Human-centered design and sustainability have rightly become global priorities. In China, more often known for its megacities and high-speed urbanization, these were core themes at this year’s Beijing Design Week (BDW). As global resources shrink and climate change will soon impact the way we eat, food becomes a key aspect of sustainable development—especially in China, where the richness and diversity of local food culture struggles to keep up with the demands of a growing mass market.
“UPPRINTING FOOD,” an exhibition hosted at 751D-Park and correlating with BDW, has brought a vanguard upcycling project to the Chinese capital. The project addresses the boundaries between food and technology: a 3D printer is used to transform discarded food into beautifully shaped 3D-printed delicacies.
It’s the brainchild of Elzelinde van Doleweerd and was her final undergraduate project at Eindhoven University of Technology. As she tells CH, “Looking at the growing population, more food is needed in the future, but on the other hand, one-third of the food produced is wasted nowadays. With the use of new technologies, I want to explore more societal food challenges.”
In Beijing, van Doleweerd found the ideal partners in former New York architects Leandro Rolon and David Doepel—the founders of 3D Food Company and all around pioneers of 3D food printing. Founded in 2015, the company claims to “propel food into the digital era while enhancing the overall culinary experience.” While working with a broad portfolio of Fortune 500 companies and using 3D-printed food to explore new branding opportunities, Rolon and his team also work with top chefs to personalize their culinary creations—like the multi-layer chocolate and apricot ganache developed with Four Seasons chef Aniello Turco.
When Rolon and Doepel heard of van Doleweerd’s project they didn’t hesitate. “We’re always open to new projects and the idea of using our expertise in 3D food printing to develop new upcycling solutions is definitely a direction we want to follow,” says Rolon.
The showcase kicked off with the first 3D printed dinner in China—hosted at Nooxo, hotspot of vegan food in the capital, where bread, rice, spicy carrots, bananas, and purple potatoes got a second life as beautiful and tasty 3D-printed crackers and cups. But beyond the boundaries of BDW, Rolon and van Doleweerd aim to partner with larger food companies to broaden the scope of their initiative and enhance the impact of their missions for sustainability.
“Once this approach to food upcycling can get the support of the big names in the food industry,” Rolon says, “we can imagine grocery stores offering healthy and visually appealing upcycled snacks—where the materials come from a thorough, customized waste analysis and whose processing, thanks to 3D printing technology, reduces waste to almost zero.”
3D food printing is a relatively new idea, but it’s not far-fetched to imagine, as Rolon points out, “One day we might have our wearables collecting biometrics and our 3D printer making our customized breakfast—maybe with a recipe by our favorite top chef living on the other side of the world.”