5 Foods of the Future

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This is what National Geographic thinks you'll be eating 30 years from now.

The world's population is expected to reach 9 billion by the middle of the century, which scientists say will require a 70 percent increase in the amount of food being produced. But this does not mean we should start razing forests; rather, the emphasis needs to be on innovation, and figuring out alternative ways of getting nutrients and calories into human bodies, while preserving the environment as best we can.

A fascinating article in National Geographic takes a look at five foods that it predicts we'll be seeing a lot more of in the coming decades. "Dinner in 50 years won’t look much like dinner today," writes Tracie McMillan, who explains that feeding the masses is likely to take two paths. One will be a high-tech industrial path:

"Along that route you’ll encounter heretofore unknown proteins assembled into animal-free meat, watch algae turn to butter, and consider replacing your meals with no more than a bottled drink."

The other will look to the past for guidance:

"On that route, you’ll find ancient grains coaxed out of obscurity for their deep roots and perennial nature, offering the hope of an earthbound agriculture with a fraction of the environmental cost. You’ll find, too, a modern repurposing of one of the oldest proteins known to man: bugs."

So what are these foods of the future? Some will be more familiar than others.

1. Crickets, in the form of cricket flour

cricket powder on table

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MacMillan doesn't seem hopeful that North Americans will start eating insects in whole form anytime soon, but powdered form is catching on as people realize it contains more protein and micronutrients per pound than beef. Now available in select supermarkets, cricket flour can be turned into chips, protein powder, snack bars, baked goods, or used as animal feed. The future looks rosy for cricket farmers:

"Aspire, which runs the largest cricket farm in the U.S., is building a 250,000-square-foot automated facility in Texas in hopes of lowering its prices significantly. The company has a sound reason to go big: Aspire’s current farm is one-tenth that size, and all its output—most of it ground into a fine powder called cricket flour—is already spoken for over the next two years."

2. Kernza, an ancient prairie grain

kernza or intermediate wheatgrass in a field

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Kernza, also known as intermediate wheatgrass, is a fascinating perennial plant that produces grain for five years, as opposed to wheat's single year of production. Its roots push 10 feet into the ground, which helps with drought resilience, depositing carbon into the soil, fixing soil and nutrients in place, and boosting overall soil health.

"The result: richer soil, less erosion, and less fertilizer washing into the water supply."

So far kernza is only being produced on 500 acres in the American Midwest, but the resulting grain has been distributed to a number of bakers and breweries for experimentation, with great success. Even Patagonia has teamed up with Hopworks to turn it into a delicious ale.

3. Plant-based meat

Display with a large collection of vegetarian products and meat alternatives in a supermarket

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Industrially produced meat is terrible for the environment, not to mention the ethical implications of confining and rapidly fattening animals. Scientists have pointed out that the basic composition of meat isn't all that complicated: "It's not rocket science; it's amino acids and lipids. None of that is exclusive to the animal." So there's no reason why this wouldn't be recreated in a lab using non-animal ingredients.

This is precisely what Beyond Meat (whose CEO made the statement above) and Impossible Foods are trying to do. The two American rival companies have come up with plant-based burgers that are more like meat, less like that the dry, cakelike patties you've come to associate with veggie burgers. The Beyond Burger uses pea protein and beetroot juice, while the Impossible has made headlines for its 'bleeding' potato-coconut oil creation.

Read about my experience eating the Impossible Burger in NYC last summer.

4. Oil from algae

Did you even know it was possible to make oil from algae? Apparently it is, and the resulting oil is a light, neutrally flavored cooking oil with monounsaturated fats and a high smoke point. The first algae oil was made by a Dutch company called Thrive in 2015, and it is now ramping up production in Brazil, where sugarcane is used to feed the algae in large tanks before it's harvested for pressing into oil.

The reason for wanting an algae oil is to reduce the demand for land and water. It is also a more humane alternative to palm oil, which is notorious for driving rainforest destruction worldwide. You can buy it on Amazon already.

5. Lab-grown meat

Inspecting lab grown meat

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The industry prefers to call it 'clean meat' in an effort to make it more appealing to skeptical customers. The idea of chicken in a petri dish still raises some eyebrows, but there are many who believe it's the way of the future; it addresses many of the ethical and environmental implications of meat production, while satisfying ongoing demand for animal protein. McMillan writes:

"Today there are 15 companies working to bring lab-brewed poultry, beef, and even foie gras to market, buoyed by research suggesting its production requires a fraction of the environmental resources consumed by industrial animal production."

Despite the push, it's likely going to be 30 years before you can find lab-grown drumsticks in the grocery store aisle. The chicken grown by Memphis Meats now costs $9,000/pound, so there's still some significant scaling down that needs to occur. Read about my conversation with Shir Friedman, founder of Israel's SuperMeat.

What do you think of these foods? Would you eat them?