The Future of Food25 April 2016
Former US President George W Bush once said, “I believe that human beings and fish can coexist peacefully”. Known for building bridges and his conciliatory tone, Bush envisioned a world where man and fish could overcome their religious and cultural differences and harmoniously share the world’s resources, such as military hardware and Arabian oil fields.
Unfortunately, this utopian vision was never to be realised. Not only do fish not have hands, which was a severe roadblock to cooperative relations, but humans have severely overfished the world’s oceans. Fish are being consumed at a rate which outstrips their natural reproduction, meaning supply is now dwindling and will cease to be able to meet demand in the near future. According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than 85 per cent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits and are in need of strict management plans to restore them. If humans continue to eat fish at the rate we currently are, we will eventually have little left to consume.
This exemplifies a pattern across all food markets which will significantly impact the future of food. Long has economic modelling of the food industry been based purely on supply and demand – food producers will produce the amount of food that people are willing to buy. However, this fails to consider the environmental factors, such as the rate at which animals reproduce and replenish the available food supply. Fish just can’t have that much sex, guys.
The side effects of mass meat production are also severe, which will seriously increase with the onset of climate change. The beef and dairy industry rely on breeding excess livestock to fuel growing demand. Cows are also some of the largest producers of methane gas in the world which contributes to global warming. Agriculture already produces 15 per cent of the world’s carbon footprint but due to growing demand from rising middle classes in the developing world, it could take up the world’s whole carbon budget by 2050, according to UK think tank Chatham House. So in other words, excessive cow farts are slowly killing mankind.
Evidently, the future of food must contain less meat. But before you write me off as some hipster greenie who should be posing for GQ in a turtleneck sweater, consider that eating less dead animals may not necessarily mean eating less “meat”. Don’t fear carnivores – you need not turf the rump steak and chuck some tofu on the barbie just yet. Experts suggest that genetically modified food will dramatically increase in the future, with scientists cloning animal cells and using them to produce animal-free meat. Ray Kurzweil, inventor and Director of Engineering at Google, believes companies will use vitro-cloning technology and hydroponic plants to manufacture food that tastes just like its natural equivalent. The consequential halt in land-clearing due to the ‘vertical’ factory-based nature of production would likely have a very positive environmental impact.
Some are less optimistic about the potential for innovation to negate the necessity for dietary change. “We don’t know enough about nutrition to simulate a diet that will keep us healthy long-term,” says food author Michael Pollan. “Baby formula still doesn’t keep babies as healthy as mother’s milk, and we’ve been at that project for almost 200 years.” The sustainability of such high meat production is almost certainly unsustainable, and will be forced by market or environmental factors to fall over time. “America will feed themselves the way most cultures always have,” says chef Dan Barber. “Grains, legumes, and vegetables will take centre stage.”
So, for those who aren’t so keen on beans, what ingredients will replace beef in our protein-centric Western diet? A report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation suggests that the next big protein will be insects. The report found that maggots, beetles, caterpillars and ants can be effective alternative sources of protein, if only Westerners can get over the yuck factor. “Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly, and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint,” says the report. Why ask worn-out fish to excessively root while there are plenty of randy ants happy to oblige? With regular meat set to decline, readers need to get used to eating bugs. I suggest going out to the garden right now and chowing down on the nearest handful of creepy crawlies you find.
And if we’re trying to reconcile technological innovation and dietary change, why not go all out and replace regular meals with a dietary supplement? US venture capital start-up Soylent has engineered a meal replacement beverage which supposedly meets all nutritional requirements. So all of you lazy fucks can get your vitamins without the arduous burden of reheating yesterday’s leftover pasta. The only problem? It tastes like shit. Online reviews have compared it to “a combination of semen and liquid cement” and “homemade non-toxic Play-Doh”. Given that people tend to eat for sustenance as well as for enjoyment, the prospect of a standardised, bland and uninteresting diet, let alone one which actively repulses people, is hardly going to catch on any time soon.
In other future food predictions, perhaps with slightly less empirical evidence, smashed avocado on toast will soon be the only thing which inner-city cafes actually offer, after a brief period of decline due to market saturation. Also, cups will become obsolete as all drinks will be consumed from jars despite their obvious impracticality. The future is basically a projection of your most annoying hipster friend’s mind, just with a little less pretention and more scientifically engineered sustainable protein sources. Seriously, you need to try some caramelised ants.