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EATING TOMORROW: PODCAST LETS U.S. SOY START A CONVERSATION ON THE FUTURE OF FOOD

Updated: 3 days ago

By Jeremy Nulik, Julienne DeVita and Matthew Jensen


For as much as we try to move on, piece our lives together and soothe the fears of our children, there are reminders everywhere that send us back to the terrifying, tangy weeks of the 2041 Ranch Riots. The hint of putrid dairy on a hot winter day. Panic-purchased 200-liter drums in suburban yards, repurposed as rainwater barrels or garden beds. Messages from the dog.AI you traded for black market buttermilk.


Over time it gets easier, but the memories – and the odors – never disappear. And maybe that’s for the best. From every grave spring seedlings of chives, parsley, and dill. Undressed, we stand bare. In that vulnerability we can finally recognize what matters, and who was there for us through it all: President Shakira.


There is a useful tension in creative futures work.


On one hand, as practitioners we ask our audience to decouple themselves from a linear, logical, predictable vision of the future and to instead dwell in a broader – sometimes ridiculous – set of possibilities. Among these truly novel scenarios we learn to not just prepare for the expected, we learn how to adapt to the unexpected – even snatching an egg from a black swan.


On the other hand, we ask our audience to appreciate the academic rigor of foresight, derived from the research methodologies of sociology, anthropology, political science, and more. We present weak and strong signals among correlated data points. Then we randomize the wildcards (as life often does) and wonder if the CEO will walk in while senior VPs roleplay “it’s 2034 and Pokémon are storming the Capitol.”


On the third hand, this “informed absurdity” (and the suspension of disbelief to swallow it) is fundamental to the frankly kinda weird stuff we do. The process of distinguishing preferable futures necessitates that we also imagine improbable ones. Consider the occurrence of “unprecedented” events in our lifetime – each of which reminds us of Dator’s 2nd law, unheeded. How differently would things have unfolded in a society that could not be taken by surprise?


Trust formed through the ridiculous: The Eating Tomorrow listening experience, informed by the combination of foresight rigor and playful artifact generation, establishes a new basis for two-way conversation between U.S. Soy and audiences. Its success presents a compelling case study on the real-world tie between trust and Dator’s second law of futures, “Any useful idea about the futures should appear ridiculous.” Source: Midjourney 



IMPROBABLE FUTURES ESTABLISH SHARED VALUES

Training for adaptability while designing desirable outcomes is about as close to future-readying as we can hope for, but values must be shared to experience meaningful transformation. Governments must be tuned into their citizens. Brands must be aligned with their customers.


A lack of alignment between governments or brands and their constituents is all around us. We all sense this. And nowhere is it more evident than the latest results from Edelman’s Trust Barometer. Last year, for the first time in its decades-long existence, they found that distrust and cynicism is our default setting. Any brand or any entity seeking to lead change must overcome an ever-higher bar of at-best “meh.”


One such brand seeking to lead a transformation is U.S. Soy, which represents the interests of the American soy industry, and also manages its brand values. Of late, those values have been evolving away from tradition and toward innovation. But while the farmers and partners at U.S. Soy are “exploring the complex problems and innovative solutions of an interconnected world” – their efforts are largely invisible to the many people they help. So, to stake their claim on the future, U.S. Soy chose to write it.


Eating Tomorrow is a podcast about the future of food, created in partnership between U.S. Soy and strategic foresight consultancy Bigwidesky. Each quick-listen episode poses off-the-menu questions, and responds with expert voices, surprising connections, and speculative stories. 


In context and content, it speaks the language of U.S. Soy’s most desired audiences: millennials, and the future evangelists of soy. These savvy younger consumers swarm bar trivia nights and gobble up podcasts. They also (according to studies) distrust brands and feel powerless to make change. So Eating Tomorrow doesn’t present soy as a singular solution, but rather a component of a fascinating, interconnected food system in which the listener must play their part.


To U.S. Soy’s credit, the brand receives very little airtime, by design. After all, by investing in speculative storytelling the brand already demonstrates the role it intends to play in the future of food: its author.


