This written PhD thesis will provide food-centred perspective on the relationship between technology, progress and sustainability. By interrogating technological responses to environmental concerns for food sustainability in the UK since 1970, this research uses Design History as a critical framework to examine a selection of case studies that each represents a different approach to technological change. Examples that will be examined include the role of food production in the Alternative Technology Movement, the design of meat alternatives (such as Mycoprotein, known as Quorn) by industrial food manufacturers, and methods for preserving and protecting ‘endangered’ food products to perpetuate small-scale production and crop bio-diversity.
The designer Victor Papanek (1923-1998) asserted that design is the ‘most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension society and himself)’ (1973). By this definition, how humans engage with - and respond to - their environment through food production technology is inherently a design process, and a practice that can be usefully addressed in terms of production, mediation, materiality, skills and making.
A report published by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2014 predicts that ‘over the coming 35 years, agriculture will face an unprecedented confluence of pressures’ including the demands of an expanding population, competition for key resources (land, water and energy), and global warming. This original research will identify how design practices can negotiate the relationship between technology, food and the environment, and will contribute to knowledge by providing a new multi-perspectival understanding of food sustainability encompassing nature, culture and science. Moreover, this project will provide an original historical perspective on one of the greatest environmental challenges faced by the world today.