Food and what it means will become one of the most divisive issues of our next generation. It will fuel geo-political and class wars about how we sustain ourselves and will define who we are. Let me explain.
So far this Century we have largely avoided the mass starvations that have, until recently, plagued humanity. Population heavy and land poor countries like China and Saudi have been buying up land across Africa and in the bread baskets of the former Soviet Union. This regional expansion has improved food security of these wealthy and powerful countries for the time being, although climate change may undermine that.
We have however created a world where much of the population is obese and an equal number of people hungry. We have created a section of society that is both stuffed and starved – overweight but under nourished.
The poor have been targeted with tasty, unhealthy, low nutrient but cheap processed food. At the time Rubens was painting his now world-famous portraits, obesity was a sign of wealth. Today it is an indicator of poverty.
As interest in the origins of food increases – traceability sustainability and food miles have become intense topics of discussion amongst wealthy and health-conscious elites.
New foods that taste like meat or fish are being created by billion-dollar companies. Impossible Food and Beyond Meat with their vegetarian hamburgers or New Wave foods and their vegan shrimp (served with egg free mayonnaise made from tree extracts) are leading new trends in vegetarian foods that taste like animal protein.
Mega-factories producing single celled bacteria to create cheap protein for food or feed are already upon us. Laboratory grown meat trials are headlined in newspapers around the world. 3D printed food has already been trialed by NASA for long space journeys. Automated production machinery is already making ready meals and fresh takeaways in a localised ‘dark’ kitchen.
At the other end of the scale, Moley has just launched a $260,000 robot that will prepare your fresh organic ingredients with the flair of a MasterChef finalist into a restaurant class meal in your own home.
The impacts of increasingly segmenting our food system by income is not something we yet understand. It seems is likely is that the wealthy will stick to natural and organic food ingredients perhaps prepared by robots. Middle income groups will be beguiled by a technological, environmental, and animal friendly solutions. The poor may well be left with a manufactured protein soup- like Soylent Green in the famous 1970’s sci-fi film. Today’s income inequality debates will seem like minor disputes compared to the divisiveness and discussion around what we eat.
We cannot ignore these issues; the future is broken and we need to get busy repairing it.