Demographic and climate challenges are going to transform significantly the way we are eating today. In 2050, we will be nine billion of human beings on earth and if we keep going on the same food system as today, it will be necessary to increase by 70% the food production. That would mainly imply the use of more chemical products and GMO, the increase of saturated and polluted soils and consequently a loss of productivity, a loss of biodiversity and the inevitable increase of the amount of food waste.
We thereby need to think, from now, about new solutions, but what could it be? Will we be resigned to eat pills, meat from laboratories or insects? Does the concern on the future of food is only based on the products we will be using or is there a bigger issue? Isn’t it a whole part of our lives which is going to be completely transformed? In the end, many values, traditions, ways of living are connected to a food system.
By analyzing the future of our food, we are in fact analyzing the general mutations that will shape the future of our society, mutations which will probably be oriented towards two main tendencies, between innovation and tradition. In other words, it seems that there will be the ones that will trust in the capacity of innovation and technology to improve and solve all the challenges of our consumption and production system while others will want to be real actors of the creation of a more traditional one. Both of these systems will inevitably be submitted to the apparition of new products in their diet that will promote the effectiveness of the vision they will be defending or promoting.
I. The apparition of new products
The apparition of new products will be the direct consequence of climate disruption in the sense that we will have to develop stronger and more resistant plants and cereals, able to handle difficult conditions and that do not require many resources. Indeed, there will be first the use of natural products but also the development of what is called the “smart food”.
A. New natural products
In 2050, our food system will effectively be more plant-based in the sense that today’s intensive farming would not be sustainable enough to survive. Thereby, we will be eating more vegetables, legumes and plants proteins than today. This will also encourage the reappearance of old plants species. For instance, we are now cultivating and eating only 30 plants species over 30.000!
- New plant species
Among all these species we will cultivate the ones that have an important nutritional intake and that are quite resistant to climate disruption. For instance, we could use the Fonio which is a cereal cultivated in Western Africa for several millennia. Its nutritional capacity is similar to rice and its culture is really easy because it can grow in very arid conditions without needing many water and in very low fertilized soils.
Other forgotten plants will be more produced for all those advantages. For instance, Teff, a cereal cultivated in Ethiopia, contains more fibers than rice and more iron and proteins than the main three cereals. It grows faster (between two and five months) and can adapt to a large variety of climates.
There could also be more production of Moringa, a tropical tree cultivated in India, Sri Lanka and Arabia. Its roots, leaves, fruits, seeds are eatable. Its leaves are rich in minerals, vitamins A, B and C but also in calcium and potassium and it could become an essential plant in the future.
Finally, the Bambara bean would be another source of food. It is one of the main legumes of Western Africa, mainly cultivated in Burkina Faso for now. It is able to grow in areas where very little others plants can. It contributes to the improvement of the fertility of soils by fixing the azote to the ground and its leaves are perfect for animal food while containing many proteins, about 18%.
In the same way, we will be consuming more insects in the sense that it is a very interesting source of proteins, fibers and minerals while presenting many advantages: it is easier to grow and to collect that animals and it consumes very little water and food. In comparison, a grasshopper needs 12 times less food than beef to produce the same amount of proteins. However, its consumption in Europe will be at first used in order to feed animals or sportsman-woman. The European NGO International Plateform of Insects for Food and Feed announced that the volume of proteins production from insects is going to increase from 2.000 tones in 2018 to more than 1.2million of tones in 2025.
This tendency is already notable and some companies are also already producing products from insects. For instance, the French company Micronutris is using insect’s powder to make biscuits and chocolate. Similarly, the French start-up InnovaFeed is producing food animal from insects.
However it will be essential to make sure it is raised in strict conditions not to develop diseases. It will also be essential to regulate its consumption because insects are essentials to the ecosystem survival. Their impact is estimated to 23% for the world fruits production, 12% for the world vegetable production and 39% fort the world production of coffee and cacao. They are also a source of food for birds.
Algae will also become common in our food. It is richer in calcium, iron, proteins, vitamins, fibers and antioxidants.
- Plant substitutes
Finally we will be eating more meat substitutes such as soybeans, plants proteins and plant milk, rich sources of many nutrients such as proteins, calcium, iron.
