Future gazing:what will we be eating in 2050? – with guest expert Nicole Senior APD

What will we be eating in 2050?  This is the exact question that was posed at the 28th National Conference of the Dietitians Association of Australia in Melbourne on May 28. A hypothetical-style panel discussion of five dietitians/nutritionists was expertly wrangled by ABC TV Science journalist Dr Paul Willis  with plenty of laughs and sighs of dismay by the audience at large.  There’s no doubt that we need to think and act on food and environment issues today if we are to avert the worst case future scenario: the world simply not having enough food to feed the nine billion people predicted to call planet earth home in 2050.  So we caught up with one of the panelists to share her personal views:

About our expert:

Nicole Senior APD

Nicole Senior is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, nutrition consultant, author and food enthusiast with an interest in food and environment issues. She believes healthy food need not cost the earth.  She is the recent winner of the Dietitians Association of Australia Outstanding Contribution Award.

Challenging times

The challenge to produce enough food will be greater over the next 50 years than in all human history. And we need new ways of doing it because the old ways have done terrible damage to the environment. Deforestation, soil erosion, salinity, artificial fertilisers and rivers drained for irrigation have led to a decline in arable land. The severe losses of biodiversity will have effects as yet unknown. The global food system will come under renewed pressure from the combined effects of seven fundamental factors: population growth, the nutrition transition (countries eating a more Western diet as they develop), energy, land, water, labour and climate change. In an age of ‘Peak’ everything including oil, soil, phosphorous and water we are going to have to produce significantly more food with less inputs.

So we may….

One of the things that may happen includes a transition toward a diet lower in animal protein. Green activists have already joined the vegetarian movement, and have harsh words for belching ruminants. As much as beef and dairy have a large ecological footprint, they are also nutrient-rich. The shortfalls in iron, zinc and calcium might be met by fortified foods, genetically modified foods or novel foods. There is already research underway to produce beef in a test tube- a burger without the cow. Perhaps we’ll be eating more goat and kangaroo?

Some say technological fixes for food production will further entrench social inequities. It is true we already produce enough food for everyone but it is not distributed equally, evidenced by the dual scourges of starvation and obesity – sometimes in the same country. This has led to call for a simultaneous reorientation of human ecology and natural ecology. No small challenge.

Big issues surround what we’ll be eating in 2050 including the political climate, wars and conflict, International trade relations, urban densities and planning and research in agricultural and food science, just to name a few.

What can I do?

In the mean time there are small but positive steps you can take to ensure you’re eating a fair share, and not leaving the the world in a worse state than you found it.  In my opinion it’s best to:

  • Avoid food waste by only buying what you need and managing leftovers wisely
  • Look for local, seasonal and organic produce and eat less highly processed ‘junk’ food
  • Base your diet on plant foods and use animal foods as a nutritious garnish
  • Recycle food packaging and compost green waste (or get a worm farm)
  • Teach your children where food comes from and how to cook healthy meals
  • Grow whatever vegetables, fruit and herbs you can (in a window-box if necessary)
  • Switch to green power and choose energy efficient appliances

Further reading:

Godfray, H. C. J., J. R. Beddington, et al. (2010). Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People. Science 327(5967): 812-818. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/327/5967/812

The Environmental Food Crisis: The environment’s role in averting future food crises. UN http://www.grida.no/publications/rr/food-crisis/

Australian Conservation Foundation. Greenhome: green your home and lifestyle. www.acfonline.org.au/default.asp?section_id=86

The CSIRO Home Energy Saving Handbook – How to save energy, save money and reduce your carbon footprint. http://www.csiro.au/resources/Energy-Saving-Handbook.html


Editor’s note:

Thanks and huge congrats Nicole.  It certainly was a lively event and a few laughs helped with such a serious topic.  I think it’s important to look at the science on food sustainability carefully.  We have to be careful not to be too romantic or idealistic when faced with feeding our whole planet and base our recommendations as dietitians on evidence based science.  It’s likely that our views will change over time as more evidence come to light.  I look forward to continuing to share plenty of different news and views in this, our Eco Eats section.   And I’ll certainly let you know when the hypothetical will be broadcast later on this year on the ABC2 Big Ideas program.   But now over to you…I’ve just chopped up all the leftover veg in the fridge and am simmering soup.  How about you?  Love to hear what you are doing right now to help our environment, especially eco eats tips.

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