Much is made of the rise of the robots. How our mundane tasks will be farmed out to android underlings. How jobs will be lost and (eventually) humans themselves will become redundant (ok, that’s a stretch, but it doesn’t stop conspiracy theorists from peddling the notion). How the fictions of the ‘Terminator’ films will become fact.
A defining human characteristic separating us from artificial intelligence (AI) is the crucial ability to sense: to taste, smell, feel, even hear (sizzling fajitas, anyone?) food, among other things. Yet, take a moment in a restaurant or cafe to watch fellow diners (not in a stalky way – let’s not get carried away) and you’ll notice how so many people seem to be on auto-pilot, the simple act of putting food into their mouths void of conscious thought. This observation has made me question the chances of altering peoples’ relationship with food.
Without increasing awareness – without waking people up! – how can we increase food integrity and improve the ways food is produced? How can we reduce food wastage? How can we address diet-related illnesses? Making the broader question about food integrity simply this: What will it take for us to be conscious consumers of food?
Along with this is a growing concern that it may be too late for some people, that food is now just a habit or addiction. As with other addictions, food is beyond conscious thought – cravings drive choice and convenience is paramount.
Of course, to become and to continue being a conscious consumer requires being fed with quality information bereft of an abundance of detail that makes it indigestible. Food information should be like a buffet: those who want to add a bit of habanero to their plate may do so, while those wishing to feed on white bread and bland cheese – the ‘basics’ of food information – find satisfaction, too. The hope? As time goes by, and people’s awareness grows, so will their intellectual and dietary horizons. When there is a critical mass of consumers questioning food production and supply, then we find an opportunity to improve food supply chains for all.
Until this time, however, we must avoid becoming robotic in our quest to resolve nutritional requirements. Perhaps it’s time to put the AI (smartphone!) down at the table, have a look at what’s on our plates, and engage with those around us about the food we eat.