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By 2050 we will need to produce 60% more food if we want to feed the projected population of 9.3 billion. It is unlikely that we will be able to achieve this using traditional agricultural methods; a food revolution is needed. What will we be eating 30 years from now?
One suggestion that is already in production is so-called ‘clean meat,’ grown by culturing animal cells in a lab. In December, Singapore approved lab-grown chicken meat made by the ‘Eat Just’ startup for human consumption, although at $23 a nugget, more than a little over the McDonalds saver-menu price, this is currently more of a novelty than serious competition. Whilst this is the first lab-grown meat to be approved, there are many others in production, ranging from meat-free steaks to seafood. This industry is set to grow exponentially in the next three decades, with one report by Kearney estimating that 35% of all meat eaten in 2040 will be grown in a lab.
Or will we be eating our many-legged friends? While insects are currently eaten by an estimated two billion people worldwide, they are generally not consumed as part of a European diet. However, insects are much more efficient to farm than traditional meat: with the input of a kilogram of feed, crickets will generate 12 times more edible protein than cows would. Insects could be also used to replace soya as animal feed, freeing up more food for human consumption. Currently there are many legislative issues surrounding the consumption of insects by humans or animals, but these issues may well be resolved 30 years from now.
We could even turn to the sea and eat algae, small organisms that are extremely protein- and nutrient-rich. In fact, you might already be putting spirulina, a close cousin of algae and a popular superfood, into your smoothies. When dried, some algaes have the same protein content as soybeans, with the added benefit of containing the elusive B-12 vitamin that is so hard to come by in a vegan diet. The Israel-based company Algaennovation is already investigating the use of algae to replace the fish-meal used in fish farming, and, in the future, algae may be consumed by humans on a much larger scale. Algaennovation at its finest.
Alternatively, will veganism be the new norm, like in Simon Amstell’s dystopian mockumentary Carnage? This January a record of 500,000 people, 125,000 in the UK alone, pledged to be vegan for the month, two times the number of people who signed up in January 2019. The UN promotes a plant-based diet as the single best way individuals can help the climate, a view which has been popularised by activists like Greta Thunberg, who have a strong influence on Generation Z. Yet merely 14% of the population currently follow a vegetarian diet and only a further 12% intend to, so a meat-free diet may well remain a mainstream, but minor trend.
The Israel-based company Algaennovation is already investigating the use of algae to replace the fish-meal used in fish farming, and, in the future, algae may be consumed by humans on a much larger scale. Algaennovation at its finest.
That said, many major brands have already capitalised on the meat-free diet, with products such as alternative ‘milks’ coming to dominate the market for meat-eaters and vegans alike. And pea milk, for example, is on the horizon as peas have a relatively low carbon footprint; they make their own nitrogen from the air, so they do not need a nitrogen fertilizer and use much less water than dairy or other plant-based ‘milks’. Such products will become increasingly necessary over time, as climate change becomes a bigger threat.
Or will we have stopped eating food altogether? While the thought of replacing texture with mulch seems implausible for the modern foodie, the demand for meal-replacements in the form of shakes and other snacks is undeniably growing. The marketing of meal-replacement brands such as Huel and Soylet suggests that their products are nutritious and simple, and aim to that fill the gap in the market for ‘food void’ moments, i.e. those times where you want to skip a meal, when there is no food around, or when you make an unhealthy, unsustainable or expensive choice. Mid-pandemic, the thought of an active life where mealtimes are a thing of the past seems absurd, but in 30 years time, when the lessons learnt from this time are long forgotten, and our busy lives have returned, we may return to a new-age fast food.
However, it seems unlikely, impossible even, that by 2051 meals will have become obsolete. But it seems equally impossible to say what food we will be eating. Pea milk may be the new oat milk, or algae could be the new chicken. What we can say for certain is that we will have an array of food to choose from, whether that is Michelin-star vegan food or lab-grown steaks.
Image credit: Jonathan Pielmayer via Unsplash