We may not notice it but the way we are eating, and what we will eat in the future, is changing forever. Increasing populations as well as climate change and pressure on land and sea resources will alter what we eat, as will growing numbers of religious devotees, a wider access to foods from diverse ethnicities and a desire to move away from traditional protein sources. Here, leading practitioners talk about the developments under way in science, industry and the places we buy food.
Take what you know about food, and throw it down the waste disposal system, Sharon Forbes, a senior lecturer in marketing at Lincoln University says.
There are, Forbes argues, competing pressures changing what we eat, including an ageing population, the trend to buy local, concerns about environmental impact of food production and distribution, demand for products with an extended shelf life, food that is easy to eat on the go but healthy, a move to smaller portions and a growing demand for organics.
Take the Pure Food Co in Auckland as an example: this small company started by a former Olympic rower is dedicated to making healthy, tasty food for adults who have trouble chewing, swallowing and digesting. Its products are aimed at people who have an injury or illness that prevents them from eating whole food. It is also a much better alternative to baby food and is used in rest homes.
Forbes says more producers will need to follow suit and take account of what ageing populations can and cannot eat.
Another key household trend, Forbes says, is the increasing number of people who live alone. In developed nations, about 25 per cent of people live by themselves. Waste is a key consideration, as is the market for food that meets the needs of specific religious groups.
FOOD FOR RELIGION
The dietary rules of the world’s major religions mean billions of consumers globally have strong preferences to consume or avoid particular types of food, according to the KPMG Agribusiness Agenda.
“It is expected that the Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish faiths will collectively have about 3.8 billion adherents by 2050. All of these religions ascribe to dietary exclusions and restrictions (be that restrictions on pork and shellfish for the Islamic and Jewish faiths, beef for the Hindu faith and all meat products for strict Buddhists),” the report says.
Religions also place restrictions on how food is prepared – a Muslim can only consume meat if it is has been prepared using halal methods, for example.
“With more than 40 per cent of the world’s population expected to be eating in accordance with religious practices, these requirements will permeate through the global food supply chain,” KPMG reports.
Forbes says companies are catching on, and as a result the production of halal and kosher food is increasing. Even winemakers are getting in on the act: for example, O’Dwyers Creek vineyard in Marlborough is now kosher certified.
Meanwhile, researchers are attempting to add more nutritional value to the foods we commonly eat. Charles Brennan, a professor of food science at Lincoln University and the director of the Centre for Food Research and Innovation, says Lincoln works with European, American and Chinese teams to improve the nutritional quality of foods for consumers.
Brennan says an ongoing project is using the berry skins leftover from the production of wine and juice. Lincoln is part of a consortium of researchers looking to incorporate the nutritional benefits these skins contain, such as fibre and phytochemicals, into simple foods such as biscuits.
Basically, Brennan says, the aim is to make foods healthier by using what are currently considered waste products.
Another example is a project completed with the University of Udine in Italy, whose researchers came to Lincoln to work out how to improve the nutrient profile of pasta. “We have been looking at how we can increase fibre and how we can lower the GI by altering the structure and functionality of pasta,” Brennan says.
Medicinal foods is also a growing area of research. Brennan says China is known for its use of food as medicine, including mushrooms, and researchers have been looking at ways to include them in day-to-day meals.
“We have been looking at how we can use the bioactive compounds of Chinese mushrooms to improve the nutritional quality of foods for consumers – that could be snack foods such as pretzels or crisps or even breakfast cereals.”
Brennan says the work of food researchers at Lincoln flips between food chemistry, science, engineering and nutrition.
“From a consumer point of view, what we are looking for is something cheap. We are also looking for something that is healthy and convenient. So we want all three of those characteristics in something that we enjoy eating, which is the tricky part.
“We are trying to make health choices more available to the consumer of tomorrow so they don’t necessarily have to choose between healthy and unhealthy food. In the future, the healthy food will be just as wholesome, taste and texture wise, as unhealthy food.”
