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The future of food

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They say there’s no accounting for taste. I would say that, quite to the contrary, if we’re to feed a growing population without destroying the planet, we’ll need to do a fairly stark accounting.

The future of the dinner plate and the future of the Earth are inextricably linked. If we intend to optimize nutrition, maximize production, and minimize environmental damage, we’ll have to overcome some deep-rooted biases against certain foods and the methods used to produce them.

Historical precedents tell us that prejudices of the palate can indeed be conquered. For instance, in the 19th century, there was a tremendous aversion to lobster in some of the American colonies. There was actually a rule that you couldn’t serve lobster to prisoners more than twice a week, as it was considered cruel. Over time, though, lobster rose up the culinary ranks to become a gastronomical delicacy. The same will no doubt happen with food sources and processes that are currently considered unpalatable.

Many protein sources that will prove to be both abundant and environmentally friendly are not currently considered tempting to the taste buds. In vitro meat, hamburgers made out of mealworms, grasshopper tacos, genetically engineered foods, sea vegetables – all of these hold incredible promise, if we can get over the palate problem.

Insects, specifically, are the way of the future. They’re high in protein, low in fat, require very little water and land, and don’t produce much in the way of greenhouse-gas emissions. Unfortunately, while they’re climate friendly, they aren’t currently palate friendly. That has to change. More than 80% of the world’s countries eat insects already, and the rest of the world (Europe, the United States and Canada) is going to have to get on board.

Similarly, if we’re going to be a part of the food revolution, we’re going to have to overcome our indiscriminate bias against genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is not inherently good or bad. Like any technology, it’s capable of doing both good and evil. The costs and benefits are determined by the details.

Not all Frankenfoods are monsters. A team of Israelis, for example, took genes from a lemon basil plant and put them into a cherry tomato to create a tasty, nutritious fruit. Another good example is golden rice. A genetically engineered grain that contains genes from the daffodil, it’s both hardy and vitamin-A rich, making it a powerful weapon in the war against malnutrition.

Another potent weapon in that war is aquaculture. The oceans are vastly underutilized as a food source – they cover 70% of the Earth’s surface, yet yield only 2% of our food. And they have the potential to yield so much more. In fact, there’s such diversity in the seaweed world that I predict seaweed will soon be rebranded “sea vegetables,” and that the salads of the future will be harvested from the oceans. Kelp, for instance, is a great protein source, absorbs carbon, and is the fastest-growing plant on Earth.

There are many other types of sea life, too, that will change the way we eat. Cobia, a type of fish that looks like a shark and tastes like halibut, could soon rival salmon as the dinner-party darling. Cobia boasts an incredible growth rate and adapts well to captivity, making it ideally suited to aquaculture.

If the near future holds promise of seaweed salads and cobia with a side of crispy cockroach, what’s the next frontier of food? There’s a chance that we’ll one day be ordering up a woolly-mammoth burger or a T-Rex steak. Theoretically, it’s possible. Scientists are already using DNA samples from animal remains to culture cells that will ultimately end up on our dinner plates. In fact, the first in vitro hamburger – valued at around $300,000 – is expected to be consumed sometime in the fall.

While there’s still an aversion to these sorts of things among the general populace, we need to remember that unnatural things can sometimes protect the natural. The food movement, which has been so skewed towards natural methods, should also save some space to enthuse over smart uses of technology, which could ultimately help feed the world and protect the planet.

© Japan Today

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14 Comments
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The other thing about insects is, they're quite small. Again, a very interesting article. The author is quite right, we have such a narrow view of what is and isn't edible. We've been spoilt.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The question of natural vs unnatural rests on the chemicals used in the production of food, not the species. Most current GMO foods have been created to either produce their own pesticides as in the case of BT corn, or take toxic doses of herbicides without wilting, like the "RoundUp Ready" soybeans.

RoundUp (aka glyphosphate) has been shown to cause infertility in people and animals and also contribute to reproductive system cancers. Its over-use has also created the so-called "superweeds", which are hard to eradicate. Both RoundUp and the Bt toxin make their way into our food supply, since the majority of corn and soy grown in the US is GMO.

