What is the future for food?

With growing pressures from a rising population, global warming and inequality of access to food, what we eat is going to change in a big way. Technology will transform not just what we consume and how it is grown, made sustainable and distributed, but also create incredible new uses for food waste and innovative by-products.
Ben Raworth
20/07/2023

As you sit down to eat your food today, consider how you might be eating lunch in 30 years’ time. Chances are the dishes you consume and how they look will have changed entirely. With the global population expected to top 10 billion by 2050 we will need to produce 68% more food in the world than we do today, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Satisfying this demand presents a huge challenge for our already struggling planet. In Ibiza and Formentera we need to reimagine our farming methods, and consider alternative sustainable food products if we are going to meet the demands of an already overstretched planet.

Technology is going to play a huge part in food production in ways that are already being seen globally. Automation, including the use of robots, drones and autonomous tractors, will continue to make farming more efficient. How might things progress? Consider the concept of ‘precision farming’, which involves using computer technology to control everything from irrigation to fertiliser and pesticide use. Rather than watering or spreading fertiliser uniformly, farmers can finely engineer the timing, quantity and frequency of a substance’s application to achieve maximum output with minimum waste. Other technological advances have allowed us to use egg whites to clean oceans, transform food waste into oils, and manufacture clothing from mushrooms and other plants.

Only 2% of the food consumed in Ibiza and Formentera is produced locally. This has to change. Producing food closer to the people who need it reduces food miles. Local solutions help reduce food waste and prices, boost food security and sustainability, and empower the local community. A local network of producers, suppliers, markets and restaurants gives tighter control, and more responsive, less wasteful systems. By working closer together we can compost local food waste on a bigger, more efficient scale and use waste more innovatively – for example, by feeding certain waste products to insect larvae to create a valuable protein source for animals.

Vertical farming and hydroponics are both methods that use less water, soil, and space than traditional field-farming practices. If this sounds niche, think again: the world’s largest vertical farm, located in Newark, New Jersey, shows on just how big a scale vertical farming can be done – and with impressive results. Creator AeroFarms says the farm is 390 times more productive per square foot than a field farm. Populations are growing and cities are booming – but could we soon see skyscrapers turned into centres for crop production?

What will we be eating if we are to meet the huge challenges in food production in the years to come? Did you know that one-third of global croplands are used to grow feed for livestock rather than humans? It’s an astonishing statistic. If we could only find innovative new ways to create meat, more of that land could be given over to growing crops for humans – something that will become more pressing as the global population grows. Eating meat produced as we do today is simply not sustainable.

PRECISION FARMING INVOLVES USING COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY TO CONTROL EVERYTHING FROM IRRIGATION TO FERTILISER AND PESTICIDE USE.

This is where cultured (lab-grown) and plant-based meats come into play. It’s clear that the market for meat alternatives is thriving. Chains such as Burger King now routinely stock plant-based burgers, and plant-based pioneers Beyond Meat enjoyed one of the most successful IPOs in history after going public at $1.5 billion and being valued at $13 billion barely three months later. Estimates suggest meat alternatives could account for 10% of the global meat industry by 2029.

For those who don’t want to make the switch to plant-based meats, cultured meat – which is genetically the same as real meat but produced from animal cells – could prove a viable alternative. It’s early days for cultured meat, but there are signs that the market – and regulators – are coming around to the idea. In 2020, Singapore became the first nation to approve cultured meat for sale.

There’s also the potential for 3D printing to play a role in food production. Barcelona-based start-up Novameat is leading the way in 3D printing plant-based food and has already successfully created the world’s first 3D printed piece of ‘meat’ that apparently mimics the fibrous nature of real meat.

What about artifical intelligence? Californian start-up CloudChef has developed a software program that lets the average cook create gourmet dishes at home! Using cameras and sensors placed at the level of the cooking hob, it can record not only the proportion of each ingredient, the temperature of the food and the precise size of the cut vegetables, but also the exact moment when the piece of food is turned over, the thickness of a sauce, and the degree of caramelisation on the onions. Who knows? One day in the future your home kitchen might win a Michelin star.

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