What would you like to eat?
By Himanshu Verma, Contributor
The Green Revolution in the early 1970s saved millions of people from starvation by increasing agricultural productivity through innovating use of chemical fertilizers, pest control, and high-yield crops. But this agricultural productivity has come to an impasse, and according to food futurologists, in order to feed the hungry planet, very soon we will need another food revolution. But this time, it may not be green.
Fluctuating food prices, growing populations, and the deteriorating environment have all been matters of grave concern for governments, the United Nations, and food futurologists, pushing them to devise new means and resources to feed humanity.
World Bank projections state that Earth will be supporting a population of around 9 billion people by 2050, which means 50 per cent more food production will be required. Climate change can further slash the crop yield by another 25 per cent. So, food scarcity will be a serious issue to be dealt with, along with the water and energy crises already defined by the futurologists.
The portal on Future Foods presents an overview of the new technology, fondly given the name “agtech” based on the concept of efficient production by using optimum resources. The first and foremost concern has been to find a substitute for animal-derived meat, which has been biggest source of protein so far in this protein hungry world.
“In the West, many of us have grown up with cheap, abundant meat. Rising prices mean we are now starting to see the return of meat as a luxury. As a result, we are looking for new ways to fill the meat gap,” said food futurologist Morgaine Gaye.
Animal-derived meat has an estimated US$250 billion per year market worldwide, and egg products add another $4–8 billion per year. To replace this highly substantial source with an equally healthier, affordable, epidemic-free food source is a challenging task for scientists and futurologists alike. In an article in BBC Magazine, Denise Winterman reported the food substitutes futurologists are working on.
“It is time to stop killing animals for meat and start growing it [in labs],” said William Saletan in an article for Slate about the future of ethical food. “The aim is to bring an end to the animal suffering, environmental pollution, starvation, health risks, and soon, by no longer using domestic animals for meat, eggs, or milk.”
Insects, also known as mini livestock, are a great source of protein and could very well become the staple diet in future replacing livestock, according to Gaye and other futurologists. Researchers at the Netherlands’ Wageningen University fully agree with them. “Insects cost less to raise than cattle, consume less water, and don’t have much carbon footprint. Plus, there are an estimated 1400 species that are edible to man,” says Gaye, who is also a member of Experimental Food Society. Caterpillars, locusts, wasps, and crickets are already considered delicacies in Africa, Japan, Thailand, and other parts of the world. However, insects will need an image overhaul to be considered palatable to Europeans and North Americans.
Sound-enhanced food is the next thing on the agenda. Scientists are studying the effect of sound on taste; while before it was believed that only smell and appearance influenced it, a recent study by scientists at Oxford University found that listening to certain tunes while eating could make things taste more sweet or bitter. According to Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, the taste of food could be altered by changing the background soundtrack.
Chef Heston Blumenthal, a pioneer in sonic-enhanced food, is already serving a dish called Sound of the Sea at Fat Duck, his restaurant. The dish is served with sounds of seaside in the background, the effect of which make food taste fresher.
“We know what frequency makes things taste sweet. Potentially, you could reduce the sugar in a food and use music to make it seem just as sweet to the person eating it,” said Jones, another member of Experimental Food Society. Its extended use is even being tested on white goods and in food packaging, as crunchier sound on opening a food-packet makes it taste fresher to the consumers.
In-vitro meat, also known as cultured meat, may be the greatest choice on your plate as Dutch scientists have produced cultured meat successfully in the laboratory using the stem cells of cows. They have since created lab-grown burgers, and the current price of producing one is about $11, down from the original $325,000. NASA has been experimenting for quite some time with in-vitro meat because it is more efficient and environmentally friendly. It considerably reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, water, and energy consumption, and its fat and nutrient content can be controlled. Because of this, growing lab meat is much more advantageous than killing animals for meat.
Algae is also being considered a potential solution for the future food deficit. Researchers found that, as there is no need of land to grow it since it can be grown in ocean, and it can be consumed by both humans and animals, it is the most favourable option, possibly becoming one of the world’s biggest cropping industries in the near future. Dr. Craig Rose, executive director of Seaweed Health Foundation, says, “Such farms could easily work in the UK and be very successful. The great thing about seaweed is that it grows at a phenomenal rate; it’s the fastest growing plant on the earth. Its use in the UK is going to rise dramatically.” Scientists at Sheffield Hallam University have used seaweed granules to replace salt in various foods. “It’s multifunctional,” said Gaye. “Many of its properties are only just being explored. It is such a big resource that we really have not tapped into yet.”
An article published in the Guardian mentioned a menu of foods that, according to the authors, could become the “main-stays of tomorrow’s meals.” The list includes jellyfish and algae as supplements, algae-based drinks, allergy-free peanuts, lab-grown meat, vegan cheese, and fermented coffee. It also offers recipes for jellyfish salads and cricket noodles. Anyone interested?