Brian Wang Interviewed for Future of Food Podcast

I, Brian Wang, was interviewed for the FutureX podcast. I discussed the Future of Food.

Topics discussed:

  • Is Hemp the new Soy? Hemp can be an important protein source. However, soy is important for sauces and culinary dishes in Asian cuisine.
    Beyond meat and cell-based meat. The cell meat and new plant-based burgers taste very close to cow burger. This will be an interesting and perhaps substantial niche.
  • A discussion of price and the future of foods.
  • Insect based feed and food is discussed.
  • The Tony Seba, RethinkX cell based food revolution, is discussed.
  • Robotic greenhouses can be 30 times more productive than regular farmland, but the transformation is we can have robot greenhouse farms in cities. This will mean most of our meals can be like those at the three Michelin star, French Laundry. They get food farm to table. The French Laundry has a few acre garden right beside the restaurant. Food will be fresher, better tasting and more nutritious.
  • The mass production of greenhouses in China is discussed.

The Future of Food host Lee Schneider asks Brian Wang his vision of the future of food. Brian is a realist. He has the information at his fingertips and parses through it so that we can all make sense of what will come next. We talk about new sources of protein that will weird you out (but which won’t bother your pets one bit), and break down a vision of decentralized greenhouses that would remake the whole idea of “farm to table.”

Written By Brian Wang,

30 thoughts on “Brian Wang Interviewed for Future of Food Podcast”

  1. This is a really interesting topic, given that technology does not stand still and more and more superfoods end up on the shelves of regular stores. A couple of years ago, goji berries could only be obtained in some online stores, but now they lie next to peanuts under my house in a small store. More recently, I was surprised when they took my old laptop for recycling, it worked so cool rubbishwaste

  2. I think they're about like fusion power, 30 years away for the next 50 years. Theoretically possible, but scaling will require further breakthroughs and initially at least a very fragile technology. One of the problems with cultured foods is what we see in banana stock – lack of genetic diversity makes all of the stock subject to the same diseases. I can foresee a case where the technology is forced too early and a global food monoculture is found to have a significant, unrealized issue, resulting in the whole line having to be taken out of production. I think this technology will become wide spread, particularly as we move into space and onto the Moon and Mars, but only massive subsidies and penalizing existing farmers the way we do with energy generation will get fast wide spread adoption on earth. My biggest concern is that Big Tech, in the person of Bill Gates, is getting behind this and pushing for such subsidies as a form of rent seeking, as he's recently been disclosed to have a large portfolio of investment in the industry. Let the market sort this one out, research grants are great, production subsidies are harmful.

  3. I can't give a good answer for wine, but I do know that beer brewing is willing to add a whole range of trace ingredients like coffee, chocolate, milk, smoked grains, rice, coconut, lemongrass etc to give the subtle hints that distinguish a $12/bottle beer from a $12/carton beer.
    On the other hand, it often turns out that the result is pretty awful, you do need to be very subtle with such additions and be prepared to run lots of trials.

  4. If chocolate notes or blueberry hints actually make a better wine, why not just add traces of those to the mix of cheaper wines?

  5. I'd add "the plant is small" to your list, because to get to 30x production, they have to stack the plants in high racks. 3x might be possible just from multiple growing "seasons" per year in a greenhouse, but the rest has to be from stacking.

  6. I find it simplest to just home brew to my own tastes. So far I've gotten a couple of bronze medals, so I guess my own tastes aren't all that eccentric.

  7. My understanding, second hand from relatives who are in the business, is that while I can tell $8 wine from $20 wine, I can often tell $20 wine from $100 wine, but another $400 does nothing for me.
    But there are definitely people who can tell. And to develop that skill apparently takes about $50 000 in tasting.
    Such refined palates aren't completely making it up. For decades there were claims of "notes of chocolate" or "hints of blueberry". And modern chemical analysis has agreed that a lot of the time this is backed up by there actually being various chocolate and blueberry chemicals in the mix.
    But there has also been a fair bit of self deception and grandstanding in the mix.

    Personally, I'm not paying more than $14 for anything that's not distilled.

  8. This would seem to use H directly, so H economy certainly helps this along. And Space Solar, power beaming Earth to Earth and thus desert solar, are all here. This is ALSO how to grow food in Space. The stuff we see is only a very small part of the *tree of life*. Almost everything is microbes. I'm getting hungry!

  9. I think greenhouses are nice for climates that cannot grow certain crops. They provide higher margin crops in smaller quantities. The solution to future food concerns is to reduce the waste. I would imagine with all the restaurants closed and people staying home the food volume has decreased globally. If waste decreases, its a gain on food supply and should result in lower prices.

  10. I find it amusing that most people are obsessed with size of produce, and blemishes. Generally, if a fruit is mature, the smaller varieties are better eating. I often harvest, cut bad parts off produce, and eat that food, while giving away the unblemished stuff that's often passed over by the bugs.
    I tell people that the occasional insect damage is proof I don't use insecticides. Sure, the stuff in the stores is said to be organic, but who knows?
    How many bad drugs, or bad batches of drugs have made it past the FDA? Easier to monitor drug manufacturers than farmers.

