In OneRare, billed as the world’s first food metaverse, you can visit a virtual restaurant with a menu from a celebrity chef, where the signature dish might be butter chicken or cacio e pepe. At a digital farmers market, you’ll be able to shop for ingredients, then combine them to mint a non-fungible token (NFT) of french fries or Singaporean chicken and rice. You can even make donations to a virtual community fridge, which corresponds to a real one in Indonesia. Sure, there are also games you can play against other users, but the difference between this “foodverse” and something like The Sims is the fact that what you do in OneRare, which launches in March, has an impact in real life.
If futurists (and celebs like Reese Witherspoon) are to be believed, we’ll soon be conducting a good portion of our lives in virtual reality. Our digital avatars will be able to work, shop, exercise, and even date. But where will food fit in? If the biggest problem with brunchstagrams is that you can’t smell or taste them, can the metaverse fix that? Though you can’t physically eat a meal online — yet — the first dining-related metaverse projects show how food has always been about more than literal consumption. As the foundations get built, people are forming real-life relationships through blockchain-enabled supper clubs, investing in food and beverage companies via NFTs, and more.
In one corner of the developing metaverse, cryptocurrency is being used to support beverage producers. Wiv, a Norwegian wine NFT company, works with vineyards in Europe to sell NFTs that correspond to specific vintages. (Most cost a little over 0.1 Ethereum, or around $300.) Purchasing the NFT gives you access to an authenticated bottle of wine that’s securely stored and can be traded while it ages. Wiv also sets up metaverse pop-ups to take consumers on virtual vineyard tours, where they can learn more about the winemaking process.
Wiv founder and CEO Tommy Nordam Jensen sees the process as an alternative kind of financing for winemakers. Because building a wine business takes years, from growing the grapes to selling the bottle, winemakers have a hard time securing loans from banks, which are needed in order to improve the wine’s quality, Jensen tells Bustle. Tokens solve that problem by selling vintages in advance, giving partners the money to produce excellent wines (and giving buyers an easy way to trade their investment without having the physical asset in hand). For consumers, it’s a splurge that you might make only on special occasions, like buying a bottle of champagne to open on your 30th birthday.
Other foodverse projects aren’t about securing the bag, but about building community. Dinner DAO uses NFTs to host in-person supper clubs in different cities. (DAO stands for decentralized autonomous organization, a democratically run co-op financed by members’ purchases of tokens.) Founders Austin Robey and Gabrielle Micheletti connected on Twitter in the summer of 2021 and decided they wanted to make the “esoteric crypto/web3/tech world more user friendly” through dinners, Micheletti tells Bustle. Case in point: They use Comic Sans on Dinner DAO’s promotional materials to keep the vibe approachable.
The group has five DAOs, two in New York, two in Los Angeles, and one in Portland, Oregon. To join, people purchase a season pass token for about $300 in Ethereum, which goes into the group treasury and funds dinners over the course of three months. Eight members join a token-activated Discord channel and vote on restaurant options.
The first Portland dinner was a vegan meal served in the rain — the group sat outside due to COVID precautions. “I don’t remember a single bite, but a couple of neat projects and collabs [like hackathons] came out of it,” says Amber Case, an anthropologist who petitioned to start the Portland DAO after hearing about the project on Twitter. “It was just great to meet new people.”
Dinner DAO stands in contrast to expensive NFT supper clubs that sell out instantly, like Resy founder-turned-crypto kingpin Gary Vaynerchuk’s Flyfish Club — think $7,900 for access to a private lounge and restaurant, with food sold separately. Part of its mission is to show people how easy it can be to set up a community-focused web3 project in their city. Other DAOs, like Crypto Packaged Goods, use this same framework to launch products like chocolate and green juice developed collectively by the group. Proponents say that DAOs could eventually serve as an alternative ownership structure for restaurants or brands, allowing everyday consumers to have a decision-making role in the products they buy. (A seat at the table, if you will.)
“A virtual experience does not a metaverse make.”
Andrea Hernández, founder of Snaxshot, a food and beverage forecasting consultancy and newsletter, is a fan of how Dinner DAO works, since it addresses many of the pain points of setting up a supper club. (Anyone who’s tried to split the bill after someone’s birthday dinner — where two people aren’t drinking and one only ordered an appetizer — understands.) That said, Hernández cautions that we’re still in the early days of the metaverse, and “brands are just exploring what can be done.” She commends projects that integrate real-life experiences alongside their virtual offerings as better options for consumers, pointing to Burger King’s November campaign to include a discount for an IRL burger along with its NFTs. “A virtual experience does not a metaverse make,” she cautions.
OneRare founder Supreet Raju, who has worked in the blockchain industry since 2017, echoes Hernández. “I am not a believer that virtual life can replace your real life. That’s not healthy and it’s something we actively discuss with restaurant partners,” she tells Bustle. The metaverse also needs to be more than a get-rich-quick scheme: OneRare “is not a one-time NFT drop,” Raju says. “It’s a holistic foodverse with an evolving concept,” meaning players are meant to engage with it beyond buying a single NFT. Raju believes that all blockchain projects should prioritize community-building in some capacity — fighting hunger is an important mission of OneRare, for example.
These nascent foodverse projects understand that fully online experiences can’t replace hosting a dinner party or sharing a bottle of wine — especially since digital simulations of smell and taste are a long way from being commonplace. Instead, the future of food in the metaverse means tapping into the core of what makes dining great: creating connections and community. You’ll just have to bring your own snacks.