The use of sub-lethal doses of antibiotics in lifestock feed has created antibiotic-resistant superbugs out of E. coli and staph, inside those animals, before any person was infected. The consumption of such meat has made many antibiotics less effective, since the low doses we consume work to strengthen the bacteria we carry in our bodies. We are at the point where the overuse of antibiotics has made it difficult for the pharmaceutical industry to keep up and produce something that works.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Traditional fish farms typically consist of cages submerged in shallow, calm waters near shore, where they are protected from the weather and easily accessible for feeding and maintenance. Deepwater cages offer cleaner, more freely circulating ocean water and natural food, which can yield tastier fish. But the deep-sea cages must be built to withstand the rigors of the deep ocean.

Someday such automated cages could be entirely new form of fish farming. They might be turned loose to mimic natural systems by following chosen ocean currents. The robotic fish farms could help lead to larger, healthier crops of farmed fish far from crowded coastal areas, where farmed fish both suffer from poor water quality and, by producing waste, add to water woes. Cages might even generate their own electricity by harnessing solar energy, wave energy, or other forms of renewable power.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@sfjp330,

Today's farmed salmon contains dangerous levels of PCBs (polychlorinated fire retardants) which don't agree with my idea of "natural" either. Salmon is one of only a few farmed fish that is fed commercial fish meal, since many others are fed corn-based pellets. Your idea of deep sea cages would definitely solve the problem and make more types of farmed fish safe to eat. The downside of eating wild salmon (that is mature and has been in a river) is that it often has parasitic worms within the meat and even without them the meat is often gamey and tough. An ocean-only salmon without synthetic contaminants would be ideal

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Just watch Soylent Green.

It's all laid out for you there.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

from grapes the wine, spirits and wine vinegar rice is not done nothing to eat raw as grapes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The future of food is that the elite of the world will have access to very high quality, non-GM organic produce from tenant farmers, as well as game meat and the finest delicacies imaginable.

However, as for the rest of us, we'll be expected to survive on highly processed, GM crap that will have fancy labeling and be overloaded with taste enhancers but will provide no nutrition at all.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

game meat

Is tough and not as good as properly farm-raised livestock. Plus, they have all kinds of parasites and worms. Not exactly a fine delicacy.

will provide no nutrition at all

That's not logical. If there is no calories, people would die of starvation. The genes for production of vitamins and higher absorption of minerals can be added to GMO crops to help combat obesity. See "golden rice" above. People cannot survive without vitamins and minerals. Taste enhancers would be a thing of the past if crops can be genetically coded to have the proper taste characteristics.

Elite or not, you can make your own compost and grow organic vegetables on your window sill. You don't need a license for that, and no one will force you to use pesticides.

Here in the states many farmers own their land, and choose to grow organic crops because they are tired of being sickened by the pesticides they used to spray. Some organic food is being sold at the same prices as conventionally grown. I think the future is to have organically grown GMO crops that don't produce toxins. Pesticides will be natural and less toxic, when genetic engineering and enzyme technologies cut the cost of nicotine, clove and thyme oils as well as other things to 1/10 of what it is now.

It's important to have agricultural practices that don't kill or injure those around. It will become even more important as time goes on.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If there is no calories, people would die of starvation.

And the elite of the world would care because....???

0 ( +1 / -1 )

And the elite of the world would care because....???

Elite?

Ok, this is straying into conspiracy theory territory...

If there is no calories in food people would not spend money on it and growing it would make no sense. Just fiber and water. If you were to eat such food you would notice after the first bite that it is not filling and makes you hungrier and more tired than before you ate. There is no sense in producing inedible food. Why would food crops be genetically modified to be inedible?

If you tried to live on Diet Coke only, you would die after a little more than a month. You wouldn't be able to be a productive member of society. So your theory doesn't hold much water.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just think of those mashed insects mixed with mashed potatoes,dredged in salted flour and deep fat fried. Insect mc nuggets.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I just bought UHT milk (room temperature) although I am lactose-intolerent. I just cannot stand missing its creamy goodness, heated up with a large dash of tumeric pwder.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

People in the U.S. are enjoying insects already, they just don't acknowledge it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows for insect parts in packaged food. I recall reading somewhere that the average American eats about one pound (454g) of insect a year, more if they eat a lot of processed food and less if it is fresh food.

On the lighter side, when I lived in Hawaii I used to eat various seaweeds and found them tasty and enjoyable.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

[game] Is tough and not as good as properly farm-raised livestock

Game just needs to be properly cooked. For example, braising for rabbit. And you'll like it if you grow up on it. It's about what you're used to.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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