Future Foods: What Will People Eat in 2050?

Food
A seaweed farmer in Bali, Indonesia
A seaweed farmer in Bali, Indonesia. Anton Raharjo / NurPhoto via Getty Images

What does your grocery cart typically look like? Maybe you load it up with avocados, nutritious quinoa and bananas each week. Perhaps coffee always makes its way onto your grocery list, as does a bottle of wine for the weekend. Unfortunately, with current unsustainable methods of farming and worsening climate change, many of the staples we rely on today will be even more expensive and less accessible by 2050 than they already are.

“Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts,” said Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the Summary Report of the EAT-Lancet Commission. “Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

So what will be on our plates in the next few decades? Experts have some pretty good ideas of what to expect. Still, with a shift to more sustainable farming and resource conservation, as well as a focus on eating locally, seasonally and plant-based as much as possible, we can ensure there is enough food, particularly fruits and vegetables, for the growing population.

Here are some foods to expect to see more of in the coming years.

Algae

Algae and other marine sources of food will become more abundant, especially with the depletion of nutrients in soil from conventional agricultural practices. Algae can be farmed and grown quickly and in abundance, while also providing essential nutrients including protein, iron and antioxidants. Those who enjoy adding some spirulina to their smoothies are already keen on the benefits algae can offer. It will become important, as algae may provide a more efficient protein to land use ratio compared to current popular crops, like soybeans.

Seaweed

A type of algae, seaweed will particularly become more prominent in the grocery store. You may already eat seaweed from time to time, and it has been enjoyed as a food source for centuries. But we’ll be eating it in more ways in the future, from savory to sweet applications.

Beans, Legumes and Nuts

Okay, so maybe you already consume a lot of plant-based proteins, like beans, legumes and nuts. Prepare to see more of that moving forward, since these crops have a lower environmental impact compared to animal-based proteins while also remaining inexpensive. 

In fact, production of beans, lentils and nuts is expected to increase nearly 100% to 200% by 2050, while red meat protein sources are expected to decrease in production by about 75%.

Wild Grains and Cereals

The wheat you’ve grown to know and love (who can resist a slice of cake, freshly baked cookies, or homemade breads made with wheat flour?) is likely to be swapped for more abundant grains, cereals and pseudocereals in the coming decades. The wheat we use regularly has undergone selective breeding for years, leaving little genetic variation and creating a vulnerable crop that struggles to adapt, a major issue amid climate change.

Instead, many people will learn to cook and bake with different grains or pseudocereals, which can be eaten like grains but are technically neither grains nor grasses. Plan to increase the quantities of quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and fonio in your pantry. The other benefit to these foods is that they are suitable for people with gluten intolerance.

Lab-Grown Meat

Lab-grown or cultured meat is already on the rise. This product involves growing proteins from animal cells in a lab in order to produce meat without requiring the space or resources needed for factory farms. While many companies looking to produce lab-grown meats are still in the start-up or testing phases, lab-grown meat is already being sold in Singapore. 

There are more logistics to work out for lab-grown meat, as it is expensive to obtain the animal cells and still brings up concerns regarding animal-cruelty. Some brands, like Eat Just, the company behind the first cultured meat approved for sale in Singapore, are working toward improved methods of creating lab-grown proteins. But experts do expect to see more people swapping conventional meats for these alternatives for a lower impact source of protein.

False Bananas

Globally, humans consume an estimated 100 billion bananas per year, in part due to increasing yields because of climate change. That’s right — bananas have historically thrived in a warming world, but studies show that the crop will soon hit a peak and begin to see a drop in yields, making this popular fruit less available and more expensive.

A related crop, the false banana, is already a staple in Ethiopia and is expected to become highly sought after globally. Just 15 false banana plants could feed one person for a year and are calorie-dense, earning the plant the nickname the “tree against hunger.” This plant can also be harvested year-round.

Insects

Insects are already consumed by people around the world, but they will become a more important source of protein, especially because farming insects requires far less resources and space than animals and even many plants. They will even be incorporated into pet food. 

According to the World Economic Forum, we are also running out of protein for the growing population, which is predicted to reach 10 billion by 2050. Many insects offer comparable amounts of protein to animal-based proteins.

Heat-Resistant Coffee

Your favorite morning beverage is at risk, but a specific type of coffee bean could come to the rescue. Increasing temperatures could make up to 50% of the land areas currently used to grow coffee unusable for the crop, which will not be able to withstand the heightened temperatures.

Coffea stenophylla could help. This species is more suitable to higher temperatures, tolerating up to 6.8⁰C more heat than Arabica coffee plants, which is used for the vast majority of coffee that humans consume. This coffee, which was once widely traded, yields less than the two common varietals we rely on today. But it may be used more in the future, especially because it has a flavor similar to Arabica coffee.

“It’s not going to be in coffee shops in the next couple of years,” Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, told BBC, “but I think within five to seven years we’ll see it entering the market as a niche coffee, as a high value coffee, and then after that I think it will be more common.”

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