The headlines have been alight this last couple of weeks with theoretical advances in the production, form and content of our future diets. Due largely to the overpopulation caused by the industrial revolution, the planet is becoming rapidly less equipped to sustain human consumption; of course, we don’t need the BBC to tell us this – the dwindling of fossil fuels has been one of the major ecological concerns for over a quarter of century.
While we have a variety of fairly evident, albeit expensive and time-consuming alternatives to this problem, there are no immediate solutions to the potentially disastrous food shortage that future generations could face. Reports indicate that in the next decade we could see certain meats and produce double in price due to increasing demand.
Therefore, any credible research or method that could help supplement this shortfall is considered the modern elixir and in response to this several institutes have begun the pursuit of the carnivores grail – synthesised tissue, or ‘plastic’ meat. However, due to the relatively early stages of research into lab-raised meat, and the controversy surrounding the practice’s primary science – stem cell growth – we may not see this wonder hit domestic supermarkets until a few more legislations have been passed.
So what else then? Insects have been named as one of our major hopes for the future, although this only really applies as an innovation to westerners, whose generations of squeamishness have bred contempt for protein that wriggles, despite the fact that, gram for gram, the average caterpillar contains ten times more iron than mincemeat.
In the more exotic regions of the world grasshoppers, fried ants and even wasps are already an established delicacy – they are cheaper to raise, consume less water and also have a much smaller carbon footprint. There are over 1,400 insects that are edible to man in the world, so we should be able to find something we like!
Others still are suggesting algae and seaweed, of which there are over 10,000 species, as potential food stuffs for our children’s children. One of the great advantages as a crop is that it grows in the sea and therefore doesn’t take up valuable land or fresh water.
Whatever we settle on, there is no doubt that in the future we will all have to rethink our diets as meat becomes less viable as an option.
Maybe the contribution from Fat Duck proprietor Heston Blumenthal, who is famed for his scientific and wildly experimental culinary approach, will help these new foods seem more palatable. His idea comes in the form of sonically enhanced food, although mainly with the aim of reducing the need for extra ingredients such as salt. There is evidence to suggest that the tone of the sounds you hear whilst eating can affect the sweet and savoury elements of the meal and as such, eliminate the need for additional ingredients. His restaurant apparently has a dish called ‘Sounds of the Sea’ which is served up with an iPod playing just that, which is supposed to make the food taste much fresher.
Such tricking of the mind could of course have beneficial implications for health if sounds could be sweet enough to render added sugar unnecessary! The importance of sound in food has already been recognised by a certain crisp manufacturer, who changed the material it used for its packets because a crunchier packet, psychologically, makes the crisps taste fresher. You yourself might consider tailoring the playlist to suit the food you’ll be serving at your own table and save yourself some seasoning!
Granted the main impetus of this piece is not an original one, but is as always, to encourage you to grow your own food wherever possible – rear your own livestock even, if you have the space. Not only will you be getting fresher food, but it also looks as though it would be considerably cheaper!
By Josh Ellison