  11. "Leaf" crops like romaine lettuce, and spinach would be particularly profitable. My experience is that produce grown in a complex soil ecosystem with lots of critters in it has a very different(better) flavor than that grown in mineral soil, with fertilizers. Presumably, the same is true of produce grown by hydroponic, or aeroponic culture.
    Earthworms are a farmer's best friend.

  12. Actually, I think more than one study has shown that there's a lot of difference between an $8 bottle and a $20 bottle, but that the difference between a $20 bottle and a $500 bottle is, literally, the bottle.

  13. Interesting comment on Brian's proposals.
    I would also be interested in what you or Brian has to say about the ideas in the article I linked to.

  14. The same supermarket has speciality, organic, tomatoes for $20/kg. A speciality shop that has delicate varieties that can't be shipped without damage might push that to $10 for a 1/4 kg box. That's a factor of eight right there.

    Now I'm living in a climate where tomatoes will just grow outdoors. If it was too cold or it was too dry or something then I can easily see that factor of 8 becoming a factor of 30.

    And tomatoes are easy. Hot chilies for example can have a variation in the scoville rating of 5 or so between exactly the same variety depending on the exact weather they grew in.

    And let's not forget wine. The difference between the perfect growing conditions and normal for a vinyard can be the difference between an $8 bottle and a $500 bottle.

  15. First of all, forget simple staple crops like Maize, wheat, rice, potatoes… that's going to much, much cheaper to grow on the other side of the planet where the climate is suitable, water is available, and land costs less per square km than your greenhouse costs per frame.

    Greenhouses are for things like, at a minimum, fresh fruit and vegetables where

    • there is a price premium on getting the fresh product to the customer within a day or two of harvest.
    • birds and insects will target your produce, and even if they don't eat it they will mar the visible surface and reduce the price your customers will be willing to pay
    • And because your end customers are buying the whole fruit or vegetable, they are looking for qualities like "no pesticides used, at all" so you can't keep the insects away using cheaper methods.
    • And for the good stuff, having EXACTLY the right water, and humidity, and temperature, and levels of sunlight, can make the final product taste distinctly better or worse. Both to the average consumer, and to "experts" who then tell all the average consumers which product to get.

    So, if you have tomatoes (for example) that are picked almost green, transported by truck and air for a week to your supermarket shelves, and were grown with "non-organic" methods then you might sell them for say $4.70/kg. (Looking at my local supermarket website.)

  16. Suburban land is still more expensive than farm land. Also, I expect that with the successful work from home for businesses over the last year, we'll see a rise in ex-urbanization where young professionals who can work from remotely move further out of the urban area to large lots/hobby farms where they can grow some of their own food if they want. Thus increasing the cost of suburban land again.

  17. LA is a big sprawling city. It might make sense there to have a garden right next to the restaurant. For places like NYC, it's not really feasible for every corner restaurant to run their own gardens.
    If nothing else, consider that farming is a completely different skillset than cooking. Cooks can't necessarily grow crops.
    It would make more sense to run some farms just outside the city and have them ship food directly in. Those with access to these farms will have the freshest food, and can charge the highest prices. They will also pay the most for the privilege.

    Smaller restaurants will buy frozen food, or find farms farther away where the food isn't quite so fresh.

  18. Hey, we could have fusion power and dilithium crystals in 5 years. Who knows?
    But even then, CA will not be able to de-stupify their infrastructure and backwards policies.

  19. Why does food have to be grown "down town"? It would be just as useful and much cheaper to build just outside cities. Where city land gives way to rural/unimproved land and where land prices are cheaper.

  20. Under what conditions are greenhouses of any sort 30 times more productive than normal farmland? Subzero temperatures? Intense drought with no irrigation?

  21. The problem with hydroponics has always been energy. Free sunlight and free rain is hard to compete with. The only near viable hydroponics all take advantage of free waste heat from other co-located businesses.

    Urban farms are even worse if you actually account for the cost of the land you are using to grow lettuce.

  22. The constraint I see is energy. Energy to build the greenhouse (including extracting petroleum as both as source of material and to run the machines doing the extraction). Energy to run the robots, probably less than a tractor per robot per hour, but tractors only run 24/7 a few weeks of the year, if at all; will the robots need to run 24/7/365 in order to maximize productivity? And most importantly, energy to replace the sun in photosynthesis. I'm not one of the blue sky, solar power solves everything, crowd, so I anticipate these requirements will further strain infrastructure that generates and transfers electricity. Can energy basket case California mandate urban robot farms and electric vehicles by 2035 – and fix their inadequate infrastructure? When they have to turn off the lights, do the urban farms need to fire up diesel generators because there wasn't enough energy for them to charge back up battery banks? Oh, we need energy to solve these problems too.

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