As the global food crisis continues to worsen, there has been a surge of stories in the news media about new and novel foods we could be eating in the coming years ahead. As speculative investors pile money into substitute meat start-up companies and fringe foodies promote bugs and insects as a new human super-food group, the food revolution we are now going through is gathering pace. But, what will ultimately appear on our dinner plates will be as much about personal responsibility as it is about future trends.
American anthropologist Margaret Mead is credited with the saying that ‘it is easier to change a man’s religion than change his diet’. This is something I have found to be profoundly true both in my personal and professional life. Not much has changed if I think of the contents of a typical grocery shop for myself over the last twenty or so years. Sure, I now purchase products that are lower in the nasty stuff, like sugar, and I always try to buy organic, but the tastes, flavours, and ingredients are all but the same. I believe this reality holds true for most of us. When I also considered my time promoting healthy Hemp-based foods with our hemp farm company, getting people to try something new was the most challenging thing.
Given that our human predisposition is highly inflexible when changing our diets, how do those now promoting radical and often synthetic food alternatives expect to change hearts, minds and stomachs?
Well, one way could be by force.
If the foods we like and want to eat become unaffordable or unavailable, we would then be forced to change. When I see some of the things going on in the greater global food supply system, I often wonder if some of it is not directed to achieving such a result. For example, I agree entirely that nitrogen pollution from global commercial agriculture needs to be reduced and ultimately stopped but is the move on farmers in the Netherlands to reduce their nitrogen emissions by 50% (some cases 80%) by 2030 the right approach?
The larger reality is that agricultural pollution reductions should have started decades earlier, so we didn’t find ourselves in this position today. The need for such strong-handed measures is due to our previous inaction. When the much-needed fix becomes so long overdue and administered at the point of desperation, there is a natural propensity to cook the goose (pun intended) and overshoot the cure. The problem with messing with our global food system in such a way is that food supplies and stockpiles will be dramatically affected. As a result, prices will skyrocket, and those already in marginalised food security positions will potentially starve to death.
How are the insects tasting now?
The above issue is just one of many things now affecting the global industrial food system. Any one of these would present a headache for the institutions and governments trying to navigate their way through them. When I wrote the Smart Veggie Patch book in 2020, the UN claimed that about 130 million people worldwide were considered ‘food insecure’. In their recent 2022 forecast, that number has now risen to a staggering 860 million people! Just let that sink in for a minute.
It could be the droughts in China and Europe, the war in Ukraine, or the price of fossil fuels and fertiliser. It could even be something that, on the surface, is positive, like rising population wealth that, in turn, is leading to a surge in meat protein demand. Any of these single issues would negatively affect global food supplies. Still, when combined as we have them today, there are only two outcomes that are possible: further rising prices and reduced supply. Thankfully for us in developed western countries, that has not yet led to ‘unaffordable food’ or ‘no supply’. Still, it would be a brave person who would consider both outcomes impossible given the current and developing circumstances.
How do you like your algae-grown green meat, sir?
So do you wait until the fresh produce section is either empty or offering a special on lettuces at $300 each (Down from $350!) and begrudgingly mooch across to that new ‘Fried Cricket’ section with the smiling robot in the plastic apron that’s offering free tastings? Or do you create a Plan B with a backyard Smart Garden and enjoy the food you have always eaten that’s tasty, fresh, nutritious and not just chemical free but almost cost-free too!?
The question is, do you want to be fed or feed yourself? I, for one, want to feed myself because that is where my personal responsibility and freedom can converge to create a future I want to be part of. Cricket might taste great and be great for you, but I want to choose whether I want to eat them or not. If we decide to be fed in the future and remove our responsibility from the equation, then we will have very little say in what will be in our shopping trolleys and ultimately on our dinner plates.