Dinner With a Purpose

What does it mean to eat with a purpose?

What does food mean to you? How do you choose what goes into your grocery cart or where your next meal will come from? Are your decisions based on coupons? Convenience? Cravings? How good the food will look on Instagram? Or do you stop to think about how your choice will impact generations to come? There are 7.6 billion people on earth today – more than ever before. What we eat has a profound impact on our planet and the people who inhabit it, yet not everyone stops to think about the effects our food system has on the environment.

We asked ourselves: How can we encourage people to make purposeful food choices by changing the way they think about food and the impact it has on the future? The answer: an interactive and delicious educational dinner experience – dinner with a purpose.

We teamed up with Soho House Toronto to design a curated culinary experience with the city’s top food influencers. The one-night culinary experience was intended to explore what eating with purpose means and to educate guests about the impact of their food choices on the future of food. In collaboration with Soho House’s chefs and mixologists, we developed a menu intended to take guests on a journey. The thematic courses of the menu highlighted the complexity of the world of food, the challenges consumers currently face, and the ways in which these issues can be overcome by making mindful food choices today to step into a sustainable future of food tomorrow.

Course 1: Living mixed green salad topped with spiced crickets, chickpeas, seaweed, and seeds.

Urbanized foodscapes featuring Living Earth Farm living greens

With 54% of the world’s population living in urban areas – a number that’s expected to grow to 66% by 2050 – the use of technological farming advancements is vital for sustainability. One solution is the use of vertical farms, which can produce nutritious food at an accessible price point. Such methods would empower urban farmers while reducing the harmful impact that conventional farming systems have on the environment. As Ray Kurzweil has predicted, the next major food revolution will involve the use of AI algorithms in vertical agriculture to create ideal growing conditions in confined spaces.

We opened the dinner with this technology-driven course to show guests that the future starts today. Vertical farms use hydroponic farming techniques where plants are grown in a watery solution of mineral nutrients instead of soil. These alternative systems recycle water and nutrients, reduce the amount of fossil fuels used in transportation, capture pollutants, and aren’t as highly dependent on pesticides or antibiotics-based fertilizers. By using vertical farms, we can reduce antibiotic uptake by half, reduce the amount of fresh water polluted by nitrogen and phosphorus by one third, and eliminate nearly all pesticide use. This is not to mention the reduction of emissions and costs of transportation that will occur when we use a decentralized production model, or the empowerment of urban farmers in cities around the world.

Course 2: Cashew ricotta with truffle vinaigrette and mushrooms on a sunflower cracker.

Alternative dairy featuring whipped cashew ricotta

Biologically, food provides us with the nutrition we need to live our lives and build a future for generations to come. Culturally, it connects us with history and is integral to understanding our heritage. Many of the foods we eat have roots that extend beyond the nutrition they offer; rather, they represent a moment in time, a culture, or a memory. These cultures and our current food system are built on a few common staples that transform a common ingredient into a cultural tradition. Whether it be a locally grown herbal finish or the temperature at which a dish is served to complement the climate of origin, almost every culture’s food experience centers on global staples – whether dairy, meat, or grains.

Fast-forward to modern cuisine: Today, processed foods have taken over our grocery shelves, and commercial farming methods have become the norm. Consequently, our bodies have also evolved, and with them our ability to digest the foods we consume. Though our biological needs are important, we must also recognize that we eat for a purpose that goes beyond just fueling our bodies. We eat for pleasure, communion, and identity. As we evolve biologically, we must seek alternatives to account for our increased number of sensitivities while also maintaining connections to our past. With this mentality in mind, new staples will continue to emerge, and common staples like milk and bread will take on new forms.

Course 3: Ramen from the sea served with seaweed, trout roe, and radish.

Biodiverse sources featuring microalgae

Credit: Nyssa Gluck

Algae is one of the most sustainable ingredients on the planet. With more health and functional benefits of algae being discovered, it’s no wonder that it is being touted as the next super-ingredient in the plant-based realm. While mass production has yet to hit mainstream markets, we think of it as one of the most nutritious foods known to humankind.

