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When a New York Times reporter set out to interview Danish chef René Redzepi, whose restaurant, Noma, held the title of world’s best restaurant last year, he found Redzepi knee-deep in the forest. “This is how the Vikings got their vitamin C,” the chef explained, holding a bunch of freshly plucked grass in his hand. “It’s called scurvy grass. It has a horseradish tone.”
Every day, it seems, a new foodie list comes out naming the hottest new restaurants from Copenhagen to New York to Rio de Janeiro. Chefs are reinventing their craft on a daily basis: The future, we are led to believe, will serve us all manner of foraged, organic foods, prepared with the latest technical innovations in molecular gastronomy.
Yet an increasing number of scientists now suggest that the organic movement, along with its farm-to-table ideology, which Redzepi helped to champion, cannot sustain and feed a world that will be home to some nine billion people in twenty-five years. “For most of the past ten thousand years, feeding more people simply meant farming more land,” science writer Michael Specter argued in The New Yorker. “That option no longer exists; nearly every arable patch of ground has been cultivated, and irrigation for agriculture already consumes seventy percent of the Earth’s freshwater.”
So what will the foods of the future look (and taste) like? Well, for one thing, we should get ready for meat-free meat. Scientists are hard at work on meat substitutes that could help feed a future world in which there is likely to be a shortage of animal protein. Beyond Meat, a company that specializes in manufacturing substitutes for would-be carnivores, has developed one “meat” that is made mainly from pea and soy proteins and amaranth. Other companies are being equally creative.
The field of entomophagy, or insect eating, is likewise booming, with a recent three-day European conference calling to “promote the use of insects as human food and as animal feed in assuring food security.” According to a BBC report, participants in the conference envisioned a future in which there would be an “insect aisle at the supermarket” and where fast-food restaurants would “serve bug burgers,” as well as “packages of ‘beautiful, clean’ shrink-wrapped mealworms on display at the meat counter, alongside the skirt steak and chicken wings.”
But perhaps the most groundbreaking frontier when it comes to the future of food is the advent of a tool that, on the face of it, had nothing to do with the culinary field whatsoever: the 3D printer. Around the world, researchers are experimenting with ways to get 3D printers to make food for an ever-growing world. So far, most of the work has been done in printing chocolate and sugar, but it may be only a matter of time before these efforts pave the way in the sustainability and nutrition of future generations. “I don’t see this as a novelty. I see it as something that really will become a part of the culinary fabric for years to come,” Liz von Hasseln, creative director of the Sugar Lab at 3D Systems, told The Washington Post.
In the same article, Hod Lipson, director of Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab, looked forward to the day when she can order up breakfast on her 3D printer and specify its fat content, vitamins, minerals, and everything else on the spot. “This is where software meets cooking,” she said, “and the possibilities are really limitless.”
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