What is the future of food?

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

With an expected global population of 9.1 billion people by 2050, the race is on to find sustainable food sources and processes to meet this demand.

Working at the forefront of this mission, food scientists around the world are seeking answers to the question: what is the future of food?


What will we be eating in 2050?

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

While some believe that veganism and plant-based diets can help, there’s a variety of alternative proposals from global food scientists and engineers.

Discover four food developments that scientists from Manchester Metropolitan University believe will influence how and what we’ll eat in the future.


1. Insects as a protein source

Insects and other six-legged creatures such as grasshoppers, ants, wasps, beetles, crickets and cockroaches contain around 60% protein and are full of vitamin B12, iron and calcium.

So, are insects the future of food? Quite possibly. In fact, many countries have already adopted insects as a source of protein, including those across Africa, Asia and South America.

Eating in this way is much better for the environment as harvesting insects requires much less water and physical space than animal livestock. Having insects as a sustainable food source may therefore be a key strategy in ensuring food security for all.


2. 3D food printing

3D food printing manufactures customised food products by integrating technology and digital gastronomy techniques.

While this practice is still in its infancy, 3D printing restaurants do exist, including Food Ink – a specialist diner based in London with pop-ups around the world. Currently, 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.

3D printing food allows for precision when controlling nutrients, vitamins, and calories per meal and recipes can be transferred digitally, creating easy reproducibility. However, cost of equipment and consumables presents barriers and detailed 3D models take more than 45 minutes each to print, reducing scalability potential.

Therefore, while it’s certainly an exciting concept, further development is required before this solution can be rolled out more widely.


3. Minimising and reusing food waste

In the European Union alone, nearly 90 million tonnes of food is spoiled annually. This makes food waste one of the primary issues in food sustainability.

Wastage happens on farms, in factories and at every stage of the distribution process right through to people’s homes. To combat this issue, innovative companies have identified food-saving solutions at these various stages, to either repurpose food and by-products that would otherwise be thrown away, or to redirect food where it’s needed.

For example, FoodCloud are connecting producers and distributors of food with charities and community groups, saving 1,200 tonnes of food in Dublin. Bio Bean recycles the waste from coffee grounds to create biofuels and biochemicals. And Dash Water take ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables that are typically left to rot for not meeting cosmetic standards and use these to infuse their sparkling water drinks.

Looking forward, the food industry must continue to innovate – ensuring manufacturers are resource efficient and environmentally responsible.


4. Lab grown meat

Not to be confused with plant-based meat (eg: plant-based burgers or sausages made from legumes or grains), laboratory grown or ‘cultured’ meat is produced from animal cells instead of slaughtered animals. In theory, one cell can produce almost a tonne of meat.

This form of cellular agriculture is being adopted by more and more companies to address issues including greenhouse gas emissions, overfishing and animal cruelty. For example, Israeli-start up Aleph Farms creates cultured steaks using 3-D technology. The process involves co-culturing muscle, fat, and connective tissue to produce a full steak in three to four weeks.

However, cultured meat manufacturers face serious challenges with regards to cost reduction, scalability and regulatory approval. Therefore, as with 3D food printing, there is work to be done before meat grown in a lab can be considered a fully viable solution to the food security crisis.

These four food sustainability solutions show that the future of food remains uncertain. With increased demand and plateauing supply, food scientists must continue to explore new ways to mitigate the impending crisis.


Ready to shape the future of food?

At Manchester Metropolitan University, we’re working hard to educate people about the future of food and create the next generation of leaders and innovators in the food industry.

Our online MSc Food Science and Innovation course includes units on Future Food Sustainability and Innovation in New Product Development, allowing students to explore the risks and challenges concerning food security and the innovative technologies and solutions that could help us adapt to a sustainable food system and overcome one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century.

If you’re passionate about food science and sustainability and are looking for a course to equip you with the contemporary skills and insights needed to meet the industry’s demands, our online masters offers a way to advance your knowledge from anywhere in the world.

For more information, visit the course page for our online Food Science and Innovation masters today.


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