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Talk nerdy to me

It’s Thanksgiving time in the US, and families all across the country are sitting down for delectable dinners of roast turkey, savory stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Food is a universal human delight, but for some reason, tech can’t stop tinkering with it.

Your brain on food

<strong>Me want cookies.</strong> If you can’t control yourself around cookies, it may be because your brain is more sensitive to food as a reward, as compared to other incentives such as money. Courtesy Sesame Street.Have you ever eaten an entire package of cookies without noticing? If so, there’s a good chance that your brain’s reaction to food is the problem. 

A study from the University of Vermont observed the brains of children while they were eating. They found that when specific portions of the brain light up during consumption, the child in question was more likely to overeat. Scientist Shana Adise believes that further study can help scientists find ways to change our neurological responses to food and thus prevent overeating.

Open-source veggies

DIY farming. The open-source Food Computer™ can be built, used, modified and hacked by nerdfarmers around the world who are helping create healthier, more engaging, and more inventive future food systems. Courtesy MIT Open Agriculture Initiative.

Farming, once a family trade, is now only profitable for big companies. In fact, between 75 percent and 90 percent of the global grain trade can be traced to just four companies. However, an open-source mindset could help change that.

Modern technology could allow us to break the monopoly the agricultural industry has on food production. Indoor hydroponic gardens managed with open-source tools could help people better understand growing conditions and help all of us take a more hands-on role in what we eat.

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The Star Trek replicator is (almost) here

<strong>Beyond fancy foods.</strong> Current 3D food printers mostly produce food in decorative shapes, but scientists are working to develop 3D printed foods with customized textures and absorption properties. Courtesy Creative Tools. <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en'>(CC BY 2.0)</a>Although still in their infancy, 3D printers are shaping up to be a revolutionary technology. It’s not far-fetched to imagine such a device in every home, much like refrigerators and other appliances. If that turns out to be the case, the work of researchers at the Ewha Womans University in South Korea could solidify this machine’s innovative status.

Professor Jin-Kyu Rhee is working on a 3D printer that creates edible food microstructures. In other words, Rhee wants you to have packets of ingredients that you plug into a machine to make a meal. The research is still in the beginning stages, but a breakthrough could give you your very own replicator.

A machine taste testing

<strong>Real-time protection. </strong>New technology from Purdue University could help prevent deadly outbreaks of food-borne illness, such as recent widespread contamination of romaine lettuce with E. coli bacteria. Courtesy Forest & Kim Starr. <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en'>(CC BY 3.0)</a>Food safety is no joke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) around 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses every year. Around 3,000 of them will die. These high stakes are what drove Purdue University researchers to develop technology that can detect dangerous pathogens.

The process uses a biochip that can sift through all of the microbes in a particular piece of food faster than current technologies. In fact, the researchers have reduced the time required to run these tests from up to four days in previous models to a mere four hours. 

Poisoned food reviews

Spending time in the Yelp comment sections is enough to poison anyone’s view of humanity. However, these reviews are enormously helpful for large organizations tasked with understanding disease.

In 2012, Columbia University researchers created a program that was able to search Yelp reviews for references to sickness and food poisoning. Since then, this program has helped file 8,523 complaints concerning local restaurants and has discovered 10 disease outbreaks.

Waste not, want not

<strong>Matchmaking meals. </strong>Humans waste 1.3 billion tonnes of food each year. A new app hopes to put a dent in that giant pile of waste by making it easy to match surplus nutrition with those who don’t have enough. Courtesy Love Food Hate Waste NZ. <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/'>(CC BY-SA 4.0)</a>And now, a little reminder of how good we have it. Roughly one-third of the food that humans produce goes right in the trash can. That amounts to around 1.3 billion metric tons of food wasted every year.

Thankfully, some smart people decided to do something about it and developed eFeed-Hungers. This software platform connects users with excess food to those that don’t have enough. Locations are flagged by the hours they are open as well as the type of food they will receive, and donors can make single or repeating donations. Now that’s something we can all be thankful for.

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