We wanted to know: in the face of climate change and innovation, how will food fare? Top food experts weigh in.
Welcome to dinnertime in the year 2070. Your food—perfectly tailored to your genome—is prepared by a robot chef. Your kitchen is full of healthy fats and regionally sourced food, and you haven’t counted calories in decades. You can credit your longer life span to the doctor-prescribed medication in your cabinet: produce. And the majority of your protein comes from insects.
How we’ll eat 50 years from now is uncertain. But according to leading experts in food policy, agriculture, and nutrition, factors like climate change, individual and societal health trends, and technology will all change what’s on our plates. We asked five leaders in the food industry about what to expect in the coming decades. From the unsurprising to the Jetsons-esque, here are some of their most compelling predictions.
Dinner Will Be Served Hot and Fresh Out of the Lab
Expert: Dr. Stuart Farrimond
Physician, food-science writer, and BBC radio host
According to Farrimond, the future of nutrition will have two separate camps: “We’re going to have one group of people who want ‘the fix,’” he says. “They will want processed food that has all the answers.” You’ll find this group of people taking DNA tests to get personalized meal plans, popping exercise pills marketed as “advanced supplements,” biohacking, and eating food that’s designed for them based on their genetics.
“And then you’ve got another group of people who shun all of that,” Farrimond says. “They want natural, uncontaminated, organic, back-to-nature food.” This group will be conscious of the environment, eating food technologically altered for their health and the planet’s. According to Farrimond, this population will abandon the carbon-intensive meat industry and opt for powdered blends of meat’s high-protein, low-impact cheap alternative: insects. They’ll also cook with sugar enhanced by nanotechnology to be sweeter (making it possible to use less) and 3-D “print” ingredients into intricate gastronomic masterpieces.
“You’ll have the most spectacular dinner parties,” Farrimond says.
We’ll Finally Embrace Fat
Expert: Elyse Kopecky
Nutrition coach and New York Times bestselling author
Many experts already think it’s time to kill the calorie, and Kopckey is one of them. The author, who cowrote both Run Fast. Eat Slow. cookbooks with four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan, thinks that the future is simpler than wacky gene blends and technology. Instead, she believes that all athletes will embrace healthy fats and eliminate restrictive eating from the mix.
“Butter is a health food,” says Kopecky. “It’s more nutrient dense than kale.” She predicts that in a decade or two, the athlete’s kitchen will be filled with calorically dense unrefined oils, butter, and other flavor-packed ingredients. “When you cook with fat, it tastes better,” she says.
As a young runner, Kopecky experienced amenorrhea and stress fractures, and looking back, she blames her diet. “Low-fat everything and all frozen, prepackaged meals,” she says. When she changed her eating habits to include ample calories, particularly from fat, her symptoms disappeared. Kopecky hopes that athletes of the future won’t have to wait until their bodies break down to change their diets.
Don’t Count on California
Expert: Tom Philpott
Food and agriculture correspondent for Mother Jones
California is the number-one state in the country for agricultural production today, boasting a long list of exports including almonds, pistachios, strawberries, avocados, dairy, walnuts, and more. However, Philpott says that consumers of the future will have to count the state, and its crops, out. California, along with the rest of America, is projected to experience some hefty damage at the hands of climate change, including more wildfires like the one in Paradise, severe drought, and the looming possibility of an overdue catastrophic earthquake. That’s bad news for a host of reasons, but, according to Philpott, it will hit the food-supply chain especially hard.
“We’re going to have to engage in what I call decalifornization,” he says. (In other words, avocado toast will no longer be the brunch food of the moment.)
Sustainability Will Be Law
Expert: Tim Griffin
Director of the agriculture, food, and environment program at Tufts University
Griffin, an adviser to the most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines, thinks sustainability will color the future of food at every stage of production, shopping, and preparation. Consumers of tomorrow will be hyperaware of how food gets to their plate, he says. “They’ll need to ask not just, ‘What am I going to eat for dinner?’ but ‘What am I going to eat for dinner, and how will that impact X, Y, and Z?’”
Griffin says that everyday shoppers have the most sway in what happens to our food system, and she believes that a greater awareness of how our eating habits impact the planet will, eventually, influence policy.
“Twenty-five to 40 percent of food grown on [American] farms is wasted,” he says. “But in the past, things have changed because of consumers. Social outcomes are important.” People are taking waste more seriously, he says, and if that continues, sustainability will become part of our new guidelines. He points out that trend-based changes to the guidelines have happened before, but slowly; it took until 2010 for physical activity to be written in as an essential balance to our diets.
Your New Medicine Cabinet Is the Fridge
Expert: Monica Mills
Executive director of Food Policy Action
Americans today have more prescriptions than ever, but they can’t afford the medication they need. Similarly, fresh fruits and veggies are necessary for your body to function properly—they can even directly affect your brain structure—but for some people, the high cost of produce means choosing between dinner and rent. “Food is medicine,” says Mills, whose organization in Washington, D.C., lobbies for improved access to food, farmers’ rights, and reducing the environmental impact of food production. Doctors and governments of the future, according to Mills, will understand that.
Farmers are currently federally incentivized to grow mass crops like corn and soy, but no commodities are given to fruit and vegetable growers. That makes corn-based food—soda, fast-food burgers, nutrition bars—cheaper, says Mills, and it gives low-income individuals less access to healthy, fresh foods.
The future food market, according to Mills, will be saturated with programs like Double Up Bucks, which helps low-income people buy healthy, local food, and Wholesome Wave, which allows doctors to prescribe produce as medicine. Mills acknowledges that the government’s stance on food production has historically been slow to change. “But 100 years from now,” she says, “I hope it will look very, very different.”