FOOD FOR BOTS
MONOLOGUE WRITTEN BY CLYDE LEWIS
As I was preparing my show for today, I was perusing the internet and some pop up news service was blaring out news stories. I was listening and even though it sounded like some video from TMZ or entertainment tonight, one of the headlines that was read was about the soft drink, Coke Zero.
The reports said that after 12 years and remarkable sales, Coca Cola was taking it off the market and replacing it with another drink.
From the moment I heard the announcement, I could hear in my minds ear a huge NOOOOOO! Like the one Darth Vader delivered at the end of Star Wars Revenge of the Sith.
I admit that out of all of the diet sodas that are out there, Coke Zero tastes better. I know that doesn’t mean it is better for me, but let’s face it, if I want a soda, I can’t drink sugary drinks as they contain ten teaspoons of sugar.
So for those who care Coca Cola has decided to rework the drink and rename it, Coke Zero Sugar. It has a new recipe that took them five years to develop and it has been reported have created a drink that they say is so close to the Classic Coke taste it could be considered a sugarless synthesized version of the original Coca Cola.
When I read about the diet synthesis of coke I couldn’t help but think about Star Trek: the Next Generation and how the ships replicator would create a beverage called Synthehol. Synthehol is a beverage that tastes alcoholic, but does not have the intoxicating or addictive affects of alcohol.
If you remember in the series an episode called “Relics.” Engineer Montgomery Scott from the old series shows up and demands that he drinks real alcohol instead the synthetic stuff that the new crew is used to drinking.
The announcement of a synthesized diet soft drink comes on the heels of a new study that suggests that low calorie diet drinks and foods ‘trick the brain into making you fatter’ and could trigger diabetes.
The body has evolved to burn more calories if something tastes sweet because in nature sweeter substances contain more energy.
But diet products that do not taste sweet confuse the brain into thinking there are fewer calories to burn than there are. This causes the body’s metabolism to drop, storing up the products as fat, claim researchers at Yale University.
Scientists scanned the brains of 15 people on diet drinks and others on regular ones.
They also monitored how much energy was burned and found that when there was a “mismatch”, the brain did not register calories had been consumed, which could lead to eating more.
Donald Trump once tweeted that he has never seen a thin person drinking Diet Coke.
Diet Coke was launched as a healthy alternative to full sugary classic Coke, but science has since found it comes with a few health risks; of course, the problem is with the artificial sweeteners.
Some people do not like diet drinks because of the taste, while Coke Zero Sugar still has artificial sweeteners – the fact that it tastes like sugary classic coke has people eager to try it and use it as a “healthier” alternative.
Of course, healthy is a relative description and the thought of synthesized food may have people a little troubled, but the truth is that it is inevitable.
Think of it, if we are able to synthesize natural flavors and textures in a lab and perhaps add nutrients and essential vitamins in the mix – could this be the healthier alternative to the Genetically Modified Foods that are provided by companies like Monsanto?
Before industrial agriculture and CAFOs, before processed foods, McDonald’s and TV dinners – people ate real food. This real food consisted of whole fruits and vegetables eaten in season or preserved in the summer months for a long cold winter. Real food came from animals that grazed on pasture and were allowed to live out their natural instincts by scratching, pecking, birthing and wandering as they wanted.
But now industrial agriculture has taken over our food supply. In an attempt to feed more people in an easier and more productive way, food has become food “products” full of chemicals not real food.
This denatured food contributes to diseases that are shortening the human lifespan for the first time ever. Obesity, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are at an all time high, and most of these diseases are controllable by the food we consume.
GMO’s may find themselves obsolete soon, if the public embraces the idea of synthetic biological foods.
Synthetic biology is about designing and building workhorse organisms that can make things more efficiently than nature or make things we might need that nature doesn’t make at all.
For example, synthetic biology has now advanced to the point of opening the door to organ transplants from animals; researchers have created gene-edited piglets cleansed of viruses that might cause disease in humans.
The experiments, reported in the journal Science, may make it possible one day to transplant livers, hearts and other organs from pigs into humans, a hope that experts had all but given up.
While there’s been far more hype around synthetic biology’s potential to create designer pigs, drugs, and biofuels, some of the most recent “synbio” products to hit the market are actually somewhere in our food.
Synbio vanillin, marketed as an alternative to artificial vanilla flavor, was rolled out in the U.S. recently. It isn’t in the supermarket but its maker, International Flavors & Fragrances, the U.S. partner of a Swiss company that invented the technology, is keeping quiet about which food companies are using it for flavoring—could it be a coincidence that the original Coke Zero had a cinnamon infused recipe and Coke Zero Sugar has a vanilla infused recipe?
Artificial vanilla flavoring, meanwhile, is cheap, but it’s derived from petrochemicals and paper mill waste, and thus can’t be labeled “natural.”
So Evolva saw an opportunity: Synbio vanillin, the name of the compound in the vanilla bean that imparts most of its flavor, can be labeled “natural” because it’s made from fermentation, according to the Flavor and Extracts Manufacturers Association.
Evolva is the Swiss synthetic biology company that developed the synbio vanilla; it also has synbio saffron, the antioxidant resveratrol and stevia in the pipeline. All are expected to go to market in the next two years. The main advantage of synthetic biology foods, Evolva claims, is that they can be made in a lab, rather than in a field that has to be tended by laborers and is subject to unpredictable variables like weather.
