Right now, it’s still a ‘what if’ question, concedes designer and technologist Jinsoo An, founder of Los Angeles-based start-up and 'gastronomical virtual reality experience' Project Nourished. But the possibilities are endless, once you start thinking about all the potential applications.
"We're connecting the dots between people and technology to allow you to experience food and dining in a whole new way."
First – there’s the fun stuff. Imagine you’re playing a virtual reality game set in medieval times, and you walk into a banqueting hall featuring a feast full of exotic foods you’ve never seen before? Or what if you're an astronaut bored with space food and longing for a steak and fries?
Second, there’s the more educational or therapeutic applications. What if you could use virtual reality to help anorexics explore their feelings around foods in a ‘safe’ environment? Or to help children form healthier eating habits? Or to give people who struggle to chew or swallow food due to dysphasia or gastrointestinal disorders the experience of enjoying a wonderful meal again?
Or maybe you’re interested in using virtual reality to experiment with crazy new food/recipe ideas in an environment unshackled by the usual laws of physics, he says.
Eating involves every sense: Sight, sound, smell, taste and touch
But how do you simulate eating? We know a huge part of flavor/taste is smell, so you can work with flavor houses to deliver that via atomizers, and virtual reality developers are great at creating immersive visual and audio experiences (so that Medieval banquet could smell, sound and look convincing), says An.
But what about chewing and swallowing – and the physical, biochemical and neurological sensations associated with feeling ‘full’ or satiated?
Can you fool your body into thinking you’re actually ingesting something, or that you’ve had a big meal?
In the short term, probably not, says An, who says testers will typically be given something physical to eat (with a sensor-laced spoon), whether it’s a cube of agar agar or a spoonful of algae - creating what he calls a 'mixed reality' experience.
On the website you'll see virtual reality headsets, a virtual cocktail glass, a device that mimics the chewing sounds transmitted from diners' mouths to their ear drums, a utensil that picks up on the diner's movements and integrates them into the virtual reality experience, among other things.
Some are still in the design stage, others are at the prototype stage, says An, who says he's talking to "forward-thinking" investors about raising cash to develop the project further.
"Right now, I'm funding this myself; the people I am working with all have full time jobs but they are working with me because they are passionate and curious, and want to make an impact. We've got people from something like 20 different industries, from art, design and food science to molecular gastronomy."
Read more about Project Nourished HERE.
"Rather than mirroring the every foods that we are used to, you will preconceive your very own gastronomical experience that was said to be impossible. Imagine being able to dine in the world in your favorite storybook or film, enjoying foods that are completely out of this world.”
Jinsoo An, founder, Project Nourished