The human population is widely predicted to reach almost 10 billion by 2050. Indeed, each passing hour brings another 10,000 mouths to feed on this planet of ours.
Yet at the same time, the agricultural land available for feeding the human race is in shrinking dramatically. While in 1980, there were 3000m² of farmland per capita, that figure has now fallen to 2400m² and is estimated to decrease still further to just 1600m² by 2050 (1).
What’s more, climate change will only add to the pressures on global food production: more significant droughts, lower yields, more frequent climatic hazards, etc. Not to mention the decline in natural resources(2).
In order for the whole of humanity to be provided with sufficient macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, trace-elements, etc.), in an effective and responsible way in the face of tougher conditions, innovations are badly needed if we are to develop the foods of tomorrow.
Though insects are already traditionally consumed by close to 2 billion people, primarily in the global South, their authorisation as a novel food for the human diet in Europe is slow in coming.
Rich in protein, and requiring little in the way of space, food, or direct water supply, insects constitute one of the most promising foods for feeding 10 billion humans in the future (3).
At present however, only two species of insect are authorized by the EFSA for human consumption in Europe: crickets from the Dutch company Protix, and dried yellow mealworm from Agronutris (as well as frozen yellow mealworms also produced by Protix).
This is because of the large number of tests needed to ensure the insects deliver nutritionally and are safe, especially in relation to potential allergies(4).
While the subject of artificial, or in vitro meat, produced by start-ups, has been causing a stir for a few years now due its decidedly futuristic nature, lab-grown meat appears increasingly unlikely as a viable solution in the medium term (5).
Indeed the cost of the energy and cutting-edge technology necessary for the production of in vitro meat makes the process unviable for the time being. In addition, as things stand technology-wise, the production of artificial meat would have a significant impact on the environment, making it obsolete in the light of the challenges we face in the coming decades (6).
Seaweed has been consumed for thousands of years in Asia, but it’s only recently that Western societies have discovered the health and nutritional benefits of algae, quite apart from its environmental advantages.
Even today, algae capture almost 50% of the CO2 present in the atmosphere. Potentially rich in protein and/or lipids (depending on the species), and easy to grow, seaweed can also be converted into ingredients for use in recipes, such as a replacement for eggs (7).
Algae therefore constitute an excellent option for helping to feed the humans of the future.
It’s widely acknowledged by experts that the trope of science fiction in which future humans are sustained by a ‘meal-in-a-pill’ is absurd (we need to eat real food). However, it’s equally widely recognized that supplementation will probably become essential for meeting our nutritional needs.
Indeed, with the planet’s agricultural land in decline, the main challenge will be intensification of production. In this context, dietary supplements constitute a perfect resource for supplying the micronutrients that may no longer necessarily be present in the foods meant to meet our macronutrient requirements.
It’s now entirely reasonable, therefore, to imagine a future where populations take a daily supplement cocktail along the following lines:
Rich in fibre, minerals, vitamins and, to some extent, protein (around 3% for many mushrooms such as shiitake), easy to grow, requiring little space, water and energy and using organic waste, mushrooms are recognized by experts as a food that’s destined to become more important in the future. What’s more, they are rich in polysaccharides with proven benefits for immunity (14-15).
Indeed, yeasts and bacteria are already being fermented to produce protein suitable for human consumption with high bioavailability, such production using 10 times less surface area than soya, for example.
10 times more calories and protein, production that takes a few hours rather than several months, productivity of 1500 kilocalories per square meter (with the potential to concurrently produce solar energy in the same area): yeasts and bacteria are undoubtedly among the most reliable options for producing the food of tomorrow (16-17).
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