In the supermarket of the future, part of the Embassy of Food at Dutch Design Week, designer Merle Bergers will present her project Microbiota To Go. A speculative play on today’s fast food culture that explores the possibilities of a quick fix to our gut health. Today, there is not much we can’t buy from a vending machine; Dutch croquettes, French fries, even a draft beer. We live in a fast paced society, where we take coffee to go and eat our lunch on en route. The hunger for speed undoubtedly causes anxieties. Can the food we consume strike a balance with our fast paced lifestyles? 

For Merle, the answer lies within our gut microbiome, ‘in our gut we have a unique population of about 2kg of microbes.’ They are the cells that make up the microorganisms in a particular part of the body, and in this case, our digestive system. We depend on these microbes to work for us in order to stay healthy, protecting us against germs, breaking down our food, releasing energy and producing vitamins. Our microbiome continuously sends signals back and forth to our brain, ‘which in turn has a very important effect on how we feel, how healthy we are and even how we behave or react emotionally.’ Merle’s project explores how we can support our microbiome in the future. Forget the temporary sugar rush, think of instant gut health regulation. 

Each and every person will get a personalized ‘cocktail’ or mixture based on their unique microbiome blueprints.

Picture this; instead of your morning cappuccino and breakfast bar to go, you choose a customized concoction that gives you the fuel your body actually needs. With a push of a button, Microbiota To Go sequences the DNA of your gut. The vendor gives an insight into what is happening on the inside, ‘the state of your microbiome, what populations are doing well or not, and which ones need to be curbed or aided into growing stronger for optimal health.’ From this internal scan, the vending machine-like device ensures ‘each and every person will get a personalized ‘cocktail’ or mixture based on their unique microbiome blueprints.’ Merle spoke with Dr Koen Venema, a professor in the gut microbiology department of human biology, who championed such innovations in the future saying ‘each and every element might very well become technologically feasible in 2050.’ Research has even been done on the possibility of inhaling pro-biotics, (a method that will be implemented in the project) and something that we are able to do in the future, by micro-encapsulating.

At Dutch Design Week, 'in a supermarket (the Albert Heijn to-go) setting you will find a machine where by pressing your finger on a sensor, you can receive a full map of your gut-microbiome. The machine will concoct a specially made poof of mist of evaporated probiotic organisms and plant volatiles for you’. As a designer, Merle works a lot with scent, it can evoke numerous associations and emotions and prime us. Scent can prime us for example ‘before the micro-organisms in our microbiome machine even have been able to get settled in our gut and do their work. By looking at recent data we can actively pick the scents made out of molecules that even have a real and measurable visceral or bodily effect on how we feel and experience the world around us.’ Offering a truly personalized, sensory elixir of vitality.

We are not that far off into bringing this technology into realization in 2050. Microbiota To Go highlights the possibilities of altering our health through aiding the millions of micro-organisms that live in the gut. The project speaks of a wider need to personalize our diets and tailor our food consumption, no two digestive systems are the same. Mapping our microbiome in order to give personalized food choices may one day be as common as a regular or decaf. The project places healthy bacteria within the food chain, based on our bodies individual microbiome. All from one fingerprint.

Merle's work possesses a remarkable sensitivity. She manages to bring something very small and almost invisible to the surface in a poetic way through sensory experience. Through smell, touch or sound. We asked Merle for the theme of personal health, preferences and the role of data in the supermarket of the future because based on her previous projects (The Belly Bar, Taste Shape Synesthesia and Lingua Planta), we think she is perfectly suited to develop a vision and interactive experience for this. Her projects show an already existing personal interest in these topics and fit very well with the desired outcome for the Embassy of Food Lab. - Embassy of Food.

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