Think global, eat local

Future Food Utrecht coordinator, Mariá-José about the future of food

Text: Jing de Visser Photos: Kees Rutten

Plants, animals and humans, we all need food to sustain our health. What kind of food we need, is a trickier question. There are tons of sources where we get our information from – what to eat and what not to eat. Nowadays it’s even more difficult to choose what to eat with a growth in allergies etc. But what will happen in the future if we keep consuming like we do now?

Future Food Utrecht brings together the fundamental research of Utrecht University related to health, behaviour and innovations for future food production. Researchers from seven faculties and more than 25 research groups are involved in this virtual initiative. As the coordinator, Mariá-José Rojo Martinez brings different people in contact with each other, knowing what’s going on where and ties the knots. She aims to know everything about what researchers are currently working on. Future Food focusses on innovations in the food system that contribute to a healthy, safe, accessible and reliable food supply for the growing global population, as well as keeping it ecologically sustainable. “The future is always unsure, but we can try to adjust to it in the way we eat and what we choose for,” Mariá says.

NO LEFTOVERS PLEASE

Mariá-José explains that food production has the most influence on the environment. “Food waste in the production stages is an enormous problem,” she says. “Before the food reaches the supermarkets lots of food waste, because of plant and animal diseases and consumers preferences, takes place already. The food that doesn’t make the supermarkets, because it does not look perfect, is being thrown away, and this is a major problem.” Not only do we eat vegetables, but animals also live mostly plant based. If we keep living like this at one point there won’t be enough food to sustain animals and therefore ourselves. We need to use supplies to their maximum potential. For example Utrecht based brewery, Oproer, uses the leftovers of their brewing process to make whole wheat bread.

MEATLESS SOCIETIES

There are different scenarios you can make when thinking about the future. “At this moment we’re ruining the earth and its nature, for food we think we need. We need to make smart decisions in the future to sustain our earth,” says Mariá-José. When asked what she thinks about more people becoming vegan nowadays she answers, “I think it’s great, but you can’t expect that the whole world will go vegan or plant-based. Think about culture, religion and the ethical and economic consequences. There are more things that play a big role when thinking about changes in food consumption.”

In places like Ethiopia, eating meat is a part of their culture, especially when it comes to particular religions and what they believe in. Australia is known for their large meat consumption, another place where meat eating is fused into culture. In Western culture, meat was always known as something not everyone could afford. That was until the bio-industry grew enormously.

DODGE DISEASES

Mariá-José has a good understanding of the benefits of healthy nutrition. “Diabetes, heart and cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by diets. We eat too much we don’t need.” She has become a vegetarian herself a few years ago and thinks twice when she feels like eating something unhealthy. Future Food Utrecht has brought food research under three main themes; sustainable food production, healthy food and smart decisions.

At this moment they are revising their strategy and will work particularly towards a transition for more sustainable food production and consumption. This involves approaching a bigger community about the progression of eating a big amount of meat to a little less. They’re working closely with the government and important companies, which are influential contacts. You can’t do it alone, you need to work together to the same goal,” says Mariá-José.

One thing that is very important for Mariá-José is that you look towards the future in a positive light. You have to have faith in the future and that we can all make a difference. Even just changing the way we eat a little bit can help in a large way. “Every little thing can help. It’s something that is globally important. Think global, act local,” she adds. It’s the ecologic footprint you leave behind that defines the future.

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