The Future of the Urban Food Market
Borough Market have also written about the event - go to their blog.
Back in November, Borough Market and Nesta joined forces to explore the future of the urban food market. As many of us flock to food markets around the country this week to find good food for Christmas, it seems like a good time to revisit the ideas we explored at the event. Chefs, designers, policy makers, academics and market-goers met in the market hall to explore ideas about what the market of the future might look like. We designed future objects (using the excellent Thing from the Future as a prompt). We created a map of the future market, (which will be on public display in the Market in January), and mused on what some future food labels might show.
This was an opportunity to think about the future of food in a more creative atmosphere. Thinking about the future can be done in different ways, with different tools. We can look at technologies, and likely future developments, and think about the machines and data of a future system. We can look at people, demographics and trends, and think about social change - a much harder thing to forecast. We can think of a desired future, imagining things that we want to be different about the system we have today, and plot a path that might take us there.
The future of food is often treated either as an economic future - a future industry, with associated employment patterns and distribution routes. Or it is forecast as a global, ethical future - a looming crisis of growing population colliding with a growing preference for meat and processed food. We started this event from the idea that the future of food will be a blend of existing traditions, foods and places with new ideas and technologies - that the two can't be separated.
The ideas that were created owed as much to the history of the London food market as they did to future technology and ideas. Perhaps not surprisingly given the audience, much of the discussion was about 'whole' foods - raw fruit and vegetables, meat from good sources, locally grown. Technologies were often imagined as making these old-fashioned foods more accessible: using big data, and responsive materials to create a custom shopping bag, complete with a personalised recipe, food labels that give the names of the animals, or show holograms of the producers and a giant conveyor belt garden. There was also a desire to see food as a source of joy and pleasure: imagined community ice-cream making, a machine to evoke food aromas from childhood, and a gourmet food dispensing machine.
Other food labels and imagined objects convey anxieties about a technological future where many tasks are automated, measured, and analysed. Dystopian ideas included mammoth steaks, automated abbatoirs, and being instructed on what and when to eat by a machine.
There was also a desire to preserve the market as a meeting place, a place of conviviality. Some people wanted to emphasise the role of the market as a place for bartering, exchange and in capturing the full life-cycle of food, including its growing and waste. We took the idea of talks and demos to educate people on how food is grown and how to prepare it. Being able to see food being made in the market itself, with aquaculture tanks, rooftop gardens and even a pickle ship on the Thames, was seen as a good way to reconnect with the sources of our food.
New forms of transport were also a strong theme, removing cars to create more pedestrian space, adding walkways and creating greater connections to the river. Drones, hovercraft, helicopters and electric vehicles were all suggested as new ways for food to make its way to and from the market.
Of course, describing the future in this way is more of a reflection of our thoughts and concerns about the present than a prediction of what is to come. And by capturing these ideas in a creative way, we are in a better position to shape the future that is to come. We are going to continue looking at the future of food in 2016, and you can join in the conversation with Nesta and Borough Market on twitter using #futurefoodmarket.