Now, I asked around the office today about the idea of eating synthetic foods and most people were skittish saying they wouldn’t like the idea eating anything that is synthesized in a lab.
I said that most everything we eat has chemical compounds that are mad in a lab. Americans spend about ninety percent of their food budget on processed foods, which, unlike whole foods, have been treated in some way after being harvested or butchered. Almost all of these processed foods contain additives, substances intended to change the food in some way before it is sold to consumers.
The significant corporate consolidation of global food production has created a food system that values quantity over quality. Every single decision a farmer or corporation makes about growing or raising a certain kind of food affects the final product. Cutting corners on the quality of animal feed, waste management, training for farm workers, processing methods and distribution all affect the safety of our food. From E. coli in spinach to mad cow disease in beef, it is clear that lowering the bottom line at any cost creates significant concerns about the safety of our food.
I also brought up the fact that much of what we eat has some genetically modified organism in it. Genetic engineering is the process of transferring specific traits, or genes, from one organism into a different plant or animal. The resulting organism is called transgenic or a GMO (genetically modified organism). 70% of processed foods in American supermarkets now contain genetically modified ingredients.
While synthetic tech can be seen as genetic engineering – the claim is that the processes are different, making foods that were once considered bad for you, better for you.
In 2005, 32.5 million cattle were slaughtered to provide beef for US consumers. Scientists believe about two-thirds of American cattle raised in for slaughter today are injected with hormones to make them grow faster.
These measures mean higher profits for the beef industries, but what does it mean for consumers? Although the USDA and FDA claim these hormones are safe, there is growing concern that hormone residues in meat might be harmful to human health and the environment.
However, lab grown meat is ready to be marketed to the public.
According to a pew research poll, more people would rather be microchiped than eat lab meat.
Back in August of 2013, we reported that a team of Dutch scientists showed off their lab-grown burger which cost a mere $330,000 to make. There was even provided a taste test for other people who were curious about the new food. The meat was cruelty free and was chock full of nutrients not found in processed hamburger.
Believe it or not, this meat is ready for the market and yet no companies in the existing meat industry have expressed interest in buying or selling “cruelty free or “environmentally friendly meat.”
The meat has been called many things. It has been nicknamed, in-vitro meat; it is also known as cultured meat or “shmeat.” Alternative names include hydroponic meat, test-tube meat, vat-grown meat and victimless meat.
It is not artificial meat because it biologically synthesized from an animal, however, it has never been part of a complete, living animal. It is also not imitation meat, which is a vegetarian food product produced from vegetable protein, usually from soy or gluten. Those types of “meat type” products provide an emotional bridge for people who can’t completely deal with leaving behind the taste of meat.
Now a vegan or vegetarian who feels badly about an animal suffering will no longer have to worry with this meat, since an animal does not have to die in order for it to be eaten. The animal only needs to have a needle extract blood from the muscle and from there meat is created in a laboratory.
The technology is developing so rapidly that making a distinction between different types of genetically modified foods can be tricky. While genetically modified organisms have had their DNA sequences changed, typically by having traits of another species spliced in with their own, synthetic biology, or simply “synbio,” involves the creation of entirely new organisms with DNA sequences created from whole cloth on a computer. These organisms, typically bacteria or algae, are used to produce valuable commodities such as flavorings and oils.
Research and development on these products is currently kept largely under wraps. Companies are closely guarding the technology and perhaps the fact that they’re using it at all.
Though only beginning to enter the market, the general distrust of high-tech foods threatens to bite those companies investing in synbio. Success will require embracing transparency and explaining to consumers the benefits of the new technology.
In some energy drinks, you will find synthetic caffeine.
Fragrances and extracts, as well as soaps and lotions, already contain synthetically derived biological products. Consumers would likely protest if they knew about them.
For many companies, the omission of the term “synthetic biology” from their promotional materials has been an intentional decision due to fears of negative consumer reaction.
Whatever direction synbio outfits head in their marketing campaigns, a fight is brewing. It’s one that will be shaped by public discourse on food options in light of the ecological pressures brought by on by growing world populations.
Meanwhile, we are told l that it is best to eat foods that are artisanal, hand-crafted, gluten-free and organic. They are all buzzwords that have been crafted for food marketers to get you to pay as much as possible for the food you consume. Synbio or Synth foods are not in the lexicon, as of yet
However, I think that it’s time to be intellectually honest about what we consume. Organic has nothing to do with nutrition and using objectivity it doesn’t always mean the vest quality – the illusion is that we need new magic words to sell foods that lack nutrients and minerals that have been lost over time.
Synth foods may change all of that and even though it sounds science fiction – the idea of adding supplemental nutrients and minerals to your food may be a way to get them into your body.
Until then, there are many nutritional supplements that are available and in some cases, they are also synthetic. Today, we’re on the cusp of significant technological breakthroughs in food production and even vitamin supplement production; the likes of which have never been seen before.
The results are very promising and provide health benefits that literally help the body in ways that have not been seen before.
The fact is whenever things have an air of science fiction to them some people have a bit of future shock – what follows is something called, cultural lag.
Cultural lag is the phenomenon where social adoption trails technological innovation. This lag causes friction, but that friction doesn’t last forever. If history teaches us anything, it’s that those who bet against technological innovation lose.
The next frontier is our ability to produce food from its molecular components and replace the need for resource-intensive, often unethical food-growing practices. These “synthetic” foods aren’t just possible, they’re inevitable.