When talking about food of the future, soylent green (the foodstuffs made out of people from the classic Sci-Fi movie of the same name) and grasshoppers leap to mind. Well, I don’t think most of today’s (or tomorrow’s) consumers are too interested in snacking on the remains of their neighbors. Nevertheless, the idea of what kind of foods we will be chowing down on in the not-too-distant future is interesting to explore; especially considering that we can expect an increase of over 2 BILLION people living on the planet by 2050.
Just how will 9+ billion people feed themselves? Well, just consider the strides in food production and consumption that the world has experienced in the past 50 years. Where staples such as chicken and beef have been supplemented with genetically enhanced meat products, soybean and a host of other products that we consume daily, we can certainly expect even more dietary innovations to meet consumption needs. With this is mind, let’s take a look at the top ten foods of the future.
10. Vegetarian Meat
The idea of “meat” consisting of ingredients that don’t include animals would have seemed pretty far-fetched not so many years ago. Today, we know differently, and the trend in this area will continue to grow as population growth begins to outpace currently available food sources. Meat production is a huge and expensive industry. Vegetarian products, however, are cheaper to produce and tend to be healthier as well (great news for animal lovers).
Most of us already know about soya products. Made from soya beans, these products have found some traction in Asia. Prepared properly, these products have a texture that is very similar to meat and, with some inventive seasoning, can provide a wide variety of flavor. Soya is just one example that is currently being used. Other innovative products show equal promise and look to be available in increasing quantities in coming years.
This includes such products such as Quorn, a fungus. Yeah, I know – but hey, so are mushrooms and all kinds of stuff can be produced from that particular family of fungi. Anyway, Quorn is produced from a fermented fungus and reportedly taste very similar to actual meat products. Add in such products produced from the likes of lupines to wheat gluten, and a very profitable and practical source of food is available from non-traditional sources. Assuming that the products in question and other similar offerings can reproduce the taste/flavor of the meat products they hope to supplement (or replace); then we all might be wolfing down a tree leaf burger in the very near future.
9. Cultured/In-Vitro Meat
It’s a true fact that a good deal of the world’s population is carnivorous. We like our meat. And while there are other products that attempt to reproduce the taste, flavor, and texture of meat (some successful, others not so much); the truth of the matter is that these products are still not real meat. Sometimes, we want a burger – a real, honest-to-God sandwich that began as a cow.
Fortunately, science is working on resolving this primitive desire in a manner that may alleviate the need for an actual animal. In-vitro or cultured meat involves “growing” meat. “Growing” is the best way to describe the process of tissue-engineering that is required to accomplish this feat. The method entails taking cells from a live animal, which are then used to grow…well…meat. I don’t pretend to understand the science behind all of this, but the idea is an interesting one. In fact, such a method could darn near resolve hunger around the world (theoretically). This idea is still in the development/research stage, but the potentials of a breakthrough are not difficult to imagine – ready-made meat products that are easily manufactured without having to deal with herds of live animals would be incredibly profitable. And for the consumer – we will have our meat!
The first thing that comes to mind is, “isn’t this like eating fungus?” No, not really. One of the interesting things about this particular subject matter is to reflect on the various changes that have come about concerning food production and consumption. Just 50 years ago, the answer to the world’s growing consumption needs was the so-called “green revolution“. Farmers were introduced to scientifically altered (hybrid) seeds and new types of fertilizers to enhance crops. As a result, farmers were able to grow twice as much as before. The downside was the need for more land and water (we use A LOT of water) – we are now close to a saturation point where traditional farming is prohibitive.
As such, producers have to figure out how to grow food in places that normally are not very hospitable to do so. Enter algae. Algae are microscopic organisms that have the ability to grow very fast. More to the point, they can grow in the sea, and even in polluted water. Seaweed and kelp, in fact, are forms of algae. While most folks have not had a cuisine consisting of what could be considered sea grass – these forms of algae could provide an accessible and affordable dietary option. The real appeal of algae is in expanding the dietary offerings that it presents and in the by-products (such as algae oil) that can be derived from this readily abundant source from nature. Hey – if blue whales and other marine life enjoy the stuff, maybe there’s something to it after all.
