Virtual Reality Food

Rachel Jones

Virtual reality food is where the user can see, taste, feel, smell and hear themselves eating a food, but they are not actually eating. This is being developed by a number of independent laboratories and companies, but it is being led by Project Nourished.

Project Nourished is developing a range of products to be used together to give a virtual reality eating experience. The headset allows the user to see the 3D-printed food as the food that is being imitated and the environment in which the food is being enjoyed. A aromatic diffuser gives an appropriate scent to the food. A bone conduction transducer is similar to headphones, but the sound waves are transmitted through the skull in a way that allows the sound to be heard as if it was coming from the jaw.

It also includes a gyroscopic utensil, loosely resembling a spoon, that is necessary for the movements of the user to be translated to virtual reality. The virtual glass seems to have a similar function to the utensil; telling the headset to display the process of drinking, but may also inform the headset that the user is an alcoholic drink and cause a visual simulation of intoxication for those who cannot consume alcohol. A hydrocolloid-based 3D printed food is used to confer taste, texture and consistency, as it is emulsifiable and low caloric.

There are many theoretical applications for the Project Nourished experience, ranging between leisure to  therapeutic use. A lot of sales will be made by those who are looking for something to help with weight loss. Users will benefit from the system by allowing themselves to give into unhealthy cravings without consequence through the device. Project Nourished intends to simulate food that is being eaten but does not actually exist, in fictional places. Long distance relationships could be supported by the technology, as couples will be able to experience dining together from locations continents apart.

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Image Credit: Simple Wikipedia

Many people cannot eat certain foods they love; people with allergies, diabetes, problems with chewing, swallowing and digestion, or even astronauts who miss foods that cannot be taken into space. Project Nourished aims to supplement their lifestyle with the experience of eating what they want to eat. In contrast to this, the devices may be used to acclimatise fussy eaters to acquired tastes, particularly in children who will not eat healthy foods. This approach could also be carefully taken in eating therapy for patients with eating disorders, weaning them onto the idea of eating and developing healthy eating habits without the stress of calorific consequences. Prader-Willi syndrome is a condition in which, among other symptoms, the patient does not receive a ‘full’ signal and will constantly eat as they feel as though they are starving. Project Nourished claims that their technology could be used by these people to combine eating with negative stimuli, associating eating with unpleasant memories.

What does science say about the effectiveness of these applications? Studies into mimicking food consumption without the calorific intake modelled with chewing gum generally conclude that chewing gum reduces appetite and results in decreased food consumption. One may question whether these findings would apply to virtual eating. Excessively controlled dieting is known to be less easily maintained and so diets fail more when they are too strict; maybe treating yourself with unhealthy foods, without metabolic consequence, will make dieting more successful.

There are apparently no dedicated Project Nourished team members advising on the psychological consequences of virtual eating. One would hope that the company bases suggestions of therapeutic applications on fact, and that suggestions of effective treatment of Prader-Willi syndrome, eating disorders and weight loss by this technology are backed up by reliable studies. A concern about the use of this technology is that users will replace too much of their diet with a replacement to food, aiding eating disorder development by enabling the users to live without food more easily.  

The use of the products to stimulate alcoholic intoxication is not expanded upon on the project’s website. If it is for use in treating alcoholics, its efficacy would be questionable, as it would not satisfy the chemical addiction involved in alcoholism unless alcohol is provided. If it is for use by people who wish to experience drunkenness without the damaging effects of alcohol consumption, whether they have a medical condition affected by alcohol or not, the simulation cannot mimic many aspects of drinking, such as the specific mood and behavioural changes, which are the main draw to drinking many people feel.

Many of the most interesting psychological and medical applications of virtual eating technology have yet to be seen as this is state-of-the-art technology, and will likely be studied extensively upon product release.  

Gross Food Ingredients You May Not Know You’re Eating

Rachel Jones

When you buy a packaged food item there is a list of ingredients somewhere on the packaging, so that you have an idea about what is in the food you are eating. However, what you may sometimes not able to see from this list is the origin or qualities of these ingredients. Prepare to be disgusted by some of the gross ingredients commonly found in foods you may eat every day.

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Image Credit: Pixabay

Skatole is added to perfumes and cigarettes, and is used in small concentrations to enhance strawberry flavourings in ice cream. In these concentrations it has a floral scent. Skatole is naturally found in much higher concentrations in mammalian faeces, which owes much of its odour to the compound, and is mildly toxic. The US military has even patented its use as a non-lethal weapon due to its offensive smell.

L-Cysteine is used in to commercially produced breads as a dough conditioner. This amino acid is readily sourced by breaking down mammalian hair or feathers. Hog hair, duck feathers or even human hair may be used. There is some debate between sources, but it has been suggested that human hair could be the predominant origin of the L-cysteine added to our shop-bought breads. Human hair may be preferred as a larger proportion of the amino acids that build the proteins in the hair are L-cysteine.  

Strawberry and raspberry flavourings can be enhanced by castoreum, which is secreted from castor sacs, a type of scent gland near to the anus of beavers. It is written on ingredient lists as a natural flavouring, meaning that it can be present in any strawberry-flavoured food.

Xanthomonas campestris is a bacterium that produces xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is used as a stabiliser in many foods, and is popular due to its ability to replace gluten in home baking. Xanthomonas campestris is usually found in nature as black rot on vegetables, which can destroy entire crops including broccoli, cauliflower and kale. Thankfully, the slimy black rot is produced under very different conditions to xanthan gum used in food, and the gum is thoroughly purified.

Sorbitol is a valuable sweetener because it is less calorific than the average carbohydrate. If you consume too much sorbitol, it can cause flatulence, abdominal pain and potentially severe diarrhoea. There are health risks associated. A 52kg woman ingested 20g a day, and lost 11kg in 8 months due to diarrhoea. Another patient who was consuming 30g a day had to be hospitalised because of the side effects of the sweetener.

Meat in the supermarket may be packaged with small amounts of carbon monoxide, making it look redder, and so fresher. Carbon monoxide is probably best known for the fatal consequences of carbon monoxide leaks in homes, but is safe in these small quantities. There has been concern by worried consumers that this could mask meat spoilage, however the sell-by-date on the meat should always keep the meat from being sold after it has spoiled, and packaging should always state that the colour of the meat is not indicative of freshness.  

Chewing gum bases are ‘standardised’, so the ingredients list on gum packaging do not have to disclose what constitutes the base. Because of this, when lanolin is added to soften the gum base, it won’t be listed. Lanolin is a thick, waxy, light yellow grease taken from sheep wool by pressure or chemical separation, and makes up 5-25% of the weight of freshly-shorn wool.

Many British beers owe their clarity to isinglass, which is added to ‘fine’ the drink by removing yeast from, which otherwise makes it cloudy. Isinglass is made from the dried swim bladders of fish, an organ which controls the depth the fish swims at without the fish having to swim up and down in the water. The collagen proteins in isinglass form a net to collect the yeast particles in the beer.

This is only a few highlights of the many gross things we eat in everyday foods. Honourable mentions have to be given to spraying bacteria-killing viruses onto deli meats, using charred bone as a filter during sugar production, and rennet to convert milk into cheese. It is important to remember that in the UK, many steps are taken to purify and clean ingredients from gross places. If you have no ethical disagreements with how they are obtained, there really shouldn’t be anything harmful or unclean in the food you eat.