Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Plate of the Future

The New York Times Food & Drink issue came out this week.  It is a great and informative read that I would recommend to others interested in food or it's impacts on the environment.  My favorite section of articles are those by Michael Pollan, author of "Food Rules" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma", which I will be adding to my reading list shortly.  One of his blurbs in Food & Drink questions what our food system will be like in 100 years.  He guesses, and I agree:
"...the present one is — in the precise sense of the word — unsustainable. It depends on fossil fuels that we can't depend on and exacts a steeper price in human and environmental health than we can afford."
 I have a few more specific predictions of my own:
  • There will be significantly less meat on our plates. That's not to say we all have to become vegetarians, but, as Pollan notes, 9-plus ounces of meat per American per day is unsustainable.  It seems that we haven't evolved beyond the mindsets of our medieval ancestors - whoever has the most meat is the richest and most likely to survive.  Today, it's quite the opposite. People must become conscious about just how much meat they are consuming and how the farming practices used to support their meat habits negatively impact the environment.  
  • Individuals will grow more of the food they eat.  I see this happening already among some friends. It can also be seen, however, in the surge in popularity of farmer's markets up 1000 this year over 2010.  People are developing a desire to be informed about where their food comes from and how it was grown or treated.
  • The government, if government gets involved at all, will begin to start subsidizing organic food rather than feedlot meat, processed foods, and soda.  European governments have already made the switch.  Perhaps a a fat tax, as Denmark has instituted, will help buyers change their habits.
  • While I think our food system needs to become simpler - "simpler" referring to a simpler time and eliminating feedlots and hauling food across the world - it also seemed destined that technology will play an increased role.  One company is already labeling their meat with QR codes so a simple scan via smartphone app will tell you where it came from.  Refrigerators are online. Software can help sustainable farmers use their land and water most effectively. I hope that technology is not used to manufacture or genetically modify more foods that could and should be grown naturally.
In the same way that we cannot rely on gasoline to power our automobiles forever, we cannot continue to use farming methods which demand finite resources.  Farmers and farming methods will adapt if consumers change their habits and preferences.  It is up to the consumer, whether via government regulation or self control, to eat responsibly, to be educated about the treatment of food both animal and vegetable, and to translate that education into conscientious purchases.

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