Imagine if we had algae systems that could cover vast amounts of desert land, recycling wasteful pollution into highly nutritious foods and transforming it into fuel and biofertilizers. Microalgae may be the way of the future. Twenty times more productive than conventional crops, these tiny organisms are highly self-sufficient. Sustainable for the body and the environment, algae is one of the most nutrient-dense foods. Algae could be the key ingredient for growing a future of abundance.

Course 4: Impossible Burger served Dirty Burger” style with cricket-flour onion rings and a boozy pistachio rose coconut milkshake.

Alternative meat featuring Impossible Foods’ Impossible Burger

Food connects us with our history and can awaken a sense of nostalgia with a smell, sight, or taste. But this same food also has the power to set up future generations for prosperity or disaster. Our main course represented the impact that sustainable food options could have on the environment when they are made available to communities at a similar cost and convenience.

The Impossible Burger, by Impossible Foods, is a feat of food science. The plant-based burger replicates the taste and texture of ground beef to a remarkable level of accuracy. The patty  includes heme, the same oxygen-carrying molecule that turns blood red – is found in all living things, including plants. This is what gives the Impossible Burger its intense meaty flavor and aroma.

The environmental impact of producing and eating meat – from the amount of water and energy required to the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria – is no new discovery. But Impossible Foods has the potential to disrupt the industry thanks to its ingenious packaging of a scientific breakthrough within the approachable form of a favorite North American comfort food. This marketing strategy, with its potential to reach a wide target population, gives Impossible Foods the opportunity to tackle a task that, until now, has seemed impossible for a plant-based protein: overcoming the environmental impact of large-scale agribusiness.

Course 5: Nitrogen-frozen cricket ice cream made with cricket tofu and topped with candy, silkworms, crickets, and grasshoppers.

Sustainable food featuring C-fu Foods cricket ice cream

New proteins are emerging, and the little guys are joining the big fight. Approximately two billion people worldwide eat insects as part of a traditional diet, and these ingredients are finally being welcomed by formerly squeamish North American consumers. Many insects, including crickets, provide an incredibly sustainable protein source. More than 1,900 insect species are edible, including beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets. We served our guests some of these little critters for dessert.

Credit: Nyssa Gluck

The resources required to harvest insects are significantly lower than those needed for traditional protein sources. Insect farming is 12 times less resource intense than methods required for traditional livestock. It also uses less water: According to Venturopoly, if a family of 4 were to eat food made with insect protein one day a week for a year, they could save 650,000 liters of freshwater. Insect farming also requires less feed and less land, and it results in less greenhouse gas emissions – not to mention that food waste can be reused as feed, creating a circular and sustainable harvesting process. This mini livestock is as appetizing for our health as it is for the environment. Rich in protein, healthy fats, iron, and calcium, insects are just as nutritious – if not more so – than traditional sources of protein. And they make for an especially delicious ice cream!

Feeding the Future

The global population will reach a projected 10 billion people by 2050. To sustain this growing population, we must reinvent our food systems in order to double our current crop production. The environmental challenges posed by our current agriculture needs are massive. The challenge of feeding an additional two billion mouths will be even greater.

We have reached a critical point in time: People not only need revolution – they also want it. With a growing population actively willing to learn about the nutritional, global, and ethical implications surrounding the food they consume, now is the time for change.

As a society, we must provide political and systemic support to the emerging startup food companies that are pushing the boundaries in food-tech breakthroughs. We must also demand more from existing Big Food organizations, as these large companies have the power and resources to take emerging food trends to mass markets. It will take the right combination of agility to navigate a constantly pivoting market; investments in R&D to continuously innovate existing markets; and the application of a human-centric lens to truly understand what consumers want – and what all global citizens need.

the author

Juliana Ciccarelli

Juliana Ciccarelli is a Practice and Technical Project Manager at Idea Couture.

the author

Maya Oczeretko

Maya Oczeretko is a senior innovation strategist at Idea Couture.