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Nov 25, 2021
Some people eat to live. We at OZY most definitely live to eat. As folks who stay on the cutting edge of the new and the next in a range of fields, few things excite us more than a chance to hop into a time machine and steal a peek at our culinary future.
What will our family dinners look like 20 years from now? Will your favorite dishes still be around if you live another 40 years? In many ways, these questions are also about how humankind will evolve and whether we’ll discover the recipe to survive and thrive in a world that’s being ravaged by climate change and conflict.
Some of the answers will leave you salivating and others will fill you with hope. A few might leave you a tear or two in your eyes. Either way, today’s Daily Dose will leave you with plenty of food for thought.
--Based on Reporting by Sohini Das Gupta
1 - Hardy Carbs
Forget about corn, wheat, rice and soy. Sure, they’re our staples today — the four crops are collectively responsible for 60 percent of our plant-based caloric intake. But their yields are expected to drop sharply because of climate change, even as the global demand for food will rise by 70 percent by 2050. Which is why scientists are now turning to ancient, climate-resistant grains as the answer to our food security fears in the future. Grains like Ethiopia’s teff, West Africa’s fonio and a range of Indian millets were once discarded in favor of crops that are easier to grow at industrial scales. But they can withstand droughts and warmer climates while also producing more nutritional value than corn or wheat. Try this recipe for teff waffles or pancakes to whet your appetite.
Disney’s The Lion King foretold our food future. Don’t believe me? Remember when Pumbaa and Timon take Simba on a culinary tour of their world, slurping on bugs? “Tastes like chicken,” Timon says. “Slimy yet satisfying,” Pumbaa chimes in. We might all be saying the same in the decades to come. Edible insects — already popular in large parts of the non-Western world — are rich in protein yet are more sustainable to produce than beef or pork. All of which is driving an explosion in demand for these creepy crawlies, which are expected to have a global market worth $4.6 billion by 2027. One country that could really benefit economically is Mexico, home to 29% of the world's edible insects species.
For centuries, Bolivia’s Aymara indigenous community has cultivated potatoes and turned them into a freeze-dried product called the chuño, which can last up to four years. It’s often their most reliable source of calories in the bitter cold of the Andean highlands. Legend has it that Incan warriors carried chuños and survived on them during long military expeditions. But climate change is doing what colonialism and innumerable wars and conquests couldn’t: force the Aymara to contemplate a change in their diet. Unpredictable weather manifesting itself in the form of frost, rain and sun on consecutive days is making cultivation hard.
Turkey’s Black Sea coast produces 70 percent of the world’s hazelnut crop. But growing instances of unseasonal storms and steadily rising temperatures are beginning to destroy tens of thousands of tons of harvested hazelnuts, underscoring a major climate change-induced challenge that’s threatening an industry estimated to be worth $9.5 billion by 2026. That’s bad news for global confectionery brands such as Ferrero (which owns Nutella), Lindt and M&M’s that depend on Turkey’s hazelnuts for chocolate products, and for the millions of consumers who love the flavor. Some companies are adapting, either by embracing more ecologically friendly practices or by diversifying the source of the hazelnuts to depend less on Turkey. But will they manage to do so fast enough?
After meatless meat, get ready for coffee without actual beans. A Seattle food-tech startup, Atomo Coffee, has developed a technique to chemically treat sunflower seed husks and watermelon seeds in a way that creates molecules that taste like real coffee, contain caffeine and can be brewed the same way. In other words, you get the kick and the flavor of coffee, without needing to worry about the disruption to the sector caused by climate change. A decade from now, your cup of Joe could be developed in a lab.
How do we grow more food without eating into more forests? A team of American and Chinese scientists has found that introducing a human protein that stimulates growth into the genetic map of plants makes them bigger, with up to 50% more produce. It could be the radical future of genetic engineering in food — as long as you're ready to set aside the queasiness that I'm experiencing thinking that we'd be eating something with a dash of human in it.
3 - Multi-Sensory Dining
You’re dreaming of dinner by the sea, with the smell of salt in the breeze as the sound of waves relaxes you. Soon, that wish might come alive even as you sit in a restaurant in the middle of an urban jungle, thousands of miles from the nearest coast. Welcome to multi-sensory dining — where the experience is as vibrant and delicious as the flavors in every bite. Tokyo’s Sagaya Ginza restaurant, for instance, uses futuristic art projections to recreate different seasons. A bird might fly out of your plate and perch itself on a branch — all of it virtual — transporting you to an open and green setting. From Mumbai to Copenhagen to Phoenix, Arizona, this is the future the world’s top chefs and restaurants are betting on.
You saytomato, I say tunato. Plant-based meat might be all the rage at the moment, but the future could well belong to fake fish. A Madrid-based firm is taking dehydrated tomatoes, dousing them in olive oil and then seasoning them with spices, algae extract and soy sauce to produce a … vegetarian copy of tuna. It’s not alone. Plant-based seafood saw a 23% increase in sales in the U.S. in 2020. And the sector in America saw $70 million in investments in just the first half of 2021.
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Faces of Change
1 - Tunde Wey
If you’re looking for comfort food, don’t bother. This celebrated Nigerian chef wants to serve “discomfort food.” The bespectacled, New Orleans-based Wey asks white customers to pay significantly more than diners of color for the same food, challenging them to question deep-seated racial inequality. Customers across races have queued up for his experiments (white Nashville residents have paid $100 for hot chicken that was free for Black customers). Wey thinks it might not be a bad thing for the country’s food industry to die amid the pandemic, for a fresh rebirth. Too harsh? Maybe. But when Wey speaks, the food industry listens.
Carbon dioxide is an enemy of the climate and so, of food sustainability, right? Langdale, a professor of plant development at the University of Oxford is inverting that conventional wisdom on its head. She’s leading a global effort to use rising levels of carbon dioxide to our advantage — by creating a variant of the popular cereal that can efficiently convert CO2 into a nutrient that can help increase rice yields. Remember: Plants consume carbon dioxide just as humans and animals need oxygen. And more carbon dioxide can in theory yield greater plant production, which could partly offset food shortages caused by climate change.
If you want tiger prawns three decades from now, you want to follow her work. As a child, Dyhrman would explore tidal pools with her grandfather on the coast near her home in Tacoma, Washington. Now, decades later, she’s turning that lifelong fascination with the ocean into pioneering work that could help us understand just how vulnerable the base of our food chain is to climate change. She’s going under the sea to look at marine microbes that are the heartbeat of the ocean ecosystem, the food that zooplankton and small fish consume. Take them out of the equation and we wouldn’t have seafood. Her work will reveal whether these microbes are shifting from one part of the world to another as ocean currents change because of climate change.
The lemony dessert looks lovely and tastes even better. The best part? The Peruvian chef makes it from the leftovers of the country’s favorite food exports: ceviche and pisco sour. Lima is a global food capital and Ocampo is its future. He’s using his popular 1087 Restaurante to convince Peruvians to end all food waste by 2030. He teaches female prisoners how to turn recycled food into fine dining. He’s not wasting a morsel — or a moment — in his hunger for change.
“Food is not about impressing people. It's about making them feel comfortable.”
— Ina Garten
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