However, there will also be the development of smart and artificial food, which will be an alternative for people that will not be dedicating attention or time to food and cooking.
B. Smart food, artificial food
The development of smart food will also be encouraged in a society where cooking or eating times are more and more reduced. Nowadays, many people consider eating as a secondary thing and need to feed themselves easily, rapidly and in many circumstances. To illustrate this idea, some companies are already proposing food in bars or powder such as the American company Soylent or the French ones Feed and Vitaline. For instance, the company Feed is proposing bar or powder which have the same nutritional intake than a real meal while being gluten-free, vegan and biological. But what about satiety and mastication which are essentials for digestion and teeth’s health? In 2013, an American journalist Brian Merchant tried to feed himself exclusively with Soylent powder products. After fifteen days and even if its physical health remained intact he stopped declaring he was feeling depressed.
The concept of artificial meat is also developed and mainly consists in creating meat from cow cells. This synthetic meat represents some advantages in the sense that it allows to save water and it would be a sustainable way of keeping eating meat or even fish.
For instance in 2015 the start-up Wave Foods has created a plant substitute to shrimps by using the main food of the shrimps, an algae to obtain the same taste and the same color of the shrimp. In the same way in 2018 the Memphis Meat Startup, leader in the development of artificial meat has received 20millions dollars of investments.
The apparition of those products is definitely illustrating these two main visions the future food system will be developing: an innovative one and a traditional one.
II. The apparition of new production systems
It seems the main production systems will be mainly divided in two orientations, which are a technological one, and a more traditional one.
A. A techno-oriented production
The development of technologies and innovations, more precisely artificial intelligence and automatized systems are presented as a solution to handle climate disruption and demographic challenge. Many technologies, already developed, are illustrating this reality.
The agriculture will develop new ways of production based on Big Data and technologies so that it will optimize efficiency while preserving more resources. This evolution can be illustrated through many examples. For instance, Biopic is a company creating connected collars allowing to follow in real time and constantly the activity, the health and the reproduction of the livestock. In case there would be a problem, the breeder would be warned by message. In the same way, there will be more and more artificial intelligence systems that will assist or replace human activities through the creation of robots. For instance the constructor Carre has partnered with the Naio Technologies start up to robotize the weeding and the hoeing instead of using herbicides. Finally, the French constructor Fendt is now proposing to remotely control agricultural machinery.
All these technologies are following the same objective of transforming agriculture to a more productive activity by taking into account two main parameters: demographic and climate issues.
More than this technological agriculture, others objects will be part of our food system, giving once more, a place for artificial intelligence activities. The recent apparition of robots and 3D food printer are two examples. Nowadays, people have less time to cook, houses are dedicating less space to it, people are dedicating less attention to it and an individualization phenomenon of eating time can be noticed.
In 2015 Molet Robotics Company has presented a cooker robot supposedly able to cook more than 100 recipes of starred chefs. In the same way it now exists Foodini, a Spanish 3D food impresser able to print cakes, pizzas and pasta. The contemporizing food center of Rennes has also created a 3D printer for crepes. Even if it will probably take time for robots to be able to develop human senses (the touch, the taste, smell etc) and handle many cooking processes, it will be more and more present in our lives.
Finally, many connected objects will be part of our food consumption system by participating in an individualization phenomenon. Through AI systems there will be personal menus. For instance the company Habit is offering the elaboration of menus according to the needs of each one based on genotype. However this practice is not accepted in many countries especially for the ethical concerns it is rousing.
This innovative food system will not be approved by everybody and some people will develop and are even already encouraging a return to the past, to a more traditional system by giving full meaning to the relation with time, nature and sharing. The emergence of this traditional society is mainly characterized by a plant oriented food system that would be the result of a team and local work.
B. A traditional oriented production
In 2050, 75% of the population will live far from nature and cities will become a new territory for farming activities. Some French start up are already proposing those concepts such as Cols verts or Toit Tout Vert. Cols verts is developing farming activities in cities based on cooperation between people while Toit Tout Vert is developing urban greenhouses on roofs. Those products are pesticides free, gmo free and locals.
