Future food: Will it be real enough for our tastebuds?

Many utopian or space movies, particularly those made in the 60’s and 70’s, gave us visions of what our food supply might look like in the future. Small coloured and neatly processed pills or squares packed full of nutrients but with little visual appeal or large hydroponic farms in the middle of a spaceship seemed to be some of the more popular options.

But, is this really the direction our food supply will be taking?

Not exactly, but the ideas are not that far off either.

Mark Zawacki is a senior advisor to large global organisations on strategy, growth, innovation and organizational change. Zawacki is also one of the co-founders of Vertical Farms, an organisation dedicated to building the first very large scale multi-crop food factory in a controlled environment. In his presentation 2050: Feeding the Next 2 Billion, part of Florence Guild’s speaker series, ’The Art of Focus’, Zawacki outlined some of the many challenges facing global food production today.

The challenges and solutions being developed

These challenges include the rapidly growing world population, environmental concerns, and the increase in the demand for meat. We risk running out of food if we don’t find answers soon. Zawacki says there are solutions being developed and they fall into two main categories – those production methods that aim to manage demand and those that aim to increase supply.

For example, increasing yields from a fixed parcel of land could be achieved through the use of vertical farms, genetically modified crops or controlled environments. On the other hand, the demand for meat can be countered by increasing the large-scale production of plant-based protein sources or developing new ways of producing protein. These include introducing insect protein sources into Western diets (such as minced insect hamburgers) or growing meat in a laboratory.

Great in theory, right? But, there are many people that are just not comfortable with the idea of radically changing their diet. For some, it’s a cultural thing more so than being a personal dietary choice. Many people haven’t grown up with having insects as part of their diet, while others in many Asian cultures have.

The idea of lab-grown food is even more difficult for many of us to fathom, let alone accept. In many ways, we’ve been moving away from highly-processed foods with little nutritional value and moving more toward a ‘just eat real food’ philosophy; so, the idea of factory-produced food – even if it is highly nutritious and sourced from animal cells – isn’t all that appealing.

Many people advocate for the increased use of things like organic and traditional food farming or rooftop gardens, however many of these have issues with scalability. For example, upscaling rooftop farming will not reap enough corresponding benefits, while traditional foods such as bush tucker simply won’t have a great enough supply for them to be a major solution.

Changing our habits

Our food supply is going to have to change over the next few decades in one way or another. But, that’s not a bad thing. Our eating habits have always evolved and we can and do adapt. In the past, our dietary changes tended to be the result of exploration and trade such as expeditions along the spice trail or into the East Indies. Now, it’s the brands like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola bringing their wares to new markets that are changing culinary tastes as they go. Multiculturalism and globalisation are also helping to broaden our diets.

We’ve learnt to change in other ways, too. We might have moaned and groaned a bit when seatbelts first became mandatory in cars or learned to apply sunscreen as a result of the ‘Slip, slop, slap’ campaign. Our general attitudes toward smoking in public and the use of disposable plastics are also changing.

If we can achieve changes on that scale, we can learn to challenge and change our ideas around food production, too. What we can’t afford to do is be stubborn or complacent or we might run out of time and food before we know it.

This episode forms part of our 2018 series narrative, ‘The Art of Focus’ which is based on the premise that, in an information-dense society, our attention resources have become depleted. The series’ speakers will help us identify and explore the areas in our lives where we may need to regain focus, increase our self-awareness and improve how we interact with those around us.

If you’d like to hear more of Mark Zawacki’s recorded conversation, 2050: Feeding the Next 2 Billion, and learn about some of the amazing work being done to address the global food production challenges, tune in to episode 24 of our podcast series ‘The Art of Focus’. You can also keep up to date with conversations with other thought leaders by subscribing to our podcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.

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