Sam Bompas: seeing the future in food

We all need to eat — but how we service that need, and make it fun, can tell us a lot about the future, suggests Sam Bompas.

Sam Bompas is co-founder of Bompas & Parr, which leads in flavour-based experience design, culinary research, architectural installations and contemporary food design. The studio now consists of a team of creatives, cooks, designers, specialised technicians and architects.

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Can food point the way to the future? One in five meals in America is eaten in cars. That has some implications for the future…

Bompas and Parr’s experiments with jelly have shown them that they can take something simple — like jelly — and scale it in an incredible way. The more you work with something, the more you discover about it. A gherkin can make a really rubbish lightbulb, for example. (When electricity is passed through them, they emit a sodium glow, thanks to their vinegar content.) 60 pickles used as lights used the electricity needs of a city block. It makes a magnificent, but expensive, chandelier…

So, what’s the future of food? Well, they have a report coming on that…

The Future of Food

Some bad news: in the next 50 years, humanity will have to grow as much food as it has in the rest of human history. Some good news: we’ve seen the rise of systems thinking around food. Four crops account for 60% of the calories grown by farmers. That’s simple – but vulnerable. We don’t have enough measurement tools to understand if our food production is sustainable. But system thinking can address that. Rather than just looking at yields per hectare, we can look at wellbeing and environmental factors. Systems like this are already at work in India.

Here’s the key trends they’ve identified in their report:

1. Synthetic enchantment

Free-range lamb is unscalable, so may not be ethical at all. We require new food rituals and myths to build a sustainable future. Can we create new forms of pick-your-own, for hydroponic food production? Can vertical farming be connected with extreme sports – or can extreme sports participants spread seeds on deforested areas?

2. Peak authenticity

Have we had enough of authenticity? It can get very monotonous. What’s replacing it? Maximalist beauty – making ourselves look like glazed beauty. Entirely fake foods are a clear trend. Could we end up with inedible restaurants? The food is there as a conversation and photographic piece, not for eating. It’s a social experience, not a culinary experience.

3. Not quite out of this world

The billionaire space race is so 2022. How about high-altitude dining? Balloons can take guests to the very edge of the atmosphere — and let them eat there. But we are seeing the rise of space influencers, space-inspired design creating earth-bound innovations.

4. Restaurants are shit

From their origins in Paris, restaurants have become part of society, But too many of them are full of underpaid staff and badly cooked food, generating masses of food waste. So, they need to try new things. How about Michelin-starred gaming cafés? Dark kitchens are booming designer places, creating magic and mystery out of a mundane, hidden activity. Oh, and 4% of the world’s cheese is stolen. Could we have food heist amnesty cafés, feeding the poor?

5. Foods that exaggerate with flourish

Foods that delight in sensation, like the exaggerated crunch of Pringles, that burst with texture, are the truly physical expression of an increasingly digital food culture. Physicality is key to 2024’s food culture.

Get the report

You can download The Imminent Future of Food 2024 report now.