It is 2050 and the 9 billion people living on Earth eat their fill thanks to Soylent. This liquid, invented in 2013 by American biochemists, provides man with all of the nutrients he needs. Eating is therefore no longer a daily pleasure. Is this just science fiction? Unless...
"I am mad, really mad, looking at the injustice of food systems. I think that it is shameful, it shocks me as a human," the founder of the London Centre for Food Policy, Tim Lang, said recently at the EAT Forum in Stockholm. He will be one of the speakers at the Relais et Châteaux International Conference in Tokyo on 30 November, where the issues facing food in the future will be discussed.
Of course, to start from the beginning, one of the first challenges that remains is how the 800 million humans who still do not have access to enough food will be able to return to a nourishing land. For them, health is not a problem since they are not sick but dying. And Tim Lang loves nothing more than to mirror them with the 3.3 billion overweight people that the World Health Organization (WHO) says the planet will host by 2030. The latter presents not only an undeniable public health problem for our western societies, but also considerable expenses, comparable to those of alcohol and tobacco. Add on several cardiovascular diseases and numerous cancers for which we now know with certainty food plays a major role and - voila! On the side of those who eat far more than they need, our plates are filled with sickness.
So the solution is simple. Everyone goes on the Soylent diet and that is all there is to it: no more famines, no more agriculture, no more obesity, and no more public health problems. But by the way, no more people either! This is because food policies cannot be summarized by numbers, no more than human nourishment can be reduced to a scientific calculation of nutrients and an equation of vitamins. Man has a brain and five senses, and no researcher has yet to conduct a study on the psychological costs induced by Soylent. Food is a cultural fact, not simply a product like any other, and even poets will tell you so, such as Japanese's Ryoko Sekiguchi who will also be attending the conference in Tokyo.
The other major issue facing food in the future can be deduced from another characteristic of humanity: its relationship to nature and animals, and thus to the environment. Feeding eight to nine billion humans will require food production to almost double within 30 years. And if we are not careful, the collateral damage could be significant. More pesticides, more poorly mastered genetically modified organisms and the overproduction of meat, and there you have it health problems return to the table. Because, you must not be fooled, new technologies are coming for better and for worse. As an example of the better, at the conference in Tokyo we will see those invented by Yuichi Mori and his company Mebiol. This researcher works on the principles of soilless crops and has created a membrane that permits the cultivation of vegetables with 80% less water and without pesticides or fertilizers. Other possible adaptations are urban farms or even the vertical farms that are popping up around the world.
And where are chefs in all of this? They will not miss out either on the call to go to Tokyo to demonstrate their responsibility as researchers and opinion leaders. By reducing food waste and finding the best culinary techniques to be done with pleasure rather than constraint; by preserving the oceans through intelligently managing their seafood supplies; by educating their guests about new flavours with products that are less obvious for cooking such as seaweed or perhaps one day insects; who better than chefs can explore and demonstrate these new virtuous ways of preserving the planet through an improved use of foods?
How can chefs, friends of the land and seas, whose profession it is to place food, all foods, at the centre of their concerns, and in return ours, not hate Soylent and continue to enrapture the food of tomorrow?