© Nonfood

Food Culture

“Algae Could Feed Earth Sustainably”

This dark green block may look more like soap than food. And its name plays with the reservations most mainstream consumers probably have about its main ingredient. The Nonbar is made of 42% algae. We ask food collective Nonfood who just launched the prototype of a new kind of nutrition bar about the future of food, nature, and technology.

© Nonfood

These are not the founders of Nonfood, the artist and food collective that challenges the way we snack and likes to keep a low visual profile.

Sean Raspet is a flavor and fragrance designer who worked for meal replacement company Soylent and likes to produce “artworks that are usable products”. To produce the Nonbar, he teamed up with Lucy Chinen, a curator, writer and media researcher, brand strategist Dennis Oliver Schroer, and food scientist Mariliis Holm.

Their first product, the Nonbar algae snack, launched at the end of 2017 and is currently only available in the US.

STURM und DRANG: Why is your snack bar called “Nonfood”? Algae have been eaten for millennia and are considered a superfood.

Nonfood: It is true that algae has been around and consumed for hundreds, if not thousands of years — micro-algae like spirulina in Mexico and macro-algae in East Asian cuisine. Algae is also a superfood supplement but the reason our company is called Nonfood is because it is a playful approach to introducing algae as the primary source of protein and nutrients to the Western world.

SuD: Artist Sean Raspet, the creative mind behind the Nonbar, is known for promoting artificial foods like the meal replacement Soylent for which he designed the flavors. Also, he has tried to free GMOs and sweeteners of their unwholesome image. What does that mean for the Nonbar? Is it a highly artificial product or do you go back to nature here?

Nonfood: Nonbar has no added sugar as Nonfood’s aim is to help gradually reduce our sugar addiction created by the big food industry. The cultivation of micro-algae in a controlled environment is a new technology for a naturally occurring and highly nutritious plant.

SuD: Why are algae the future of food? 

Nonfood: Algae is extremely ecologically efficient as it uses only a fraction of the resources of any other food. In terms of water, land and energy use, algae is 100 times more sustainable than common crops like corn and soy and 1000 more sustainable than animal products. It grows extremely fast and can be cultivated on land which is unsuitable for common crops and animals. If the world were to switch to an algae-based diet tomorrow, global greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 30%, water use by 70% and land use by 40%.

The US, EU, and Soviet/Russian space agencies already explored algae as a potential food and oxygen resource for space flights in the sixties. In 1974 United Nations World Health Organization declared one of the algae — Spirulina — to be the best food for the future. Last year the BIOMEX (Biology and Mars Experiment) announced that algae can survive nearly a year and a half in outer space extreme conditions. Algae has definitely the potential for future Mars missions as well as feeding Earth sustainably.

SuD: Is the Nonbar an in-between snack or do you consider it a full meal, kind of like Soylent?

Nonfood: We consider it to be a functional, substantial snack, or a light meal. It likely would not be considered a meal replacement since we don’t subscribe to the amount of carbohydrates that is recommended in the daily food pyramid.

SuD: Are you considering further algae or “Nonfood” products?

Nonfood: We are planning to release other algae based products to be consumed individually or in combination with other Nonfood products.

SuD: Where is our food culture headed in the next 10 years?

Nonfood: Food being the number one industry causing climate change will change more and more towards sustainable solutions. Mega trends storming the global landscape will turn the world more and more from animal based to plant based. Furthermore, previous trend coupled with cellular agriculture will collapse the current meat industry. Another interesting trend to follow is “note-by-note” where foods are composed on molecular level. Previous coupled with personalisation will revolutionize our food culture.

SuD: Which developments in the food sector scare you?

Nonfood: Lately, raw water craze in California.