“Farm to Table”, “Natural’ and “organic” are all buzz words that food production and marketing people love to use, but truth be told most of the foods in the form we eat them today have never existed in the natural world. The supermarkets and open markets are full of tantalizing fruit and vegetables that have been selectively farmed and altered over time, often modified out of all recognition from the original wild crop.
Carrots were originally purple or white with forked, spindly roots but when we began to domesticate carrots they grew into the large orange roots we know today.
Peaches once resembled cherries and tasted salty; watermelons were small, hard and bitter; aubergines (eggplants) used to look like white eggs, corn an essential crop, domesticated approximately 10,000 years ago in Central America was bred from the barely edible grass called teosinte.
Improved economical farming practices and selective breeding for more palatable and tasty traits has made these “improvements” but this has come also at a nutritional cost. Protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C have all waned in fruit and vegetables over the past century, with today’s products having about two-thirds of the minerals they used to have.
GMO – pros & Cons
No longer science fiction, scientists and food engineers are using genetics and biomolecular science to insert DNA from one plant into another (GMO), eliminating the need to undertake generations of selective breeding to acquire desirable traits.
There are opposing thoughts on this practice though. Some conservationists and scientists are raising questions regarding the safety of genetically modified crops. The campaigners for GMO claim the benefits (lower food prices, less pesticides, etc.) outweigh the health risks but there are still concerns for all types of genetic modification. This is a debate that has not been won by either pro or con however, the potential benefits of the practice are practically limitless for future food production in the event of a negative global event. Here are the pros and cons of GMO:
- GMO can produce “designer” crops, more nutrients, grow quicker and produce more yield, are more resistant to pesticides and use less fertilizer.
- Artificially implanting DNA from one species to another can save many years of research.
- GMO experimentation can be used to manipulate animal (and, theoretically, human) cells to be healthier or desirable.
- GMOs have been around for almost 20 years, so health concerns related to them should have become apparent by now.
- Change can be good e.g. cleaning and cooking food may not be natural but it is beneficial.
- Studies have shown that genetically modified corn and soy fed to a higher risk of liver and kidney problems in rats. it is not proven if this can be transferable to humans.
- Transgenic modification produces organism types which would never occur naturally, making them highly unpredictable.
- GMOs could affect those with allergies in unpredictable ways.
- GMOs were developed to reduce the amount of pesticides used, but as weeds and bacteria become resistant, farmers may actually use more.
- GMO testing often involves performing experiments upon animals, which some people feel is a breach of animal rights.
Globally, we are struggling and legislating to curb greenhouse gas emissions, in order to achieve ‘net zero’ and to stay well below the 1.5°C rise in temperature that science predicts will have catastrophic consequences for the earth’s systems and for human society.
By making our way to lowering global emissions and succeeding will mean we’ll radically change our dietary habits, including the balance of protein and vitamins especially in the western diet but will also affect all of the global community.
It is becoming more prevalent to eat a greater proportion of plant protein and less meat and dairy but it will be also very important that these plant-based crops are cultivated in ways that have lower environmental impacts. It is imperative that we create a food system and culture that meets the inevitable climate changes.
A look Into the Future. Eating to Survive
Looking forward into the future, say in another 20 years. What will your lunch look and taste like and how will it compare to what we are eating in 2020?
Has take-out or delivery become the norm, are you still eating at your desk or working from home or using a virtual reality headset. Is your meal a high protein all-in-one “shake” or are we still enjoying a home-made meal?
It is the year 2041 and ever since the Covid19 pandemic of 2020/21, convenience, hygiene and nutrition have been prioritized and mostly artificially produced. High-quality, nutritious naturally farmed or reared foods are only readily available to those who can afford it and cook it themselves.
Because of the emphasis on a plant-based diet the small amount of meat that is available and occasionally consumed is free-range, less available with a high price tag. Healthy protein alternatives to meat are the norm in this future but many people still lack the skills or even have the time to cook nutritious food at home.
