The future of the food on our plates will come under the spotlight at an event in Newcastle later this week. Hannah Davies talks to the people behind Future City, Future Chef.
What will we be eating in 20 years’ time? Will factory-farming be a thing of the past? Will we be growing meat in the laboratory? Will global warming mean that Britain will be farming new crops?
These questions and many more will be addressed at an event being held as part of the EAT IN Festival which takes place in Newcastle this week.
Future City, Future Chef, at The Core – the flagship building at Newcastle’s Science Central – is exploring food sustainability and changes in the way we will be eating in the next couple of decades.
Simon Preston, director of EAT Festival, said: “Our diet is fundamental to our well-being but pressures from over-population and other factors means most experts are agreed that we need to change the way we eat.
“For example the high-meat consumption we expect in our diets in the West is not sustainable for a global population which is set to hit nine billion in 25 years.
“In addition to issues around sustainability there are health factors to be taken into account. A hot topic at the moment is the idea of a ‘sugar tax’ as a high intake of sugar is being closely linked with the epidemic of obesity the Western world is experiencing – and in those countries which are increasingly adopting a Western diet.
“Future Chef was devised to encourage young chefs to explore these issues and to encourage debate and thinking on what our diets will look like in the coming decades.”
So rather than futuristic pills, it appears that issues surrounding how to feed all the people on the planet will be core to what we eat in the future.
This is an issue key to the work Food Newcastle is doing. It is a partnership organisation which brings together businesses, organisations and communities from across the city, to use healthy and sustainable food to address issues including obesity, food poverty and climate change.
It has created the Newcastle Food Charter promoting the health and well-being of people in Newcastle. It also aims to create a healthier food culture by inspiring people to make a change in their day-to-day attitudes to food.
Ellie Dowding, coordinator of Food Newcastle, said: “One of the most important debates of our time is: how can we ensure that our eating habits do not damage the ability of future generations to provide sufficient nutritious food for themselves?
“The Newcastle Food Charter lays out the city’s commitment towards promoting shorter food supply chains, supporting farming systems that promote environmental sustainability and providing opportunities for people to connect with the story behind the food they eat.
“Newcastle is a leader in science, technology, agricultural research and food nutrition enterprises so it is fitting this issue is discussed here.
“Everyone should be motivated to consider their role in leading the necessary transition towards sustainable eating habits.
“Each of us has a role to play in considering whether there are small changes we could make to the way we grow, buy, cook and eat food, that would make a positive difference to our health and the environment around us.
“There are opportunities, not just challenges, associated with transitioning to sustainable diets. The potential for developing new food products and businesses out of the 40% of all food that is currently wasted is huge.
“We need people from all different disciplines and walks of life to work together to address this issue, not least chefs, restaurateurs and leading celebrity food figures.”
Food producers themselves are already looking at more sustainable methods of production. Meat substitutes are in particular experiencing growth and there is huge innovation in this area – last year, for example, the first lab-grown hamburger was produced by a Dutch scientist and cooked in London.
Perhaps more palatable to most is the food created by Mike Botha’s KJM Foods, a member of Food Newcastle. The company has developed a range of products that taste much like traditional burgers and sausages but instead use a high proportion of gourmet, wild and cultivated oyster mushrooms to achieve the same flavour and texture.
Mike said: “My gourmet mushrooms use waste such as wood and straw and turn it into compost. This returns nutrients back into the ground. The mushrooms themselves are bursting with all sorts of nutrients that help our systems, making them an incredibly sustainable food source.”
One business which has developed meat substitutes on a global scale is Quorn Foods, based in Teesside. Quorn uses an edible fungus to produce its high-protein foods on an industrial scale. The company has achieved record sales of £150m in 2014 and attracted an extra 1.86m new customers - two thirds of whom are non-vegetarians.
Tony Davison, Head of Food Service at Quorn Foods, said: “Through both the media coverage and the experience of our own business, we know that the world’s growing population is threatening global food supply.
“Consumers need to be encouraged to eat more healthily and sustainably. We believe that Quorn makes a positive contribution to achieving this. However, we can’t do it alone. We need to all work together to make this happen. And we need to act now.”
Sue Dibb, Coordinator of the Eating Better Alliance, will be speaking at The Core on Friday.
The alliance describes its vision as: “A world in which everyone values and has access to healthy, humane and sustainable diets. High meat consuming countries and individuals have reduced their consumption in line with health recommendations and greenhouse gas reduction targets.
“Meat is produced humanely and sustainably, its production provides sustainable livelihoods, environmental benefits and it is consumed in quantities consistent with good health and global resource use capacity.”
Sue said: “The food of the future will be delicious, tasty and healthy and be mainly plant - rather than animal - based.
“We’ll still be eating some meat and dairy products but we’ll have come to value these as occasional meal ingredients rather than everyday essentials.
“We will have given up the idea of crowding more and more animals into intensive production systems and we will have woken up to the massive impact for our health from overuse of antibiotics in farming and the damage for climate change caused by livestock production.
“This future is possible but not predictable. We can make a difference through our personal food choices every day, within our families and our communities.”
Future City Future Chef will explore the theme of what we’ll be eating in 2040 through documentary short films and a debate with some of the UK’s most enlightened thinkers on the future of our food system.
There will also be the opportunity to sample and rate sustainable, futuristic dishes created by the three Future Chef finalists and enjoy local ales and drinks before the 2015 winner is announced.
Future City, Future Chef takes place at The Core, Science Central from 6pm-9pm on February 20.
For more information or to book tickets visit http://www.newcastlegateshead.com/eat-festival
Top 10 future food predictions
We will eat more locally-produced food especially dairy and meat
Our eating habits will become much more seasonal food
Meat will be seen as an occasional treat rather than every day
There will be a heavy tax on sugar
Mechanically-engineered meat will be commonplace
There will be a ban on the use of antibiotics on crops/in animal feed
We will see an increase in genetic and scientific modification of food to improve yields and protect against disease
There will be more people growing food at home
We will see increased food prices in general
Insect protein will become common as a food ingredient