What The Hell Are We Going To Eat When All The Food Runs Out?

By 2050 there will be another 2.5 billion people on the planet. That’s 2.5 billion extra mouths to feed. How are we going to do it?Illustration by Alex Coll


by Eleanor Morgan |
Published on

There are already a billion chronically hungry people across the globe with hardly any new land to use for crops to feed them, let alone future generations. Farming is becoming harder because of climate change, and will only get harder. Then there’s the over-fished oceans and widespread water shortages. Bored about reading this stuff? Don’t think it’s relevant to you? Well tough shit. It is. In your lifetime, all this stuff will affect you at some point, in some way. Sure, we might not feel it now in our day-to-day lives. But we will.

The UN says food production will have to be doubled to feed earth’s swelling population

The UN says food production will have to be doubled to feed earth’s swelling population, and our governments are forever banging on – rightfully so – about limiting food waste where possible to create a shift in social consciousness. But however you cut the cake, there’s no denying that what our succeeding generations sit down to eat at mealtimes will be very different to whatever you eat tonight.

While dipping a piece of bread into a bowl of soup at your work desk, for example, imagine that bread being made from a flour made from thousands of pulverised crickets, because at some point, wheat flour will be hard to come by. The idea of utilising insects as a sustainable protein source has been spreading steadily across the western world recently, but of course, we’re aeons behind the South American, African and Asian countries who have been eating bugs for centuries. In fact, 80% of the world are thought to include them as part of their regular diet. It’s only here that we baulk.

As part of a much-needed solution to future – and current – malnutrition, though, it makes perfect sense. God knows why it’s taken so long to get our heads around it. That said, the American health food market has been onto insects for a while now – particularly in the protein snack arena – with new companies popping up all the time offering things like crunchy cricket bars and even hornet juice for athletic health nuts. It’s only a matter of time before Joe & The Juice start charging through the nose for ‘crunkin’ cricket’ smoothies.

Now you’ve thought about the bread part of your lunch, think about the texture of that soup. If you had the chance to satisfy all your nutritional needs with one, viscous drink, would you stop eating? What if you never had to worry about food – or hunger – ever again? Enter Soylent, a compound food replacement (here’s what it’s made of) created by Robert Rhinehart and his team when they realised, living in a cramped San Francisco apartment, how much time, money and effort they spent trying to make and eat balanced meals – something we can all relate to.

After researching 'every substance the body needs to survive, plus a few extras shown to be beneficial,' Rhinehart purchased them all in near-raw chemical form from a variety of sources and eventually ended up with a thick, milky liquid that could, potentially, feed a hungry world.

Soylent has almost certainly opened a door onto future eating that now cannot be closed.

Each serving, according to the website (the drink is now commercially available), provides 'maximum nutrition with minimum effort.' Yes, chewing and flavour (apparently it tastes sweet and a bit yeasty) might become a distant memory, but with its own growing community of DIY food substitutors, Soylent has almost certainly opened a door onto future eating that now cannot be closed. It may be part of the intensely geeky 'biohacking' movement, which aims to improve bodily function through chemical substances and obsessive self-tracking, but in the midst of a worldwide hunger epidemic, the stuff could be a simple, effective medicine. Even if it does look like watered-down jizz.

For those that still want to feel some resistance against their molars, or, you know, not feel like a gummy geriatric reliant on protein shakes, everyday foods are going to change, too. Namely, meat. Mass vegetarianism is a great option for the future, but it’s not realistic or a total solution. People will still want meat. Only, with farming becoming increasingly difficult and with people’s feelings on the production of meat already murky, there needs to be a solution. It may well be test tube meat, i.e. meat grown in a lab from animal stem cells. Gag away, but one day we’re probably going to have two choices when we buy our meat: the genuine product, or in vitro.

Last August, the first test tube burger was served in London. It cost £250,000 to produce but testers were underwhelmed

Last August, the first test tube burger was served in London. It cost £250,000 to produce but testers were underwhelmed. “It’s close to meat, but not that juicy,” said its first taster. Others said the flavour was 'underwhelming' and 'neutral'. As a first attempt, though, it’s pretty exciting. It’s worth noting, too, that Google’s Sergey Brin is supporting the in vitro meat technology because of its 'transformative' possibilities. Vegans and vegetarians will almost certainly be blessed with oceans of new-and-improved 'meat-style' products in the future as technology improves (with any luck they’ll knock 'Facon' on the head), but for those who still want to eat the real thing – or thereabouts – test-tube meat is probably in our not-too-distant future.

Unless your meal is being drunk from a glass, every plate needs a bit of green. Spinach, kale, broccoli and peas might be thin on the ground, but there’s hope to be found yet, in algae. Not the thick, stinky stuff on top of stagnant rivers that smells of wet dog farts, but the marine kind – seaweed. Despite it being the fastest growing planet on earth, there are no large-scale commercial seaweed farms in the UK, unlike Asia, of course, where there’s hundreds.

Restaurants probably won’t become extinct, but they sure as hell won’t be serving burgers and chips by the skip-load like they’re doing now

Seaweed is, to most people, pretty gross – it’s slimy, slippery and tickles your legs in the sea. So why should we be bothered about it? Anyone you know who obsesses over hideously expensive spirulina powder will tell you: It’s so, so good for you. Not only that, but it can be grown in the ocean – a massive bonus with fresh water and land in increasingly short supply. It can feed animals as well as humans (like insects, it could be worked into our diets without us really knowing), and the biofuel derived from it could help reduce the need for fossil fuels. It’s win-win.

Restaurants probably won’t become extinct – human beings might evolve and start eating bugs with every meal, but the desire for gustatory pleasure with other people is pretty primal – but they sure as hell won’t be serving burgers and chips by the skip-load like they’re doing now. Or, if they do, it might be petri dish burgers served in cricket flour buns with a side of spider’s legs, or something. Yum.

Follow Eleanor on Twitter @EleanorMorgan

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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