By Lola Bessa
The way we perceive, and experience food is of great importance. We need food to survive and therefore eat approximately two kilos of food a day. There are more foods than ever before and that’s why the future of the food system is more thrilling than ever.
What do you think of when you think about your favourite food? Is it healthy? Something you eat on a daily basis? A snack or your dinner? If you posed this question in the 1800s you would hear about less diverse and probably more boring foods than we can think of now. Back in the day, chocolate bars didn’t exist and exotic fruits and meats were only for the wealthy. According to research by Fernando Collantes in Historia Agriaera, even foods like milk and cheese were seldom in the diet. People mostly ate potatoes, veggies and only a bit of meat when there was a special occasion.
As part of the Marshall Plan, our food environment has been developing dramatically fast. The need to feed people was high after the second world war. Research by Deakin University shows that there are more different foods than ever, because of the rise in processed foods. The organic and healthy foods we know had to make place for unhealthy substitutes and we don’t just eat as a survival technique anymore.
Gerda Feunekes, the director of the Netherlands nutrition centre the Voedingscentrum and the chair of the European Public Health nutrition alliance, knows all about food. At the Netherlands nutrition centre, they constantly convey nutritional science on eating well to the public. With ‘eating well’ they mean eating healthy food for you and sustainable for the planet. “We work with the ‘wheel of five,’ which is known as a format that represents an optimal diet. Countries around the world all have dietary guidelines like these,” says Feunekes. The wheel of five is a continuously evolving guideline and changes with the years.
Fast food is available everywhere at any time. However, our bodies are not made for that. According to Gerda Feunekes we are used to our genetic make-up that stems from times when where there was not a lot of food: “We are used to our genetic make-up that stems from times when there was not a lot of food and if there was some food you needed to eat because you never knew when the food supply would be scarce again. That is why we constantly feel the need to eat. But times are changing as there are more sustainable solutions for our bodies and our environment. There is also more interest in the future of food and innovative ways to enjoy food.”
Peer into the future of what we eat, and you will have no idea what you can expect. 25 years ago, no one would have believed the idea of a plant-based burger or the idea of eating crickets or mealworms. These are things we never ate because we had other options. According to the book Taste of War by Lizzie Collingham the West-European diet was at about 16 kilograms per person per year of meat in 1817, rising to 50 kilograms by 1914. Which is a lot, but increasingly less than now. Harvard Health reported that we eat about 80 kilograms of meat per person a year. But this number is declining as we now know the effect of meat consumption on our environment. People start to think of other ways to get the same vitamins and go on a vegan or vegetarian diet.
According to Gerda Feunekes, we are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of eating healthy. She understands why trends surrounding superfoods are booming: “The United Nations is organising dialogs on the food system and how we can work differently for our own bodies and for the environment. People at the top-level realise that things need to change to get a healthier population.”
Solutions to get our nutritional value in through new ways are booming too. In Japan, conceptual design studio Open Meals has a restaurant concept called Sushi Singularity for which they will use a customer’s saliva, faeces and urine to create a 3D-printed sushi tailored to their nutritional needs. Tailoring certain foods to experiment with the way we get our nutritional value is a new way to discover whether we can be more sustainable and healthier. “I see potential in the idea of giving personalised help to for example, a single mother with a child who has diabetes, in order to make sure that the child receives the right foods.” Gerda Feunekes says.
Next to Sushi Singularity, there is also an increase in popularity for things like vaping wine instead of drinking wine. These are not per se solutions for our environment, but more a gadget and a fun way to to keep the conversation about food going. Gerda Feunekes: “Ideas about how we can enjoy food more and how this can develop in the future is good. It shows that people are engaged. The conversation and experimentation in the food system is very much alive.” Experimenting with different solutions for a healthier diet and more sustainable food concepts are important to have. Gerda Feunekes points out that in order to grow healthy experiences with the food system we need to keep doing that: “That way, we will be seeing a more sustainable and diverting future for the food system.”