional farming or hunting-and-gathering lifestyles from Peru to Namibia. Cloud Intelligence: Toward Decentralized, Efficient Management of Food Systems Agriculture—and the global food system more broadly—is being reinvented with the help of low-cost, high-tech methods for connecting food, people, tools, and data together in networks across the Internet of Things. Whether enabling precision-based crop management or empowering home cooks to enlist their appliances in food preparation, cloud intelligence will create a food system that is more efficient, more productive, and more responsive to shifting social demands for food. Forecast: Optimized Efficiency In the next decade, our food markets, like our financial markets, will become dominated by automatic transactions, from negotiating large deals between vendors to automating home orders. As we build out the infrastructure to catalog and manage discrete parts of our food web, it will begin to form interoperable, self-managing systems-of-systems. This will not only reduce inefficiencies but also help automate transactions throughout the system—transforming our approaches to everything from production to home purchasing. Signals: Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service is an application programming interface (API) that manufacturers can build into any appliance or hardware to identify when supplies are low and automatically reorder from Amazon. For instance, Brita is using these APIs to detect when its water filters are expired and then trigger an automatic reorder. Spread is a Japanese food company building an indoor vertical farm with robotic systems to plant, manage, and harvest 30,000 heads of lettuce daily. Spread’s “vegetable factory” will use 98 percent recycled water and no pesticides, reliably produce food in a controlled climate, and through automation deliver locally-grown produce more cheaply. Experimental Biodesign: Toward Reinventing Food Experiences and Food Systems Culinary artists and scientists have always experimented with the tools of their disciplines to develop new foods. Louis Pasteur’s fascination with fermentation is just one example of humans’ longstanding curiosity about the processes of cooking and preserving food. In recent years, the proliferation of research labs that combine the culinary arts with food science has expanded the scope and pace of food innovation. As synthetic biology evolves, new capacities at the intersection of culinary arts and food science are emerging. Forecast: Multidimensional Food Experiences Bio-based experimentation is expanding to include textures, packaging, or even multisensory stimulation. Food designers are using culturing methods to produce animal proteins derived from engineered yeast and creating foods with new textures, functions like elasticity, or the ability to express properties over time. Beyond food, the fashion and materials industries are designing living materials that could enable new functionality for food packaging. These early experiments point to a future in which we’ll harness living organisms for more dynamic food experiences. Signals: Clara Foods is one of several start-ups harnessing yeast to prototype cultured animal proteins. It aims to produce egg whites with a more dynamic set of properties than animal egg whites, such as a more complete protein profile or increased foam stability for meringues and other baked goods. Programmable Pasta comes packed flat and pops into form when submerged in water. This project from MIT’s Tangible Media Group would significantly would lower shipping costs by reducing the amount of wasted space in a pasta box. It also creates fun opportunities for more interactive edible experiences. Rewritable Narrative: Toward Open Food Stories Food narratives are the stories we tell around food—recounting its history and place within culture, and embodied in its preparation, presentation, and marketing. Narrative has always been an important part of the food experience, shaping its value; and story is clearly a critical tool in selling food products. Increasingly, food purveyors are seeing the experience and narrative of food as core to their offerings—and sometimes the only way to differentiate one food product from another. Forecast: New Mediums In a future where everything is media—with computing power and Internet connectivity embedded in everything from human bodies to vehicles to the surfaces of our kitchens—we will be able to write and rewrite stories on any surface. People have always used food arrangement and ambience to tell stories. But with the advent of augmented reality and other communications technology, we’ll be able to change the aesthetics of food and the environment with much less effort. When manipulating the sensory environment becomes as easy as downloading an app, we’ll see many more people rewriting the narratives of food in this way. Signals: Marriott Hotels’ VRoom Service is a virtual reality experience allowing users to travel around the world through a head-mounted display. The first destinations include an ice cream shop in Rwanda and a street market in Beijing. This kind of multisensory technology can make food narratives available to many more people. A study from Cornell University’s Department of Applied Economics reports children chose an apple with a sticker of the cartoon character Elmo on it over a cookie. This further reveals how food aesthetics can be used to nudge people toward particular choices and how new mediums for food narratives can encourage healthy choices or reinforce identities or ethics. Engaged Eaters: Toward Eater-Led Reinvention of The Food System Who is food innovation for, if not the eater? Providing food to satisfy a basic need of billions of people is the whole point of our global system of agricultural production, manufacturing, distribution, and shopping. Today, many eaters feel disconnected from how food is made, and efforts led by food companies and governments only incrementally changed ingredients or packaging. Eaters have lost trust in food companies and are once again going DIY to create a food system rooted in values of sustainability, health, sociality, and pleasure. Forecast: Participatory Production Eaters around the world are taking a more active role in producing and processing their food. This starts with kids who gain food literacy through edible education curricula, and learn to see themselves as more than just consumers. Traditional practices like small-scale farming and fermentation become easier and more precise thanks to sensors and automation technologies. As eaters produce foods they like, they’ll take new products to market, just as many of today’s successful craft beers started as home brewing projects. Signals: Acetaia San Giacomo, a traditional balsamic vinegar producer in Italy, worked with the local Fab Lab to produce a kit that people can use to make vinegar at home. Blending tradition with food innovation, the kit features a 3D-printed, Arduino-powered pH sensor and aerator plus starter bacteria from the acetaia’s barrels. Leaf, an automated at-home medicinal cannabis growing system, continuously monitors the growing environment and makes adjustments to optimize plant health. With its nutrient dosing system and custom LED growlight, Leaf could provide a model for similar systems to grow produce at home. About the author: Sarah Smith is a research director at Institute for the Future’s Food Futures Lab. Copyright Statement: Copyright © 2017 Institute for the Future (IFTF) for Global Action Platform. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)  

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.



And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.



It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.



In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.



Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.



This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?


We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?



Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?



Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.



Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.


These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.