7. Insects, Bugs, and Small Critters
Truth is truth. We may not like it, but that doesn’t impact on facts of the matter. And one truth that can be derived out of a discussion about the consumption of insects, is that they provide a very good source of protein. And apparently, we need protein. But that’s not all. Of the various species of bugs that are eaten (well over 1,400 that are common), they all commonly provide a low fat, low cholesterol, and high calcium and iron affair. Yes, they can be a bit slimy (and crunchy), but they are good for you. While insects are not uncommon fodder in Asia, Africa and South America; the rest of the world has not really followed suit. This probably has a lot to do with culture, perception and need.
Nevertheless, insects provide very little space to breed and generally inexpensive to do so as well. Add this to the fact that they can provide a nutritional meal, and we have all the makings of a new food group. Indeed, crickets, caterpillars, grasshoppers and June beetles are just a few of the favored multi-legged delicacies available. In fact, there are a number of advocacy groups that are promoting the use of insects as a dietary staple. They have a legitimate point, especially when one considers the shortage of food in many parts of the world. Insects can provide an affordable source of the vital nutrients that humans need to survive. Granted, images of fried grasshopper may not be dancing in your head right now, but very soon you may have a craving for chocolate-covered ants. Just wait.
The basic problem with meat, is that maintaining the necessary livestock is becoming more and more unsustainable. One study declared that livestock took up about 30% of available land space on the planet, not to mention the greenhouse effect of their biological emissions. Additionally, well over 50% of grain production (a good chunk of available farmable land) is devoted to feeding livestock. Basically, with the ever increasing population, we simply cannot raise enough cows to feed all these folks.
The sea, on the other hand, provides excellent sources of food that is much easier to cultivate/breed. And I’m not talking about a bunch of fishermen out at sea hauling in more loads of produce (images of the show “Deadliest Catch” and the movie A Perfect Storm are coming to mind). Rather, we are talking about fish farms on land – places where different types of fish are specifically bred and raised to be turned into a fillet (think Tilapia and Cobia).
It certainly makes economic and practical sense. Seafood, of just about any variety, takes an enormous amount of resources to catch – whether we are talking about shrimp or crabs. The ability to produce these products in a more domestic fashion would make them more available and presumably cheaper for us, the consumer. And the wide variety of species that make water their home gives produces plethora of choices to market. The new open ranges will be filled with trout.
5. Smaller Animals
My wife, when I was describing the items that would populate this list, exclaimed when I got to this one, “what, like rats?” Rats are indeed small animals and there are a lot of them (and people have been known to eat them in desperate situations). But no, we are not talking about rats in this case. Whether we are talking about placing a larger emphasis on animals that are not as problematic as cattle to raise as a food source.
With this, there are a whole host of animals that can provide a dietary substitute for beef. Rabbits, squirrels, coon, goats, and the like are on the list. In fact, in many parts of the world, these animals are consumed on a regular basis. The benefit of such animals is that you can raise more of them, relative to cattle, for consumption. Or so say the experts. I haven’t done the math, but a typical steer provides about 400 pounds of meat. This works out to about 1,600 servings (at 4 ounces per serving). Meanwhile, an average rabbit is about 5 pounds, and provides about half its weight in edible meat – so you would need about 160 rabbits for a comparable amount of meat.
Nevertheless, smaller critters – even in the necessary greater numbers – are comparatively inexpensive, and generate less greenhouse gas effects. In short, raising a gaggle of rabbits is a lot more economical, practical, and environmentally sound than a herd of cows. And honestly, grilled rabbit tastes pretty good!