Your lunch is typically a pre-packaged plant-based take-out or delivery. Carbs and artificial proteins mass produced artificially in laboratories comprising the majority of the meal.
Convenience has been prioritized even more so than in 2020 with very little focus on nutrition or availability of natural protein. The only upside for some will be more free time to pursue activities other than food shopping or preparation.
An Extreme Vision of Future Technocratic Egalitarian Dining.
Convenience, conformity and availability will be the precedence in this future and while food (or sustenance) is readily available, your lunch now mostly comes in the form of plant-based shakes, bars and pills. Food waste has been eradicated and hunger has been controlled but our diet is missing certain nutrients such as fibre. You have more time to pursue interests other than food preparation and the arts of cooking and dining will be all but lost with the social element of food and eating together a thing of the past. The result being that restaurants will be redundant and social dining will change beyond recognition to cater for the new reality with us even using virtual reality to mimic the past dining experience as a form of historical social behavior.
As in 2020, malnutrition in all its forms (obesity, dietary deficiencies, hunger and childhood stunting) is still widespread in many societies leaving a large proportion of the global population vulnerable to dietary problems
Honey, what would you like printed for dinner tonight?
Remember the Star Trek Replicator machine that turned molecules into edible food and whole dishes? Well the 3D food printers being developed today, producing dishes from edible plant-based materials is bringing us closer to what was just a few years ago a science-fiction concept. Many companies have recognized the opportunities and are taking advantage of 3D printing different foods, sugar and chocolate to pasta and biological synthetically manufactured hamburgers as well as vegetable mixes. But what is the future, can it revolutionize the way we cook and eat?
In today’s society, trends such as veganism, gluten-free and dairy-free are on the rise. 3D printing can respond to these growing trends.
Developing the 3D printer as a household appliance could potentially synchronize to pair your devices to the 3D printer. For example, a fitness tracker calculating calorie consumption can transfer the data to the 3D printer to create a customized meal in accordance to the calories needed. This in turn can instigate a very important and seamless integration of human nutrition into medicine, adapting artificially created foods to exact nutritional needs.
Even if some application possibilities already exist for 3D food printing there is still an obstacle which brings us back to the human element and touch. That is, cooking the printed product. The printing of the food works, but it is still necessary to cook the meal separately after printing. There are already efforts to make the 3D printer an everyday food processor with the use of laser heat to cook food during printing. The ultimate goal would be to combine 3D printing technology on a machine that is capable of printing and cooking food according to your wishes and needs
Will we soon have a food printer in the kitchen as an everyday appliance? The technology isn’t quite ready yet but it’s only a matter of time. The technology is almost there and when it is it will be about marketing it and selling it so people will accept it. It happened with the microwave and pretty soon will happen with 3D food printing.
What will all this mean for the future of food and how we adapt to new realities?
The challenges around food production and consumption are so interconnected that we can’t undertake to confront any of the individual issues in isolation.
Only focusing on reducing emissions to meet climate targets without influencing other outcomes or other challenges such as public health, biodiversity loss and water scarcity, to name just a few is not an option.
If a combination of taste, quality nutrition, food safety and convenience are all valuable goals we wish to achieve for all of us in the future, then we have to make certain that the solutions we invest in today will deliver cohesive results. An understanding of potential negative consequences even if unintended and recognising the choices we are making today will drive positive results.
While the future of food has not yet been written, to prioritise this whilst also tackling the environmental challenges we all have our part to play in the development of health, nutrition and the pure enjoyment of eating. It’s up to us all, in conjunction with governments, civil society and food businesses across all sectors. We all have a critical role to play in enabling positive changes within the next 20 years in order to ensure we are prepared for the upcoming risks and to seize the opportunities essential in shaping and creating a better future food system
These alternative futures are food for thought vis-à-vis the way our future eating and dining habits might evolve. None of them is ideal and none of them is a precise prediction of what will happen, but all of them are plausible and possible
So, what do you think your lunch will look like in 2040?