As a gourmet, I’ve studied the food culture around the world, so I think I should totally share some of my thoughts on this blog these days.
International travel question: what is the future of our food?
How can we feed the 2.5 billion more people – an extra China and India – likely to be alive in 2050? According to the United Nations (UN) food production must be doubled, new technologies adopted, waste avoided. There are already one billion chronically hungry people, climate change will only make farming harder to grow food in most places, the oceans are overfished, and much of the world faces growing water shortages. Food, farm and water technologists will have to find new ways to grow more crops in places that until now were hard or impossible to farm. It may need a total rethink over how we use land and water. So, enter a new generation of radical farmers, novel foods and bright ideas.
Algae – one possible solution is commercial algae farms. Algae are simple, single-cell organisms that can grow very rapidly at sea. Major airlines and shipping companies are now investigating a switch to algae oil. According to scientists, under optimum conditions, commercial algae farms can produce 5,000-10,000 gallons of oil per acre, compared to just 350 gallons of ethanol biofuel per acre grown with crops like maize. In addition, algae could feed millions of animals and act as a fertilizer. Algae are already eaten widely in Japan and China in the form of seaweeds, and are used as fertilizers, soil conditioners and animal feed.
Artificial meat – it looks like meat, feels like meat and it is meat, although it’s never been near a living, breathing animal. Instead, artificial or “cultured” meat is grown from stem cells in labs. Much of the research into artificial meat is being done in Europe with scientists in Holland and Britain developing edible tissue grown from stem cells in laboratories. While the first artificial hamburger could be developed next year, it might taste of nothing at all. Meat needs blood and fat to give it color and taste, and while stem cells for blood and fat have been identified, this is slow, complex and expensive work. Nevertheless, studies show that artificial meat wins hands down in the environmental stakes, using far less water, energy and land.
New crops – green super rice, which could increase yields in Asia enough to feed an extra 100 million people, will be rolled out in the coming years. Scientists believe that green super rice might be one of the solutions for a sustainable future to feed large populations.
Desert greening – large “seawater greenhouses” can help to grow food and generate power. The idea is simple: in the natural water cycle, seawater is heated by the sun, evaporates, cools to form clouds, and returns to earth as refreshing rain. It is more or less the same in seawater greenhouses. Here, hot desert air going into a greenhouse is first cooled and then humidified by seawater. This humid air nourishes crops growing inside and then passes through an evaporator. When it meets a series of tubes containing cool seawater, fresh water condenses and is then collected. And because the greenhouses produce more than five times the fresh water needed to water the plants, some of it can be released into the local environment to grow other plants. Seawater greenhouses have been shown to work and this year a large-scale pilot project backed by the Norwegian government will be built near Aqaba in Jordan. The Sahara Forest project will combine different technologies to grow food and biofuel crops and be up and running by 2015.
Insects – locusts, grasshoppers, spiders, wasps, worms, ants and beetles are not on most European or US menus but at least 1,400 species are eaten across Africa, Latin America and Asia. Now, with rising food prices and worldwide land shortages, it could be just a matter of time before insect farms set up in Britain. Not only are many bugs rich in protein, low in fat and cholesterol and high in calcium and iron, but insect farms need little space. Environmentally, they beat conventional farms, too. The creatures are far better at converting plant biomass into edible meat than even our fastest growing livestock, they emit fewer greenhouse gases and they can thrive on paper, algae and the industrial wastes that would normally be thrown away.
The unexpected food trend in Australia (international tourism insights):
Australians are starting to jump on the edible insects’ trend, but is it really the solution to all our environmental and nutrition needs? For Louise Morris, a Tasmanian insect farmer who co-founded the Insect Protein Association of Australia, it’s crucial to grow the industry without overhype.
“We’re very much the new kids on the block. We have to do a lot of explaining of the whats, whys and hows,” she told Helen Shield on ABC Radio Hobart.
“It ticks a bunch of boxes, but we’re making sure we’re not ticking the overhyped box.” Ms. Morris said some of the claims made about farming insects could mislead consumers.
“Will it save the Earth? If we’re just repeating industrial food practices, probably not,” she said.
Ms. Morris said while insects can play an important role in food sustainability, there is little environmental benefit if they are produced using intensive farming practices.
“What they eat impacts so much on how much greenhouse gas impact, how much water went into that,” she said. “If you’re essentially feeding them chicken food … you’re not really making a huge impact [on the environment].”
Ms. Morris farms crickets, mealworms and Queensland wood cockroaches in northern Tasmania, using vegetable waste from local farms to grow her insects. She said feeding the insects different vegetables can affect the taste of the final product for humans.
“We’re really focused with a few restaurants who are wanting to work with our insects … on bespoke insect flavors,” she said.
“It’s creating a whole new income stream, employment opportunities and a product which really is ‘brand Tasmania’.”
About 80 per cent of the world’s population already eats insects as part of their regular diet, but in Australia farmers are still faced with the “ick factor”.
However, Ms. Morris is confident Tasmanians will come around to the idea quickly.
“People are up for anything down here,” she said. “Not that long ago the thought of eating wallaby in Tasmania was ‘hell no’. “Even sea urchin … two years ago no-one would go for urchins at all. Now it’s a featured dish.”
Ms. Morris aims to have her insects on dinner plates in 2018 and while she believed insects can play an important role in our food chain, she is wary of “superfood” claims.
“Like any animal, each insect is different and how you grow them is really important in what sort of value they have for your body,” she said.
“Travelling the world has expanded my outlook.”