There’s a trend in the Future of Food discourse, where a single thing, like Soylent, is touted as THE Future of Food. Case in point:
- Soylent: The Food of the Future?
- Why the Future of Food Is Not Soylent
- Soylent Is the Future of Food, if the Future of Food Means Constant Diarrhea
- THE END OF FOOD (Also an article about Soylent)
I get it, a strong, simple declarative headline grabs attention and clicks. No one wants to click on a headline like this...
“The Future Of Food Is A Diverse, Plant-based Diet, Produced By A Local, Organic, Crop-rotating, Agricultural System Paying Workers A Fair Wage Under Safe Working Conditions, And Possibly Delivered By A Mobile-app Centric Distribution Platform, But Sometimes Purchased At Your Local Farmers Market"
...even though we as a society should be clicking on things like that. Nuance doesn’t play well in media, food media included.
But the thing that bothers me more is the idea that one, or just a few things, can represent something as broad as the Future of Food. I can’t tell you how many times in conversation at an industry event, on a panel, or Q&A session I’ve been asked something like “is [blank] the future of food?”
Soylent seemed to fill in that blank a disproportionately large amount of times. I usually answer that dystopian inquiry about Soylent like this:
Soylent was made for a certain persona: the kind of person who’s so focused on something, that they don’t have the mental capacity to think about what to eat. Soylent fills that discrete need and as long as we have highly productive people in our society, something like Soylent probably has a market. But the idea that our whole society will stop eating real food is ridiculous and alarmist. The future has room for all kinds of food products, and just because someone is chugging Soylent, doesn’t mean you should worry about the end of restaurants or farms or food. Next question.
I know I’m taking these headlines very literally, but we need to get out of this mindset that just one or a few things can save ourselves and our food system. During the Green Revolution, someone probably said, “The Future of Food is Corn,” and thus our monoculture ag system and corn addiction was born.
We need to change the Future of Food conversation to embrace a more diverse basket of ideas and solutions working together.
Cultures meat grabs a lot of these headlines too, and you can answer the, "Is cultured meat the future of food?" question similarly to the Soylent question. While cultured meat might not play well in a high end steakhouse, it might be a great replacement for foods that use lots of dirty factory farmed meat. And in other cases, plant based "meats" might be the best option, or simply eating roasted carrots might be best.
We shouldn't be putting all of our faith on any one thing if we want a food system that's more resilient to danger and able to feed everyone in the most environmentally sustainable way as possible.
So what is the future of food? It should be a little bit of everything. But it's also having the ability to look at the bigger picture and realize that reductive conclusions are certainly not part of a better food future.