How do we predict the future of food? Given what we know about the past and the immediate future, can we hope to understand how food will be produced, distributed and consumed in 10 or even 20 years’ time?
Clearly we don’t have a crystal ball to show us the future. However by imagining what’s possible, we can shape our choices now. Never has it felt more important to inform and educate ourselves about how our decisions today can affect the future.
Meet the Jetsons
What do we know so far? Technology has made rapid advancements in the last decade or two. No doubt this will continue to make our lives more efficient, connected and productive. The population on earth will continue to grow. Modern medicine will enable that population to live longer than ever before.
We’re asking a lot of the earth’s natural resources to feed that global population throughout their lives.
By acknowledging these trends and predicting where they may lead us, we can develop solutions to the sustainability of food, reduce environmental impact and plan for increased food production levels.
Do you remember The Jetsons? A futuristic utopia where robots were used for everything and flying saucer type vehicles were the primary source of transport.
In that version of the future, food was served as a pill; a pill that came with the same taste and satisfaction of sitting down to a full three course meal. The Jetsons even had a machine to dispense a food pill for the meal of your choice.
Could that be the future of our food?
The Ultimate Convenience Meal
While we’ve yet to reach a future where flying saucer superhighways exist, perhaps we can see the benefits of a Jetson-style future. Food in pill format would be the epitome of fast, convenient food. There would be no grocery shopping, no preparation time, no time spent sitting down to consume food and no pots and pans to wash up afterwards; it’s consumption at its most efficient. The only part of the experience that would take time would be deciding the flavour of food pill that you wanted.
If such a food pill existed, and contained all the nutrients that the human body required, made our bodies feel full and satisfied, would you embrace the idea?
Even though the Jetsons’ food pill is purely science fiction and a fun cartoon, it turns out there are already advances in the food industry that are approaching that reality.
A Complete Meal in Powder Form
The latest food products that feature convenience, complete nutrition and limited environmental impact are powdered foods.
While meal replacement products have been around for some time in the diet industry and protein supplements are a staple of the bodybuilding world, these new powdered food products are now targeting mainstream consumers.
The first of its kind, Soylent, was released in the US in 2014 after an incredible crowdfunding campaign that raised a mind-blowing $3 million. Crazy, right?
Soylent promotes its product as “simple, healthy, affordable food”.
The initial Soylent offering was a powder made from brown rice protein, oat flour, sunflower oil and packed with vitamins and minerals, which you shook up with water and drank. A meal in a glass.
The most recent offer has removed this simple preparation process by providing the meal as a 400ml drink, made from soy protein, algal oil (a natural sugar found in beetroots) and all the essential micronutrients. Both products provide provide 100% of your daily nutritional needs if you consume 2000 calories of it per day.
The brains behind the Soylent products, Rob Rhinehart, started out with the “idea that food could be empirically rebuilt”. Rob believes that food production can be more efficient, convenient and have less impact on the environment:
“The insatiable demand for Soylent is telling. Consumers demand and deserve a food system that is more transparent and more practical. Producers deserve the ability to develop and use new technologies and tools to improve their production. The environment deserves more than a modicum of long term thinking.”
Just a year later, in 2015, a similar product launched here in the UK.
Huel is a similar powdered food product that provides “everything your body needs”. The principle behind the product similarly addresses the concern that “we are in the middle of a food crisis. Modern food production methods are inefficient, inhumane, and unsustainable.”
Huel is designed to provide the perfect nutritional balance for the body in an efficient and sustainable way. It’s also perfect for saving time, money and avoiding food waste. According to Huel, it’s “a nutritionally complete powdered food that contains all the proteins, carbs, and fats you need, plus at least 100% of the EU’s ‘Daily Recommended Amounts’ of all 26 essential vitamins and minerals.”
The New Super Food?
Might powdered food be the Jetson’s food pill of today?
These powdered food products certainly appear to address some of the issues that our food system is facing. But is this really the future of food? Could this be a solution to our current and future food needs? More importantly, can it fit into our existing cultures and behaviours?
Many of today’s cultures and traditions have strong emotional connections with food. Families and friends use food and mealtimes as an opportunity to enjoy time together, to build and strengthen their relationships. Food can bring comfort, pleasure and contentment through the simple acts of cooking and eating. Food is an experience, with recipes passed down through generations. Though we might adapt recipes and customs to personal tastes, lifestyles or availability of ingredients, will a scoopful of powder or a meal in a bottle ever be a good enough replacement?
It’s difficult to see how powdered food products can ever replace the role food has in our societies and communities. But despite that, might these be exactly the kind of innovations we need to encourage if we are to have any hope of a sustainable future of food?