What Students Should Know About the Future of Food
- International News
We waste around 1.3 billion tonnes of food every year. That's approximately one-third of all the food produced for human consumption. Unsurprisingly this colossal amount of waste has a big impact; namely, 3.3 billion tonnes worth of carbon -- or the equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions from 37 million cars.
But food waste could soon be a thing of the past thanks to an innovative new approach by one British chef. Douglas McMaster is the man behind Silo, a zero-waste restaurant based in Brighton. He has returned to a pre-industrial system, or what he calls the 'closed-loop'. Silo uses seasonal produce from local farmers, fishermen, and foragers. Anything that cannot be sourced locally is made in the kitchen, and any waste goes directly into a giant food compressor for composting. "Two hundred years ago, every restaurant was a zero-waste restaurant," says the eco-chef. "It's a very simple, very realistic model that works with nature and not against it. Not only is it ecologically viable, but it's also economically viable."
DNA diet plans
We're more health-conscious than ever, but advances in food science mean we could soon have foods tailor-made to our genome. 'Personalised' nutrition will use genetic testing to see what kind of foods we should be eating and how often. Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, believes this approach will be the norm by 2028. He says, “I'll be able to tell you what kinds of fruits, what kinds of vegetables and what kinds of whole grains you should be choosing, or exactly how often."
Genetically modified nutrition
Last year, scientists produced a banana packed with vitamin A, a nutrient not ordinarily present in the fruit. They did this by splicing the genes of a very particular type of banana found in Papua New Guinea with the more common variety.
And this is only the beginning. In the next ten years, expect to see an explosion in DNA-editing technology and techniques. This will lead to fruit and vegetables packed with even more goodness, peanuts that don't trigger life-threatening allergies, and lentils with the same amount of protein as a large portion of sirloin steak.
Guilt-free junk food
Now this is the one everybody is waiting for! Food technologists are currently trying to create 'junk-foods' that contain less sugar, less fat, and less salt while still satisfying the monkey part of our brains that encourages us to binge on those high-calorie treats. Let's hope they figure this one out sooner rather than later...
Producing protein out of thin air
Earlier this year, a group of researchers from food tech company Solar Foods announced they'd created a new protein out of nothing more than air and electricity! Solar Foods' Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, explains the process: "It is a little bit like brewing beer or producing lactic acid for yogurt. We have an organism which grows using CO2 and electricity through hydrogen as the raw material. In essence, the organism grows, and then we produce the organism and dry it for the food ingredient purposes."
The process could produce large amounts of protein at the fraction of current farming costs and is thought to be 100 times more climate-friendly than meat production and ten times more than plant-based protein production. It also produces negligible amounts of CO2. The protein itself is a powder which is then added to food without affecting the taste or nutritional value.
The big freeze
A recent study of the frozen food market suggests growth of around $18 billion in the next four years. Experts predict most of this will happen in Europe, where sizable frozen food companies are buying up smaller competitors. These acquisitions provide the parent company with access to innovative technologies at a lower cost and new frozen food products that increase both market share and global presence.
The beginning of the end for traditional farming?
During a recent documentary titled Apocalypse Cow: How Meat Killed the Planet, environmentalist George Monbiot asserted that the British countryside is no idyllic and harmonious landscape -- and argued, rather, than modern farming methods have done significant ecological damage to rural areas in the UK.
He then visited a few farmers who are doing things a little differently, including cultured meat entrepreneur Illtud Dunsford, who is working on a revolutionary new process that can produce meat from animal cells. Monbiot also meets scientists from a Finnish biotech company that can make flour and other foodstuffs from just bacteria. This is all part of what Monbiot calls "farm free food" that "will allow us to hand back vast areas of land and sea to nature."
Eat more bugs
Fancy a plate of deep-fried crickets? Some wood-smoked beetle larvae? Or does ants coated in black garlic and rose oil tickle those tastebuds? If you're already reaching for the sick bucket, then it might be time to reassess some of your culinary prejudices...
More than a quarter of the world's population rely on insects as part of their standard diet. Kenyans drum termites out of the ground before dry-roasting them, while in South America, weevil grubs are cooked over an open flame for that smoky taste. In Thailand, locals shake mango trees for the weaver ant larvae bear, which they then eat raw. The pulp pops in the mouth like a tiny water balloon and is said to have a sweet, fruity taste.
Insects are high in protein, eco-friendly, and cheap to produce, making them a perfect supplement for people looking to consume a more sustainable diet. Insect farmers are already popping up in the UK, and leading supermarket chains have introduced insect-based snacks to British consumers. So will these new, bug-based superfoods save the environment? Well, not on their own, but swapping the odd steak for a plate of crickets is a big step in the right direction. British Nutrition Foundation experts point out, "Insects are reported to emit fewer greenhouse gases than cattle and require significantly less land and water for rearing."
So, the foods of the future could well help us live longer, healthier lives while also minimizing the environmental impact of global food production. And here's the best part: thanks to groundbreaking research happening in scientific fields such food sciences, food technology, and biotechnology, there's a good chance those lab-made cheeseburgers will one day be just as tasty as the 'real thing'!
After graduating with a degree in English literature and creative writing, Ashley worked as a bartender, insurance broker, and teacher. He became a full-time freelance writer in 2016. He lives and writes in Manchester, England.