When a problem needs to be solved at scale, we usually turn to tech. And right now, there’s a big, big problem looming: the world’s population is about 7.5 billion people and counting, and we need to find more efficient ways to feed them.

Inventor Pablos Holman is betting on 3D-printed food as the solution to that issue. Onstage at the Smart Kitchen Summit 2018, Holman, who currently works with Nathan Myhrvold at Intellectual Ventures, gave us hints about what that might look like — and it’s less weird than you might think.

Holman asked the audience to imagine a machine with three settings (“What I ate yesterday,” “What my friends like,” “I’m feeling lucky,” he offered.) At the press of one of those buttons, a printer, such as those from Makerbot (which Holman worked on), could customize a meal based on the user’s dietary needs and/or restrictions, including any pharmaceuticals they might be taking. For example, if a vegetarian with thyroid issues wanted a burger, a 3D printer could produce that meal — nutrients and necessary medication included.

While “post-post-modern cooking” might seem like an appropriate moniker for this way of getting food, Holman pointed out that creating food from powder is something we already do. Consider ground wheat, which we powder and turn into bread and pastas.

Right now, 3D-printing technology is in its “early-80s-dot-matrix” phase, according to Holman. In other words, it’s early days, and printing smoothies and nutrition bars is the extent of 3D-printed food right now. That’ll change, and in a not-so-distant future printers will be cranking out steaks and strawberries in addition to those smoothies.

Holman ended his talk with a reminder that even though most of us imagine all our meals should be Thanksgiving-grade or higher, in reality, 20 of our weekly 21 meals are typically so-so and could be brought to us a whole lot more efficiently. “They’re fuel,” he said. “Let the robots make them.”

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Jenn is a writer and editor for The Spoon who covers restaurant tech and food delivery, developments in agriculture and indoor farming, and startup accelerators and incubators. On the side, she moonlights as a ghostwriter for tech industry executives and spends a lot of time on the road exploring food developments in more remote parts of the country. Previously, she was managing editor of Gigaom’s market research department and was once a competitive pinball player. Jenn splits her time between NYC and Nashville, TN.

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