There is also a lot of research, Brennan adds, being done into how we can use insects as various forms of protein.
According to KPMG about 2000 species of insects are known to be edible, many of which have high nutritional and protein content and can be produced with a low environmental impact.
Cricket flour – a powder made of ground crickets – was recently launched in New Zealand and Australia and other insects and arachnids are available online in tinned and vacuum-packed form.
Insects are just one example of regionalised diets becoming available worldwide. According to KPMG, the increased globalisation of the food system, coupled with higher levels of international travel, means diverse regional diets have been supplemented by a standard selection of international cuisines across much of the world.
“This is resulting in a richer diversity of food becoming more readily available in many markets around the world, creating export opportunities for niche food producers.”
MORE AND DIFFERENT PRODUCTS
FoodSouth on the Lincoln campus is directed towards helping firms grow their exports by creating new products.
Chief executive John Morgan says that until now, we have been “good at shipping commodities offshore but we have got to get better at shipping higher value items”. Morgan says FoodSouth, along with other similar organisations including FoodBowl in Auckland and FoodWaikato, allows access to technology and expertise to assist companies in developing products.
“You hire the space and we work with you to shape the projects. We are also building capability in this area – employing smart people in New Zealand.”
The growing middle classes worldwide are demanding more and different products.
Globally, the demand for poultry, pork, dairy and seafood products is growing faster than supply, according to KPMG. This leads to the challenge of sourcing sufficient feed for the animals in a food-constrained world.
“Innovation will be required across the supply chain to meet the evolving dietary aspirations of the emerging middle class. This makes wide-scale adoption of genetic improvements in both feed crops and animals unavoidable.”
This, in turn, means that we are likely to increasingly see synthetic animal proteins in the future.
THE END OF FOOD?
A young US entrepreneur has gone further and come up with a product that, in essence, breaks down all food into its most basic elements, recreating meals as raw chemical compounds in a product he calls Soylent.
“You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” Rob Rhinehart says. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Living on Soylent – a slurry of chemicals that looks like gooey lemonade – Rhinehart says he is saving time and money. “I feel like the Six Million Dollar Man. My physique has noticeably improved, my skin is clearer, my teeth whiter, my hair thicker and my dandruff gone,” he says. Rhinehart sees huge potential in the idea and launched a crowd-funding campaign – he now ships Soylent to customers across the US.
While many critics point out that life would be pretty bleak without the odd Sunday roast with friends and family, Rhinehart told The New Yorker, “Most of people’s meals are forgotten. [In the future] we’ll see a separation between our meals for utility and function, and our meals for experience and socialisation.”
Mimi Gilmour Buckley, the co-founder of restaurant chains Burger Burger and Fish Fish, is confident that the social side of eating will remain strong. She says the increasingly diverse ethnic make-up of society is influencing the restaurant trade.
“Food has an incredible ability to bridge social boundaries and encourages communities to stop and communicate with each other face-to-face,” Buckley says.
“As populations continue to grow and the spread of ethnicities broadens, I hope that will allow many more hospitality business to open and get the volume they need to survive. We will continue to see interest in real food – whether that be raw, vegetarian, organic, ethically sourced – and a resurgence in cooking techniques such as cooking with naturally fuelled heat and smoke.”
OZONE HOLE FOR GOOD?
You may have only heard bad news about the hole in the ozone layer but, for plants at least, it could be a good development.
“Ultraviolet radiation is not all bad news,” Lincoln University professor Brian Jordan says. His research indicates that ultraviolet radiation (UV) could be used to enhance the quality of many crops.
Since the first evidence of a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica in 1985, studies have centred on the damage and stress caused by excess exposure to UV-B.
“Until now, UV-B has only been considered as a damaging radiation, but it is now thought to have a more positive role in plant growth and development.” Jordan says UV-B treatments are being developed as innovative approaches to improve horticulture.
“Key benefits are that UV-B reduces pests and diseases, enhances nutritional value in the form of increased antioxidants