Future Food: what we'll be eating in 2020
Animal-free dairy products, beef without cows, insects as a vital ingredient – these concepts may seem far-fetched, but they’re closer than you think and coming to a table near you
By Gareth May
Published: Tuesday 28th March 2017
Our bedrooms are chock-a-block with scantily clad sex robots, capsuled hover cars carry us to work, and all our clothes are 3D-printed at home. Welcome to the future. But what's on the menu? Meet the entrepreneurs of tomorrow's kitchen to find out…
Creating meat without animals
Abi Aspen Glencross is a London-based cellular agriculturalist. So what's that when it's at home? Cellular agriculture is the creation of animal products from cell cultures rather than the slaughter of animals. Funded by New Harvest, the world's leading authority on cultured meat, Glencross is at the forefront of slaughter-free steak; a butcher of the future, with bloodless mitts.
Differing from the headline-grabbing lab-grown burger, which is made from stem cells, Glencross is attempting to create whole cuts of beef – utilising a cultured skeletal muscle in order to provide a system to supply tissue with nutrients and oxygen – with an endgame of creating a T-bone steak without using any part of a cow.
"Essentially, I grow skeletal muscle – or what we predominantly relate to as meat – in the lab," she tells us. "I work on the fundamental building blocks of this technology and am currently drawing parallels with skeletal muscle tissue engineering used in regenerative medicine."
In her spare time she also co-runs Future Farm Lab with Phoebe Tickell and Sophie Perry, a collective seeking to make industrial farming redundant. "How? We decentivise its drivers by offering a more attractive, less risky alternative with cellular agriculture, and rebuild a better food system," she says.
Accelerating crop growth with bacteria
Teenage years are supposed to be about rebelling, not saving the world. Ciara Judge and Emer Hickey obviously didn't get the memo. Just as they turned 17, the students from Kinsale Community School in Ireland were taking on the global food crisis, winning an award at the 2014 Google Science Fair – along with fellow student Sophie Healy-Thow – for their work with rhizobium bacteria.
"Emer was gardening with her mum and observed wart-like nodules on the roots of pea plants," Judge explains. "After we asked our science teacher about them, we knew we wanted to work with rhizobium. She basically described a superhero bacteria that helped legume plants magically grow faster – and at the age of 14 we were pretty intrigued."
Three years and 10,000 test seeds later the trio revealed that the bacteria, which is naturally found in soil, forms a symbiotic relationship with cereals, organising nitrogen into more useful compounds to be used by the plant and potentially accelerating crop productivity by up to 50%.
Today, the girls are still kicking science's ass, working with Intellectual Ventures – an initiative founded by Bill Gates – to continue tests and design and commercialise a natural treatment for crop-growth acceleration. They've also co-founded Germinaid Innovations – a research company fighting the global food crisis.
Making better animal-free milk
Named after the Lou Reed song, California-based enterprise Perfect Day produces sustainable, animal-free dairy products that taste like the real thing. That's right: they don't come from a teat.
Crafted with real milk proteins, Perfect Day is made using a process similar to craft brewing, combining yeast and age-old fermentation techniques to make casein and whey. Chuck in a mix of plant-based sugars, fats, and minerals and you've got dairy milk sans the chemicals, hormones, lactose and, as they put it, "other nonsense".
"As the global population approaches ten billion by the year 2050, sustainable food production solutions are critical," comms chief Nicki Briggs told us. "We believe that animal product alternatives that deliver the same taste and eating experience as the real thing are a way to temper the growing global demand for animal protein, without asking consumers to give up the foods they love."
Perfect Day certainly puts its milk where its mouth is. A study conducted by conservation biologists found that the company's produce could reduce land usage by 91%, energy consumption by 65%, and gas emissions by 84%, compared with factory-farmed dairy milk.
Farming that mimics nature
Village Farm, on the outskirts of East Portlemouth in Devon, uses a system called Holistic Planned Grazing, a farming approach developed by ecologist Allan Redin Savory that extols innovative and ethical techniques.
Imitating the natural ecosystem of unfarmed grassland – where herds of herbivores graze, dump, and then move on – co-founders and best mates Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green put wildlife diversity, sustainability and land regeneration above mere profit.
Part of their work involves putting the sheep into paddocks and moving them on every day, allowing the herd to naturally fertilise the soil and graze on young pastures and diverse herbs. As a result, the soil remains healthy, wildlife is attracted to the burgeoning habitat – currently including nestings for the critically listed skylark – all in the name of 100% traceable meat.
"We strive to produce the most delicious organic lamb and mutton that has been carefully nurtured on wild coastal pastures and grazed in complete harmony with nature," says co-founder Hosking. "We measure our business success in biological wealth and in the amount of wildlife we can create habitat for. Eat Village Farm lamb and you're not just eating beautiful food, you are directly helping nature. It's food you can feel good about in every single way."
Creepy crawly cocktails
Sparking debate about insect eating
Mexico: the birthplace of entomophagy. (That's eating insects for those beyond the reach of Wikipedia.) According to a 2013 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report there are more than 500 species of edible creepy crawlies on this Earth – and the UN wants us to start looking under bricks for an alternative to traditional livestock.
That document was the inspiration for Critter Bitters, cocktail bitters made with roasted crickets. New Yorkers Julia Plevin and Lucy Knops came up with the concept while studying at The School of Visual Arts.
"We were given the FAO report which cites entomaphogy as the first viable solution to the world food shortage. But the problem is that there's an 'ick' factor, so our design challenge was to help people overcome that," Plevin says.
Plevin and Knops source the organic, non-GMO crickets from a supplier called Aspire; they add a nutty flavour to cocktails and they also spark debate. "Critter Bitters are a conversation starter to get people talking and thinking about the situation of food in the world as the population grows and our resources dwindle."