Food

Now this is one of my favourite topics, and Matjaz Vidmar is here to combine it with possibly the second coolest topic… space!

To learn more about space food come watch Matjaz’s show on the 20th August.

What’s your favourite food?

Hmmm… Tough one this! I am quite into food and I love cooking. I definitely can’t really live without cheese (and other dairy) – it is the one thing stopping me from becoming a vegan! Which leads me to my other favourite food: pretty much any kind of vegetables, preferably mixed with cheese! So, I am a big fan of pizza (who isn’t?!), curry (with paneer) and salad (with sour cream dressing). But I am not a fussy eater and like to experiment and be surprised by new flavours.

Why is food changing?

The main change in the agri-food sector is in the advancement of scientific thinking and emergence of new innovative practices – the food is becoming high-tech! The reasons for that are manifold. To begin with, we live in an era of hyper-technologisation, where technology is aiding (and controlling) more and more of our lives. The planet is also entering a period of possibly largest human-made ecological crisis, in a double-whammy of climate change and over-population, and technology has been seen as a possible solution. But technology is always only an enabler, our problems, and solutions for them, are based on the society and its changing structures and behaviour.

How is food changing?

Well, food is changing in different ways. On one hand, the way food is produced and what it is like is changing with new farming processes and techniques inspired by science and engineering, including interesting bits of research done by and for space exploration programmes. This in particular relates to nutrition science and increasing in how to grow food in artificial (controlled) environment. On the other hand, technologies developed for Earth observation and environmental monitoring are changing the way we thing about food globally, as a species. We are getting towards a point when we will have a “mission control Earth” capability, where global oversight of most of our natural environment, including food production, can be developed based on data (images) captured by satellites in space.

Does that mean you won’t be able to eat your favourite foods anymore?

No, I really hope we will! I like my cheese way too much! But two features of this new system can emerge that can become a bit “dangerous”. First, with new tech we can produce more/”better quality” food, but does it taste the same? Secondly, with global oversight of food systems the promise is to finally eradicate hunger and improve food safety standards, but could that same technology be manipulated to deepen inequality and maximise profits for a few people and corporations? Which leads me to the questions about: What should scientists/engineers priorities be in food research? How can the public get involved in the development of these high-tech foods and the monitoring systems to make sure they are not abused? We will try to answers some of these questions as part of the “Is Astronaut Food the Future?” event!

Does space cheese taste the same as real cheese?

Well, I think it does, as at least for now, since I think “space cheese” at the moment is just “normal” cheese from the Earth sent to space… But that might change in the future, so would really like to try one made “out-there” once it is ready! Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) the astronauts on International Space Station can’t really taste food properly at all, as their noses get blocked due to micro-gravity (weightlessness) – the snot doesn’t drip out like on Earth! Not great to enjoy subtler matured aromas of vintage cheeses, but very handy since washing opportunities are limited!