The food of the future is depressing, but sadly necessary

If you like to eat, eat well throughout the wide range of national or international gastronomy products, the future is not for you. It’s hard to say that, but the sooner you come to terms with it, the better. More taking into account the data on excess population, climate change and food production that will come to us in a few years, political controversies aside. We have tested the food of the future through bioprinting and with plant products or cell reproduction. The summary is that it is not bad, but it is not the same by far. He still has a long way of research ahead of him. Especially for lovers of meat, fish and dishes with the quality of the product as the center.

Madrid Food Innovation Hub opened the doors in the Villaverde district to accommodate a large group of startups seeking grow in the food sector for the next decades. To take advantage of the situation, and taking advantage of the fact that some of the technological companies that have done the most for the food of the future were meeting, what better than to make a presentation meal.

Coocus, with its food of the future made from 3D bioprinted vegan meat with laboratory cells; H2Hydroponics, dedicated to technological crops; or Helloplants Food with its vegetable meat and vegetable proteins among many others. The menu? From the hand of Urrechu, a popular chef of Spanish gastronomy, with his R&D team in Zalacaín, a long list of products with recognized names but with flavors that are far from reflecting what they are supposed to be.

The data that makes us support the food of the future

Let’s start with the positive. Research from Coocus, Helloplants or Helloplants Foods is necessary. It was also something that had been seen for years. Already Churchill, in 1931, saw the future of food: “It is absurd to raise a whole chicken to eat only the wings and breasts”; more for the economic part than the ecological one, Churchill has already marked a way forward. Food waste and the problem generated for animal husbandry was already a subject of analysis at the beginning of the 20th century.

The world population growth figures scare each passing year. By 2050, the world will have 10 billion souls on its surface, so it will have to increase its food production by 70%. Only in 2020, and according to data from the SOFI Report prepared by five United Nations agencies, points to a historical fact: 811 million people in the world do not have food to spend the day. This is 118 million more people than in 2019.

Or what is the same, almost 10% of the world’s population is at food risk. And, as the years go by, the data is so overwhelming that the recorded figures could reflect only a small part of the reality. And this is at the international level; if we go to data from large cities of the first world, the risk of food exclusion or chronic hunger is also chilling. A pattern increased by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Insects, rich in healthy proteins, algae as a complement to terrestrial vegetables or artificial or laboratory meat are elements that should begin to take their first steps. Also personalized foods to prevent diseases or improve nutrition in certain population groups. The objective, in which these types of companies participate, is to be prepared for what is coming.

If we add to this the vicissitudes of climate change, we have the complete pack to tackle the question of the food of the future. 14% of gas emissions into the atmosphere originate from the livestock sector. As well as the deforestation of almost 70% of the wooded areas that end up being dedicated to crops.

What drives us back: a trompe l’oeil in its purest form

Let’s get to the negative. The food of the future made with 3D printers, vegan meat, vegetable meat or whatever comes a few years from now is too much focused on copying the flavors of the original products those who want to imitate. Also its texture. These two points, for now, remain suspended or with a need to improve.

The menu prepared by Urrechu included the classic vegan squid sandwich, bio-printed torreznos, braised vegan scallops, bio-printed vegan jerky and, of course, the eye-catching bio-printed ribeye. The eye is weak, but the palate is not. The food of the future, for now, it’s a trompe l’oeil game. Although beautiful – we are talking about a famous chef – and with good flavors, he did not know what he was saying. Or, in my case, the dressings hid the flavor of the core product. And that’s what is scary about what comes from the food.

We are aware that we must limit the consumption of meat. Whether the minister on duty says so or not. But the bio-printed ribeye is more reminiscent of the flavor of a meatloaf, also of that texture, than that of a lifelong beef product. Although, without a doubt, the fact of testing bioprinted laboratory meat adds points to the matter. And the torreznos, far from their crunchy texture, they fail to imitate their caloric origin. It’s a bad time for faithful carnivores.

It goes without saying that the only thing that I didn’t want to imitate before anything known before and that I played with the popular umami – the flavor that recalls all flavors – was a great plus point in all that journey of the food of the future. Maybe, and just maybe, originality is the way to go for this new world of food.

It is also worth asking: How do the defendants operate in all this? With its pros and cons, we know where scallops, steak or torreznos come from. The new food line, mostly vegan, is sinning from something that many wanted to leave behind: the ultra-poor. Nutritionists already pointed out that almost 90% of the foods in this category were ultra-processed. The need to imitate flavors and textures leads to having to add increasingly sophisticated elements to meet the needs of a growing market.

It is increasingly difficult to know what is healthy and what is not. With the food that comes, things get complicated. Despite everything, and although there are already regions like Singapore that have meat factories based on laboratory cells, in the case of Spain and Europe we still have a long way to go in terms of regulation.