Presentation from SXSW 2016: 3D Printed Food: Spam or Paté? You Decide.

I just returned from SXSW where a few attendees asked for my presentation on 3D printed food. I've uploaded it to Slideshare and you can catch the Twitter activity during the presentation on Storify. (listen here)


Here I am sharing my notes from my portion of the presentation. My perspective was mostly focused on the utilitarian purpose fo 3D printed food -- particularly for those with Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia). 

My Presentation Notes

Hi guys! Thanks for joining us today. We’re here to talk about 3D printed food.

So, if you’re like me, when you first heard of 3D printed food you thought it was cool, but were left with lots of questions:

  • Is it real?
  • Is it practical?
  • Will I have a printer in my kitchen?
  • Why would I print something I can grow or easily buy?
  • Is it a viable option?

We’ve seen it DOES solve problems

  • for chefs
  • bakers
  • the military
  • space
  • hospitals & institutions
  • people with food allergies or texture issues

Frankly, many of us believe it is everything we want in a burgeoning industry.

I’ve assembled a team of people to have a conversation around these topics.

  • I’m Virginia and I’m a technologist and an advocate for people with disabilities.
  • Phair works at XYZPrinting and thinks about 3D printing daily. She’s a brand strategist.
  • Molly is a professional foodie and has been responsible for operations at large and small bakeries, cafes and restaurants.
  • Michael has written the only book that exists on 3D printed food. He is a sustainability solutions-seeker.

You’ll see that our hashtags and Twitter handles are on the bottom of each slide. I’m going to tell you my perspective and then hand it over to Phair.

My take

(I passed around an edible sample -- with alcohol in it.)

I’ve been working in tech and digital communications since 1998. I’ve spent the past 18 years designing digital solutions and, now, focus almost exclusively on designing solutions for people who live in the fringe, instead of the typical target audience.

All the people you see here are the people that are in the “typical target” audience for people who are designing communications and solutions. You’ll see that there is a pretty good mix of races and ethnicities -- we can hope there is a good mix of socio-economic status. (photos of target audience)

But what I’ve found is that there are often people missing. Those are the people I call the fringe. They’re people who are disenfranchised. Often disabled. Or just elderly. Since everyone is designing for a target audience -- when you design for these people you tend to get to innovative solutions faster. Imagine if the driverless car were designed for someone who is blind instead of someone who lives in Silicon Valley and wants to check their email on the way to work. (photos of those who are considered a fringe audience)

My goal for this panel is to shape the conversation around 3D printed food. As a professional communicator, that’s what I like to do.

I want to start by telling you about a conversation I had this week.  


This week I was having a conversation with someone about this panel. When they heard my topic was 3D printed food, they took a minute to process what I said and then said, “It could be viable. I heard about a photo of a potato that sold for a million dollars.” 

It was clear he didn’t know what 3D printed food was and if he didn’t know what it was, how could he ever see it as something useful?

If, and that is a big IF, people know what it is, its helpfulness is not getting through. I think people might think we mean something like this when we talk about it (Mr Potato Head).

For the general public to have a real understanding of something like 3D printed food, there needs to be three prongs of understanding

  1. people need to believe it within their reach (either as a purchaser of equipment or as a purchaser of the printed food)

  2. people need to understand the utilitarian purpose and

  3. people need to believe it is cool so they’ll be interested in learning more

Earlier I mentioned that 3D printed food is an option for people

  • with texture issues (often people who are autistic)
  • with food allergies
  • with swallowing disorders

I want to talk more about one of these “fringe” groups.

An example and a sample

Okay - has everyone had a chance to try the sample? What do you guys think it is?

It is thick wine. If you have a swallowing disorder everything you eat and drink has to come in a consistency similar to that wine.

Our lives revolve around food. We often share meals when we have something to celebrate. If you have a swallowing disorder, sharing a meal with people can be quite stressful. Spontaneity around meals ceases to exist, more meal planning is required to ensure the appropriate textures can be accommodated in meals. It’s hard, if not impossible, to eat out at a restaurant.

This reluctance to eat among peers is something elders in assisted living experience, and for good reason. It is not uncommon for people to get bullied based on their capabilities. What they are eating can make them a target. If you have dysphagia and are on a restricted diet, the food you eat is going to look different than the food your peers are served.  

Instead of enjoying what everyone else is eating, you’re stuck eating something like this (baby food slides).

Food is closely tied to memories and social activity, it is an important consideration in our quality of life. If a patient doesn’t find the food they are prescribed desirable, they will be less likely to continue to eat. Rapid weight loss can be a gateway to other health issues. 

A person’s culture, ethnicity, likes and dislikes, desire to socialize and other aspects of the person’s life affect what he or she will eat. The bottom line? If the person doesn’t like the food presented—or if its consistency is changed to the point where the person doesn’t even recognize it as food—the person is unlikely to eat it.
— Carol Polovoy in The ASHA Leader

And baby food is for babies.

3D printed food makes food relatable to people with swallowing disorders, which is about 60% of the elderly population. 3D printed food, can make it look more like this (smooth food slides).

  • These carrots are out of TNO, which is 3D-printed food innovation lab in the Netherlands
  • These guys are examples of SmoothFood, which is a type of 3D printed/molded food which is served in nursing homes in Germany.

There is a bit of the uncanny valley with this food. At some point the smooth food printed items may be as beautiful as nature, but for now we can all agree that they look better than this (baby food).

One of the cool things about 3D printing is that each of the printers have a different take. So 3D printed food is attractive to all sorts of audiences for different reasons. Some printers are making it attractive to foodies. 

  • A 3d printed salad and parts of a regular salad playing together on a plate.
  • A deconstructed French onion soup - it starts with an onion bouillon and you add the beef consume to it.
  • Beautiful cake toppers for a wedding.  I’ve seen both edible and plastic toppers where the bride and groom were 3D printed as a topper.
  • 3D printed candy, which is beautiful and comes in shapes you can’t make with a mold.
  • 3D printed mini-pastries called Edible Growth, which were conceived by a Dutch design student.
  • These guys look like nothing we’ve seen in nature, but they’re designs printed by TNO where they’re playing with “food goo” and turning it into something beautiful.
  • We’ve also seen these beautiful chocolates come out of TNO.
  • And if you’re worried all that is too futuristic, let me show you this 3D printed rose pasta by Barilla.

We’ve talked about how it can be important for people with swallowing disorders and a little bit about the cool factor for foodies. Now I am going to hand it over to Phair to talk more about the coolness and how this will be within reach for consumers.

This is a video of a couple of guys freaking out about eating a 3D printed pizza Phair’s company printed. (Presentation turned over to Phair, then Molly, then Michael.)


Months of research and reading go into pitching the topic to SXSW and the preparation of the presentation. I am not a printer so none of the images I used in the presentation are mine. I source the images I used (on each slide), but it is virtually impossible to find the originator of the image. I am sure some of my citation information is incorrect. I've had stuff stolen from me on the internet before, so if one of the images is yours and I have inappropriately attributed it, please let me know!

The images that do not have (c) information were purchased by me either through Canva or Getty Images