Even for those who rarely think beyond their next meal, food is an inescapable part of the future. Here, a British biologist tries to foretell what’s likely to end up on our table in years to come.
Ford (Patterns of Sex, 1980) begins with the basics. Food, whatever its origin, must supply essential nutrients: fats, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. The importance of many of these nutrients has been known for over a century, and yet a large fraction of the world’s population still suffers from basic dietary deficiencies. In industrial countries, cookery is a dying art; three-fourths of American meals are prepared outside the home. The economics of food production have key implications: a decline in meat-eating is likely to occur in the near future, for example, less on account of health issues than economic ones (the same amount of grain required to raise one pound of beef could make sixteen pounds of bread). On the other hand, changes in food processing leave us vulnerable to a wide range of food-borne disease, from “mad cow” disease to toxin-producing E. coli. The potential dangers of genetic engineering remain to be discovered, although genetically modified foods are already on the market. Ford calls for greater public consultation, clearer labeling, and more stringent testing and regulation. Meanwhile, some 800 million people, most of them women and children, go hungry. International cooperation, possibly in the form of some quasi-military Food Force, may be the only long-range way to distribute food equitably. In developing countries, Ford predicts a decrease in meat consumption and an increasing reliance on tasty but highly nutritious snack foods and meat substitutes. And while the “meal in a pill” beloved by sci-fi writers may well come to be, it will still need to be supplemented by traditional foodstuffs to insure a proper balance of nutrients.
A provocative if somewhat unfocused look at a subject near and dear to everyone.