We've all watched enough sci-fi films to know what the food of the future is going to be like haven’t we? Will we be able to print out whatever food we desire? Or will we be taking in all of our required nutrition through the form of a simple pill? Farming tower blocks of hydroponic vegetables? Either way it’s going to be super high tech. Or is it? One thing is certain, the world needs a change in the way food is produced, mainly because in the near future there are going to be a lot more hungry mouths to provide for. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) has estimated that by 2050 there will be a world population of 9 billion, that’s almost 30% up on today. Even now many people do not have food security, where they can depend on food being available, and some are still, quite literally, starving. Yet at present we do have the resources, in the words of Bob Geldof, to ‘Feed the World’. So where are we going wrong?
Waste - 33% of all food produced is wasted
UNFAO has estimated that one in eight people do not have enough food. Yet their statistics also show that 33% of the food that is produced goes on to be wasted. Whether we simply buy too much, attracted by supermarket offers, we put too much store by ‘best before’ dates or we only want ‘perfect’ fruit and vegetables, there’s no question that we are wasting food that could be put to much better use elsewhere.
Hunger - 45% of deaths in children under 5 caused by poor nutrition
The World Food Programme (WFP) has stated that 45% of deaths in children under the age of 5 are caused by poor nutrition. That’s a truly shocking 3.1 million children every year. Furthermore one child in every six, in developing countries, are underweight, and one in four have their growth stunted in some way due to lack of food. A Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report in 2014 estimated that approximately 805 million people in the world do not have enough food to live healthily.
Meat Production - It takes 7kg of grain to make 1kg of meat in the UK and USA
The UN has highlighted just how many problems are caused by meat production, mainly cattle farming. Not only is it a threat to the environment with the production of damaging gases, but it’s a threat to rainforest and to other wildlife. It is also a highly inefficient way of producing food in terms of energy put in to production compared to energy got out. An FAO report entitled ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ states that livestock is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the cars and planes in the world. The FAO is also predicting a 60% increase in demand for meat and dairy products by 2050 as large numbers of people in China and India particularly become more wealthy and able to afford these changes to their diet. Thus meat and dairy production will need to increase dramatically unless we change the way we eat.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimate in their Living Planet report that currently the Earth can only regenerate the resources we use in one year in half the time again, i.e.. In 18 months. By the time the population has exploded to 9 billion people, we will need double the time to regenerate resources being used. Anyone can see that it just isn't sustainable as a model. So what should we do?
The Solutions to Food Crisis?
Well as a start, those of us in developed countries very likely need to eat less, not just to save the planet but to beat obesity and save our own health. Our ‘super-size’ culture is not doing us any favours and is not something we should be proud to export to the rest of the world.
As well as eating less, in developed countries, we need to eat more wisely. It’s a sad fact that those in developing countries aspire to eat ‘Western’ food, when in fact we should all be eating in a way in which many cultures have eaten for centuries – eating food in season, with more pulses and cereals and much less meat. This will have the added benefit of being a more frugal way to eat.
The FAO told us that 18% of carbon emissions came from livestock. But newer studies (such as Climate Change and Food Studies in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 2012) have shown that up to a quarter of human emissions could come from the food production cycle, including agricultural production, deforestation, refrigeration and shipping. So what is our foodprint, the footprint made from our food intake? Well it differs widely according to diet. The average American’s foodprint is a third higher than a vegetarian’s, and a vegan’s foodprint is much the lowest while a meat lover’s foodprint is as we might expect much the highest. What is interesting though is that by cutting out beef we can instantly lower our foodprint by a quarter, and last year Virgin founder Richard Branson did exactly this. A food’s carbon foodprint also changes drastically according to how it was produced – a tomato forced in a hothouse has a considerably higher footprint than one grown in season – and how far it has travelled. The future way we eat must take into account eating foods in season.
Hydroponics may be a buzz word now but some experts think it’s the way of the future. Vertical farming will utilise old industrial buildings in urban centres, cutting out the distance food needs to travel, and drastically reducing the use of land (much of which is used to grow crops for livestock feed), water, pesticides and antibiotics. In environmental terms the improvement would be immense. By 2050 perhaps we’ll all be practising some form of vertical farming in our back gardens or on our balconies.
Growing Cloned Meat
Less of a certainty is the parallel situation whereby meat is ‘grown’ in labs. While this would surely be an improvement in environmental terms and for animal welfare, eliminating the cruelty of factory animal farming, it may be a step too far for many. However it would certainly deal with the issue of increased demand for meat in developing countries.
Increasing technological advances may help us to feed the world, but we must also make the effort to change our own diet and lifestyles. With 7 billion people, we face challenges enough keeping this planet safe, with 9 billion people it’s going to be even more of a balancing act. We can all make changes to our diet such as eating less meat and dairy, eating food in season and eating less processed food. We can all make a difference to the way we eat, and that is the reason we developed Huel. Nutritionally complete with minimal environmental impact, Huel has the potential to revolutionise the way we eat, and tackle the growing food crisis.
- World Food Programme Hunger Statitics
- The carbon foodprint of 5 diets compared
- How to lower your food's impact on the environment
- List of foods by environmental impact and energy efficiency
- National Geographic - How to feed our growing planet
- Time.com - Experts predict how our plates will change
- Wikipedia - The future of food
- BBC - The future of food
- The Verge - The big future