FUTURES BY INFORMED AND INSPIRED DESIGN

From Logan’s Run to Don’t Look Up, the stories we write of the future often harbor a menacing, all-too-contemporary antagonist: the indifference or willful ignorance of the masses. Sedated (or paralyzed) as we are by our day-to-day, it’s difficult to see beyond the burdens of tomorrow, let alone the coming years. Adding media noise to the mix, it’s remarkable to get through to anyone at all. Ultimately, overwhelmed by stimuli but underwhelmed by substance, we relinquish our own agency in the future.


(If you ever catch a futurist staring into middle distance with a vaguely distressed look, they might be revisiting a similar scenario: their most thoughtful, comprehensively generated insights … falling flat. Don’t try to shake or slap them; a simple “there there” usually suffices.)


In this everyday struggle for attention – let alone action – Eating Tomorrow employs “informed absurdity” as a wedge for the audience’s deeper consideration. Each episode leads with an “artifact from the future.” These fictional advertisements, programming notes, and show trailers amalgamate the more academic insights to follow and paint a picture of the future on the most visceral level. It’s a strike at the heart, not the brain.


In a sustainability-themed episode, for instance, researchers surface generally unappealing foods born of scarcity and necessity, and spot trends in traditional and urban foraging. But without additional context or explanation, the show leads with a teaser for Hot Garbage, a cutthroat dumpster-diving culinary competition [you can listen to it here]. In a time of diminished food security, we’ve already observed changing opinions around food waste – how might we feel when stigmas are removed entirely, and even dressed up for our entertainment?


The voices of renowned scientists, artists, and activists add context to these provocations, and humanize the universal experience of food. For example:


  • Jonas Verhees, the founder of a restaurant with no prices, redefines the role of dining in community-building. 


  • Kimberly Tilsen-Brave Heart, chef and entrepreneur, challenges us to include indigenous foods in every home. 


  • Dr. Claire Bomkamp, food scientist, invites us to “enter the meatspace” of designer protein. 


These varied, sometimes contradictory perspectives of expert guests remind us that the future of food is still very much up for grabs.


A CALL FOR MORE RIDICULOUSNESS IN YOUR RIGOR

As the barkeep says: “If you don’t like the taste of a gin & tonic … you’re not adding enough gin.”


Though normalized within larger and design-led organizations, strategic foresight and its creative expressions can be difficult to articulate – let alone sell – to more traditional strategists and marketers. Echoes of a woo-woo reputation may compel us to over-index on the academic rigor behind the insights, or precedence of the methodologies. But at the end of the day, we peddle in fiction … and that might be the most effective tool of all. Dissonance and provocation break us free of unhelpful patterns; narratives insinuate themselves better than any bulleted list. Our greatest breakthroughs with Eating Tomorrow come when we focus on feeling, embrace the tension between rigor and the ridiculous, and let listeners decide how much to swallow.


Available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, Eating Tomorrow is a five episode story of interconnected ideas. But it makes for good snacking, too.


 

Jeremy Nulik is a futurist at Bigwidesky who earned his professional certificate in foresight from the University of Houston. Combining his journalism and storytelling background with the rigor of strategic foresight, he emboldens organizational imagination and clarifies business strategies in uncertain times. Clients include Enterprise Mobility, Marcone, Bayer, United Soybean Board, and Forward through Ferguson. He runs a lot.



Julienne DeVita is a strategic foresight practitioner and creative storyteller, conducting futures research spanning diverse clients and industries. As a professor at Parsons School of Design, she teaches adult learners in the Foresight Studies and Speculative Design program and leads university-wide Design and AI initiatives. On the side, Julienne’s artistic futures practice uses movement and embodied awareness to investigate the subconscious attitudes and feelings about our shared futures.



Matthew Jensen is a multi-modal experience designer, whose earliest collaborations helped establish the very fundamentals of design futures. Clients include the Institute for the Future, Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, and numerous independent futurists, plus scenario and experience design for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Singapore Civil Service College, Marriott International, PepsiCo, and Enterprise Rent-a-Car. He has no hobbies.


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