There is also the development of permaculture that is consisting in the recreation of a real ecosystem based on natural farming activities, cooperation, resources management and allowing food self-sufficiency. Here goes a video illustrating its principles: https://youtu.be/AOLlfyI8O9Q
This traditional system will also be characterized with the development of communities that will promote an entire ecological way of life especially regarding food by satisfying themselves with only local products and avoiding those that are coming from international trade. This movement will indeed be encouraging local productions but also a whole ecological awareness around consumption. They will promote food education by learning and teaching to eat only what we know, to eat less and slowly, and to handle perfectly the production system so that they will develop a critical mind against the gross practices of food industries.
However, due to the constant increase of our population, even those “natural” systems will be submitted to some kind of intensity due to the necessity of feeding everyone. Urban farms are going to develop especially using vertical production which allows great productivity in a little space.
These two ways of production are indeed illustrating deeply the different visions the society will soon encourage and develop. These new visions are presenting deeper concerns on the general evolutions of our society.
- The apparition of new society’s visions: between tradition and innovation.
First, the tendency of thinking that technologies will be the solution to all the challenges we will have to face appears as too optimistic. Indeed, this perception will only be a way to encourage overproduction and overconsumption that are already killing our societies.
In the same way, how will we be able to handle the energy costs of these systems? Technologies, connected objects, artificial intelligence, Big Data are all existing thanks to electricity. If we are now orienting our food system towards technologies, we will inevitably increase the electricity and energy needs. Will it be sustainable? In the end those systems are not truly long-termed thoughts but just a way to make sure that we will all be fed even on a planet that will become, because of climate disruption, a more difficult place to live.
In addition, the development of this technological society through smart objects and data will once again encourage the process of dehumanization through artificial intelligence systems.
In this world of innovation, food will also be an excuse to control people a little bit more, especially on the products they be eating depending on their weight and others health parameters. Connected objects such as connected refrigerators, connected watches, clothes, products will be a way to standardize our food habits while giving more and more power to the GAFAM.
This techno-oriented food system, characterized by a loose of sociability and time, will lead to inevitable loneliness and to another form of dehumanization. Everyone will be not eating but snacking at anytime while doing everything (walking, working): it will finally become a side activity, secondary or associated to hobbies.
“ We will be living in silent societies, under surveillance. Societies of monitored silence. Resigned to dictatorship promising us to live longer, with the condition of forgetting that living, truly living, it about talking, listening, exchanging, feeling, loving, enjoying, screaming, suffering and transgressing. All those things that monitored silent will forbid,” said Jacques Attali in his book. Is that what we really want?
There are still solutions. Indeed, by developing food and consumption awareness people should becoming real actors of their food system by controlling and knowing it entirely. This will be the only way to promote an ecological consumption system while protecting our humanity through action and cooperation. It would also be a way to rediscover and promote the collective and sharing role of food.
In order to encourage this system, it will be necessary to imitate the development of international trading or create a system that will guarantee at least fair-trade conditions and the respect of production norms. It will also be made possible by a reorganisation of society that will optimise time better for those activities, especially by redefining the balance between work time and personal time.
In conclusion a society defined by more humanity, more cooperation, more cultural and environmental respect, based on the real human notion of time.
Below you will fine guidelines of good food practices according to Jacques Attali:
- Eat less meat and more veggies: so many nutriments are already in plant products without the necessity of always using animal products.
- Eating less refined sugar and more plant based sugar such as agave syrup, stevia or coco flower sugar.
- Eat local and seasonal: products in a perimeter of 120km.
- Eat slowly: in order to eat less and to facilitate digestion.
- Eat what you know: stop eating ultra-transformed products and be aware of the body nutritional needs and of the production system so that you will build a consciousness on intensive farming and a critical mind on multinational food firms.
- Maintain a physical activity in your daily routine.
- Preserve the pleasure of eating and speaking together.
- Try to buy products that are assuring a decent life to farmers (through labels such as FairTrade for instance).
Article by Alexia de Rechapt, student in the Master Intelligence Economique et Stratégies Compétitives d’Angers
Jacques Attali – Histoire de l’alimentation