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5 things we learned at Bitten L.A. about the future of food

By Erin Kuschner

Today was the first time that Bitten, a food conference based in New York, was held in L.A., and there was plenty of knowledge being dropped on the food-focused crowd. Panelists included Sean Raspet, flavorist at Soylent; Maude Standish, a trend forecaster; Scott Winegard, executive chef at Matthew Kenney Cuisine; L.A.'s very own Jonathan Gold and more. At the Galley Theater at Barnsdall Art Park, everything from supper clubs to cannabis cooking was discussed, but a common theme throughout the talks was the future of food. Here are five predictions that sparked our interest.

It takes 18-20 years for a produce fad to emerge—and purple sweet potatoes are next

Karen Caplan from Frieda's Produce has plenty of experience watching fruits and vegetables enter into the public's favor. Her mother, Frieda Caplan, was open and receptive to new produce coming from other countries; Frieda's Produce was the first to introduce kiwis to the United States in 1962. But it wasn't until 1980, when celebrity chefs started putting it on menus that the kiwi really took. This two-decade timeline can be seen in other instances as well: In 1996, the Los Angeles Times published a poem called "Oh Kale," resulting in T-shirts and tote bags sporting images of the leafy vegetable—but not until 2013, when Bon Appétit named kale the vegetable of the year. Today's dragonfruit obsession first started in 1994 when the fruit made its way to the U.S., but the ball didn't really get rolling until 2008, when the U.S. opened its borders to Vietnam and over 40,000 pounds of dragonfruit started coming in each week. Karen's next prediction? Purple sweet potatoes.

A robot spoon may soon tell us when we're full

"Science fiction is all about 'what ifs,'" says Maude Standish, a trend forecaster who discussed recent innovations in food technology. She touched on meatless hamburgers, Soylent and algae ice cream, but also Spün, a spoon-fork hybrid that counts calories, measures your food intake and vibrates when you've had enough to eat. "Imagine living in a world where you rely on robots to tell you when you're full," Standish ponders. Scary times.

Eating ugly food might be the key to ending global hunger

It's a striking statistic: over 40 percent of food in America goes to waste, yet one sixth of the population deals with hunger. Ben Simon, CEO of Imperfect Produce, wanted to get straight to one of the primary sources of food waste: farms. Strict regulations on what grocery stores will and won't accept mean that perfectly good fruits and vegetables that are too big, too small or just too funky looking get tossed before they even make it into the hands of the consumer. Imperfect Produce is hoping to change that, offering boxes of vegetables that didn't make the supermarket cut for weekly delivery service. "The only way to feed 9 billion people in 2050 is to significantly reduce the amount of food we're wasting," Simon says. "There's a food recovery revolution waiting to happen.

There's way more cannabis cooking in our future

Depending on the results of this upcoming election, the prospect of getting together with a group of friends for a casual cannabis-infused dinner might be as normal as an everyday dinner party. Jeffthe420chef (he doesn't use his last name) is regarded as one of the world's premiere cannabis chefs, and at Bitten he emphasized that it's only a matter of time before cannabis-infused food is considered normal. "Whatever you can do with butter and oil, you can do with cannabis," he says, explaining that dosage is key, and knowing what you want as an end result should dictate what type of plant you incorporate: sativa to feel energetic, or indica to feel relaxed.

Get on board with bugs in your food

Entomophagy—the act of eating bugs—is a growing movement in L.A., but there are still people who find popping a cricket or a beetle into their mouths a little disconcerting. Critter Bitters, designed by two graduates from the School of Visual Arts, is hoping to ease people into it with their cocktail bitters made from crickets. "People will try anything in a cocktail," says co-founder Lucy Knops, before going on to describe how entomophagy is a solution to the problem of a world food shortage. Bottom line: better develop a taste for bugs.

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