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Scientists Predict the Future of Food

Creativity and sustainability are key.


Humans have meditated on the future of food since the Neolithic Era, when agriculture took root, and for the first time in human history we knew with some certainty from where our next meal would come. But beyond this, there are many unknowns. As a special addition to Eater's first ever Future Week, we've asked some of the country's top food scientists and educators in food science to give us their perspective on the future of food.

Chris Gerling, Associate Professor of Enology (Wine) at Cornell University:

I think the future of food has a lot to do with returning to our past. We want local, fresh, hand-crafted, minimally processed foods and beverages like people had in previous generations. But how do we do that safely for eight or 10 billion people, all while using less resources? How do we make fresh produce more available and more affordable? I hope the future of foods involves more choices for more people, using technology and innovation to keep the supply safe and sustainable.

Mai Nguyen, Member of Science and Food at UCLA; Science and Cooking at Harvard:

Food — it's the ultimate vehicle for creativity and discovery. Let's indulge our whimsical inner-child and make a concerted effort to play with our food. Let's elevate it beyond an everyday means of sustenance and cultivate an appreciation for food as an art and as a bridge between the scientific and culinary world. Hopefully in the next few years, food will explode as a medium for scientific education. It's really only starting to be taken seriously, but we should use it to incite curiosity and exploration of the natural world. In the next couple of decades, let's hope scientists and chefs strengthen their collaborations and innovate a range of tastes, textures, and sensations we can all indulge in, while reinforcing the idea that food should be simple and delicious.

Vince Reyes, Member of Science and Food at UCLA:

I think the most interesting upcoming trends relate to advancing sustainable food practices. This includes simple things like chefs exploring protein sources with lower carbon footprints such as insects or food retailers utilizing misshapen produce to reduce food waste. On the other side of the coin, there are also technologically more complex projects such as in vitro meat or 3D-printed food which may potentially reduce the infrastructure needed to produce and distribute food.

Raymond P. Glahn, Research Physiologist/Associate Professor at Cornell University:

I think if I had to sum up my thoughts on the future of food (in the U.S.) in a few sentences it wouldn't really be about the food. Consider the following: The United States has an amazing food system. Farm to table, no one does it better than us in terms of creating and providing food options and choices. However, the US has a tremendous public health problem with approximately 32 percent of children and adolescents, and 69 percent of adults being overweight or obese. Obviously this is caused by a multitude of factors; but overall it is clear that Americans need to learn how to adapt their modern lifestyle to balance caloric intake, food quality, food choices, and, above all, exercise.

Elizabeth A. Bihn, Ph.D., Director, Food Science Department at Cornell University:

In my opinion, fruits and vegetables are the future. Everyone would be better off if they ate a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. Research has shown consuming fruits and vegetable has positive impacts in both short-term and long-term health, including maintaining a proper body weight as well as reduction in heart disease and cancer risks.