The Standard Western Diet, which is high in processed foods, carbohydrates, red meat, sugar and vegetable oils and low in vegetables and fruit, is not sustainable for public health or for the environment. In the UK, 18-20% of greenhouse gas emissions are created by food production and distribution systems. Shockingly, about 1/3 of the planet’s food goes to waste. The population is growing, meaning more mouths to feed, and the UN predicts a global population of 9 billion by 2050. Rates of health problems and diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, osteoporosis and cancer are on the rise. Conventional farming methods are dependent on oil, and deplete the soil of nutrients, causing desertification. Something has to change!
So what is the future of food? How can we feed an ever-growing population whilst addressing public health issues and without destroying the planet? Here are some new ideas and trends to look out for.
Eat More Plants
Production of fruit and vegetables is less emission intensive than meat and dairy, according to the WWF Livewell 2020 report. They are also much better for your health than refined sugar and processed foods, and contain more nutrients than grains and other carbohydrates. We need to eat a greater proportion of plants in our diet, particularly vegetables, for health and sustainability. To achieve this, you can either serve meat in smaller portions, with greater amounts of vegetables – for example adding more vegetables to a curry or stew to make it go further, or alternatively have more meat-free meals.
Wonky Veg and Ugly Fruit
Food waste is a huge issue, with 1/3 of food produced currently going to waste – enough to feed the extra 2 billion people predicted to live on the planet by 2050! Several UK supermarkets have started selling ‘wonky veg’, food which is ‘too small’ or ‘too big’, or nobbly and bobbly, but still just as tasty, which would normally be thrown away, and can often work out cheaper for the consumer. You can of course, also find these less-than-beautiful vegetables at your local farm shop or farmer’s market, which will also reduce your food miles, will reflect what is in season (and therefore tastiest and most nutritious) and supports local producers. You can find out more about food waste in the UK and join Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s campaign against supermarket waste at the War on Waste website.
Anyone else picked up any wonky veg? I found these enormous mutant carrots in morrisons yesterday (20p in photo to show size!). Perfect for cutting into big chunks and roasting with a big tray of root veg and some chicken. Hoping this will be a growing trend to reduce food waste! #wonkyveg #foodwaste #sustainablefood
Grass Fed Meat
So we should all be trying to eat a bit less meat, but what about the meat that we do eat? Well, there is what Caroline Watson terms a ‘wonder crop‘ out there that no one is talking about. It can reverse the damage done to the soil by conventional farming, reduce flooding as its root system helps excess rain water stay in the soil instead of running off, and takes the carbon and methane out of the atmosphere. Even better this wonder crop can grow well all year round and in any soil conditions, and requires no management, ploughing, pesticides, irrigation or fertilisers. This amazing ‘super food’ is … GRASS … but there’s only one problem – humans can’t eat it. Luckily, there are many ruminant animals such as cows, sheep, buffalo and bison that can – and we can eat their meat and consume their milk. Happily for us, grass-fed meat is even better for our health, as it contains a higher ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 than grain-fed meat. Look out for the Pasture for Life certification mark for 100% grass-fed meat (most meat in the UK is grass-fed but grain finished, which negates the health benefits) – check their website for suppliers. It can currently be found at butchers, farmer’s markets or direct from suppliers and by mail order. Ocado also stock Eversfield Organic (see top of sidebar –> to get £20 off your first order), which is certified by Pasture for Life.
Insects are a great non-meat source of protein, eaten in many cultures around the world and are incredibly nutritious, sustainable, economical and ethical. Can’t face tucking into a plate of mealworms? Could you be tempted by a cricket flour energy bar, chocolate covered insects, or cricket flour chocolate orange brownies? I think this one will take a long time to catch on as psychologically we tend to think insects are disgusting – if a cricket landed in your drink would you still drink it? But it could also be fun to try it out!
Personally, I’m trying to increase my family’s intake of plants, focusing on vegetables rather than grains, but it’s quite a change in mindset to get used to eating vegetables at breakfast time! Luckily I love salads and my kids love raw veggies so we’ve got a good starting point. Grass-fed meat has a bit of a financial hurdle to get over, but I try to prioritise food in our household spending – because if you don’t have your health then what’s the point of having 2 fancy cars or a wardrobe full of beautiful clothes? At the moment I tend to check for offers when I do my online shop and stock up my freezer when I spot one! For me, I can’t quite get over the ick factor of eating insects yet, but I’m watching those who do with interest, and hoping that I can brainwash myself into thinking it’s a good idea!
- FutureLearn: Nutrition and Wellbeing online course by University of Aberdeen accessed 12 February 2016
- World Population Prospects: 2015 Revision by United Nations Population Division accessed 21 March 2016
- Origins and Evolution of the Western Diet: health implications for the 21st century by L. Cordain et al, February 2005 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition accessed 21 March 2016
- The Super-food That Nobody is Talking About…Yet! by Caroline Watson, 28th October 2015, Primal Eye accessed 21st March 2016
- Why we should all start putting insects in our mouths by Harold Stone & Max Benwell, 16 March 2016, The Independent accessed 21 March 2016