Insects for breakfast – is this the future of food?

Portrait of handsome agriculture scientist talking to young woman working in greenhouse of modern vegetable farm

Food demand is expected to increase substantially by 2050 due to an expected global population of 9.1 billion, so will the day ever come that we wake up and eat insects for breakfast? Food scientists are exploring new ways to combat this crisis and new sources of protein are a potential solution.

Food Science and Engineering

The concept of future food sustainability started almost 20 years ago, when genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were first proposed in the USA. Since then, food scientists have scrambled to find ways to sustainably feed our growing population.

Whilst some believe that veganism and plant-based diets can help, there’s a variety of alternative proposals arising from food scientists and engineers globally. Ranging from eating insects as protein sources, to growing food in laboratories.


1. Insects for Breakfast

Many countries have already adopted insects as a source of protein. Eating arthropods like insects is common in countries such as Africa, Asia and South America. Insect or six-legged protein, including grasshoppers, ants, wasps, beetles, crickets and cockroaches, contains around 60% protein and is full of Vitamin B12, iron and calcium (Interesting Engineering). It is also better for the environment than broadly eaten alternatives such as meat as harvesting insects requires much less water and physical space.

In some westernised countries, such as the United Kingdom and United States, eating insects is less commonplace. However, taking what was once considered a delicacy, and making it the norm, might become the future of food globally.


2. 3D Food Printing

3D printed food is a meal prepared through an automated additive process. 3D food printing manufactures customised food products by integrating technology and digital gastronomy techniques. Whilst this concept is still in its infancy, we already have exclusive 3D printing restaurants such as Food Ink. At the moment, 3D food printing is predominantly used in fine dining restaurants to ensure consistency of dishes. Meals are printed layer by layer and offer clients a futuristic tasting experience like never before.

However, 3D food printing, whilst rare, is also expensive at the moment . Advantageously, 3D printing food allows for precision when controlling nutrients, vitamins, and calories per meal and recipes can be transferred digitally, creating easy reproducibility (Get Nourished). However, cost of equipment and consumables presents barriers and detailed 3D models take more than 45 minutes each to print, reducing scalability potential when expanding.

Therefore, whilst it seems an exciting concept now, development is still required when utilising this solution more broadly.


3. Reusing Food Waste

In the European Union alone, nearly 90 million tonnes of food are spoiled annually (Future Food Network). This makes food waste one of the primary issues concerning food sustainability. Some companies are already appearing to contribute to solving this issue. FoodCloud is connecting food producers and distributors to charities to minimise waste, saving 1200 tonnes of food in Dublin; Food Cowboy is doing the same in the USA. Bio Bean in the UK recycles the waste from coffee grounds and creates biofuels and biochemicals.

These few examples show the innovation of food science to recycle the large volume of waste humans produce, creating huge potential for positive sustainability impact.


4. Lab Grown Meat

Laboratory grown, or cultured meat is meat produced from animal cells instead of from slaughtered animals or popular plant based diets. This form of cellular agriculture is being adopted by more companies to produce meat in labs to combat such issues as greenhouse gases emissions, overfishing and animal welfare concerns. In theory, one cell can produce almost a tonne of meat, and it is possible to grow fish by adding protein to cells too. For example, Israeli-start up Aleph Farms creates cultured steaks using 3-D technology. The process involves coculturing muscle, fat, and connective tissue to produce a full steak in three to four weeks.

However, cultured meat faces serious challenges with cost reduction, scale-up and regulatory approval. Therefore, like, 3D food printing, there is work to be done on scalability and mass production of lab grown meat in the future.

These four future food sustainability solutions show that the future of food is uncertain. With increased demand and plateauing supply, food scientists continue to explore new ways to combat the potential future crisis. As someone interested in the science of food, is there something you can do to help future food sustainability?


Food Sustainability

At Manchester Met, we are working hard to educate people about the future of food and how globally, we can work together to help. MetMUnch ­– an award-winning student-led social enterprise based at Manchester Met, promotes sustainable eating and nutrition. The events aim to increase knowledge and awareness on sustainable food consumption and production for improving climate change.

Food and Nutrition as a subject of interest at Manchester Met was founded in 1999 to provide the food sector with industry leading assistance. By studying with us, you’ll access Manchester Metropolitan University’s academics and technical experts from across the entire University’s knowledge network.

Our Future Food Sustainability and Innovation in New Product Development modules allow you to explore the risks, challenges and opportunities for food security, and the innovative technologies and solutions which can help to increase productivity and reduce environmental impact. By examining the key stages in the research, design, development and marketing and looking at industry case studies, you’ll understand the managerial and entrepreneurial aspects of an innovative new product development process.

To shape and innovate the future of food, visit our programme pages for our MSc Food Science and Innovation online today.

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