Well, maybe not weeds in the traditional sense. But some experts suggest the dietary benefits of a weed-like vegetation called purslane. This particular strain of vegetation is a nutritionist’s dream! It’s loaded with stuff like vitamin A , omega-3 and beta carotene. According to one source, the chewy peddles of this weed (it really is a weed – it has the affectionate nickname of pigweed) is more nutritious than vegetables like carrots and spinach. That alone makes it worth its while. Reportedly, it also tastes good.
Unfortunately, at present, farmers hate Purslane because it chokes off other crops that are more profitable. But the great thing about weeds: the darn things tend to grow everywhere. Purslane has adapted itself to grow in dry environments, as well as areas with plentiful water, making in a prime choice for a crop in arid climates. As the world moves to more hardy food substances (especially those that are hardy and nutritious), we can expect to see vegetation, such as purslane, on our dinner plates in greater quantities. Yum.
3. Genetically Modified Food
Genetic manipulation is seen as the way of the future. The technology in this regards in still in the infancy stage, but the promise of being able to manipulate current foods into hardier, tastier and more nutritious stock is a prime motivator in this area. Essentially, we are talking about making existing food better. This includes shortening the growing times of crops, making them more resistant to insects and other issues that plague crops, increasing yields, enabling crops to grow in areas not normally suitable to do so, and more.
In fact, researchers are even speculating on engineering foods to fight certain diseases, like cancer. Imagine eating a piece of watermelon that has been genetically modified to provide a protein that allows someone with diabetes to forgo taking insulin. On a more immediate application, genetic manipulation will allow foods to taste even better, blend flavors, or even event totally new tastes to commonly known foods. We may be quite a ways from Star Trek-style food replicators, but the science of creating new food is right on our finger tips.
If you are smarter than me (and you probably are) then you more-than likely-understand the difference between nanofoods and the above-mentioned genetically modified food. Scientists swear that there is a distinct difference between the two. From what I can gather, nanofood is a somewhat less-ambitious scientific process. While genetically modified food involves altering the very genes of a food (changing the essence of item in question), nanofood technology restructures the molecular/atomic structure of foods using nanotechnology to produce nanoparticles.
A fine line for sure, but a difference nonetheless. These nanoparticles can alter a way that a food taste, what nutrients are produced, or extend the life of a particular food. Currently, this science is used in packaging, by extending shelf life (preservatives can be released into the food), improving product safety (by alerting consumers to spoiled food), and even repairing torn packaging through some sort of self-sealing process.
One interesting development that is in the works by Kraft Foods is interactive products. Essentially, the company is attempting to use nanotechnology to cater a food’s taste to individual consumers. Now that’s getting food how you want it! Ultimately, what scientist hope to achieve is to be able to take this technology to the next level, and perform feats that are more in common with genetic modification – changing taste and providing increased nutritional benefits. Suffice to say, this stuff is definitely next-generation technology that approaches science fiction.
1. Something We Haven’t Thought Of Yet
If you would have told folks 100 years ago, that we would have genetically altered seeds that would double the yield of crops, they probably would have thought you were reading too many science fiction novels. Yet fiction, as crazy as it may sound, is the harbinger of things to come. We were dreaming of reaching the moon long before we actually did it. In this same fashion, the unimaginable in regards to food will probably be tomorrow’s reality. I mentioned earlier the food replicators on Star Trek. Well, do you also remember those handheld flip communicators they used? Take a look at the cell phones (older models now) that performed the same function. As such, it’s not hard to imagine a machine that could actually produce any kind of food you desire right out of the molecules that are floating around in the air. Or maybe the nutrient-enhanced slime that the folks ate in The Matrix?
Farfetched? Maybe, but our imaginations will be the breeding grounds for the next evolution in food. As our food supplies continue to shrink, we will be forced to find ever new ways to feed our growing population. Perhaps the answer lies in space – new foods that can only be grown in the vacuum or on a space station. Or maybe we can find a way to make dirt tasty and nutritious. For certain, I’ve seen people make a delicacy out of lawn grass! Whatever the case, you can bet that our great grandchildren will find it hard to believe that we were actually eating meat from animals and vegetables that were grown in real soil. Just wait and watch!