We Don't Need Silicon Valley to Reinvent Our Food

NEWS ANALYSIS: From meat grown from cow stem cells in a lab to 3D printed fruit, Silicon Valley is investing big money in reinventing food. But creating Frankenfood isn't the way to ensure people have plenty to eat.

Frankenfood B

Having reinvented information gathering, social interaction, business, finance and many other areas of human life, Silicon Valley now wants to reinvent food.

The whole venture-funded, startup-driven, engineering-focused system that brought us Apple, Google and Facebook is now turning its attention to inventing meat grown in a lab from cow stem cells, artificial salt, 3D-printed fruit and beverages that can nutritionally replace all solid foods, and many other such research projects.

These companies are brazenly Silicon Valleyish in their orientations. One artificial meat company is called Sand Hill Foods (Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto, Calif., is the epicenter of the high-tech venture capital community in the valley).

Meanwhile, an artificial egg-based food company called Hampton Creek Foods (backed by Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates and Peter Thiel's Founders Fund) says it's not a food company at all, but a technology company.

Silicon Valley companies are inherently (and aggressively) expansionist. When they conquer one market, they want another. And another. And another.

And now they've set their sights on your dinner plate.

As a technologist, foodie and health nut, I'm here to tell you that this is a terrible idea. I don't want Silicon Valley to reinvent food. Here's why.

Tech companies exist to find things wrong with the world and set it right through the creative application of new technology. The companies behind these new approaches to food say they're solving the problems of environmental destruction by the food industry, cruelty to animals, world hunger, and the hassle of making and eating food.

One thing all these startups have in common is the desire to make food that lies. They want to make food that appears to be one thing but in fact is something completely different.

The startups are already green-washing and health-washing these products to consumers. The Websites and marketing show happy people in natural settings eating natural foods—all to sell some very unnatural foods.

And I think it's likely that they'll scaremonger consumers into accepting it, too. Using the triple threat of the global health crisis, climate change, and overpopulation and famine, they may imply that radical science, engineering and big data applied to the creation of science-fiction fake foods is humanity's only salvation.

But I don't trust Silicon Valley with our food and our health.

They have already demonstrated a perfect indifference to our health and wellbeing. One small example: lights. Our countless gadgets, such as smartphones, smartwatches, alarm-clock phone docks, surge protectors, TV boxes, electric toothbrushes—you name it—callously display bright lights all night while we sleep.

The fact that such lights at night have been linked in countless studies to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, depression and obesity is both mainstream information and also completely and callously ignored by the tech industry. If they want to improve health, start by turning those lights off.

Silicon Valley likes to use the word "disruption." It means taking something that's been working for many years and going along fine, and wrecking it for some shiny new thing. Yes, Silicon Valley would disrupt the world of processed industrial junk food. But they might also disrupt the growing real-food movement.