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The Future of Dining: Foodborne Illnesses, Sustainable Farming, Fast-Casual Everything

Epidemiologists, chefs, and more talk about what's to come.

Pink Magnolia
Pink Magnolia
Kyla Davison

As Future Week continues, we asked people in the food space to weigh in on what the future of dining looks like. Read their responses below, and send yours in to future@eater.com. We'll round them up for a post at the end of the week.

Johanna Vostok, Epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health: In the future, foodborne illness outbreaks will be solved faster thanks to evolving laboratory methods.  State health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are starting to use whole genome sequencing to identify cases of foodborne illness that are genetically related to each other.  This method, which is more precise than previous techniques, will expedite our ability to detect outbreaks and focus the resources needed to investigate them. While the number of outbreaks may not decrease, we will be able to solve them earlier in their course, reducing the number of people that get sick.

Molly Spence, Director of North America, Almond Board of California: Farmers started innovating about 10,000 years ago, and today they continue to develop new methods and technologies that can make growing food more efficient and sustainable. I think what's on the horizon is gaining better understanding of how to most impactfully reduce agriculture's environmental footprint while at the same time producing more food. From our perspective, we work a lot on water efficiency and have made tremendous gains there, but something less talked about is the very complete lifecycle analysis we recently funded. We worked with researchers from UC-Davis who showed that our industry is on the way to becoming carbon neutral or even carbon negative, and provided some very clear perspective on how we can get there, which involves making sure the reuse of all the trees' co-products is widespread. Comprehensive lifecycle analysis like this is really exciting and important for all industries, not just almonds, and not just agriculture.

Stephanie Meyer, Epidemiologist Senior at the Minnesota Department of Health: When I think about the future of food I suspect that the emerging model of locally grown and sourced food will continue to overtake the late 20th century model of growing one commodity in one place and shipping it all over the world. I think the demand for uniformity in food may decline and that the need for complex traceability of foods will decline with it. I also think new ways of growing food will be important in the future, including methods like aquaponics and hydroponics to grow foods indoors in areas where the natural growing season is short. For our part, we know there is no magic approach that will eliminate all foodborne illness risks — every year we trace foodborne disease outbreaks to different farms and growing areas. We know that food safety programs will need to change to keep pace with changes in the food system and to implement new approaches as the science evolves. All in all, I look forward to a healthier future.

Franklin Becker, chef/owner of The Little Beet: I think the future of food relies on better sourced ingredients, traceability, and affordability. People are more casual in general, but they are also more discerning. You cannot trick people. You must provide quality or you'll go out of business.

David Waltuck, chef/owner of Elan: I don't think there's any simple answer. I think that it is and will continue to be fragmented and contradictory: comfort food and elaborate tasting menus, chefs with restaurant empires and chefs with one small personal place. It will be experimental and traditional, fine dining with all the trimmings, and stripped-down casual. And every few years everyone will 'rediscover' French food.

[Lori Bandi]

Rapscallion. [Photo: Lori Bandi]

Terrance Brennan, chef/owner of Picholine: More and more fine dining chefs and restaurateurs will be opening casual dining and fast casual — like me. The fast casual landscape will vastly improve and become much more interesting, as it transforms into 'fast fine dining.' Food halls will continue to be popular and markets with restaurants and or tasting kiosks. Food shopping and eating have become the 'entertainment.'  Millennials do not not care about all the pomp and circumstance that is associated with traditional fine dining, the 'new' fine dining will be more casual. They do care about the quality of food, sustainability, company mission statements ethics, etc.

The cost of opening a traditional fine dining restaurant is becoming prohibitive for the individual and larger restaurant groups and corporations will become the dominate players. Great chefs and restaurateurs will open restaurants in secondary markets as rents become too high in major markets like NY and SF. Culturally diverse restaurants will be more popular as global spices and seasonings become more mainstream. There will always be a market for luxury fine dining — however that market is shrinking.

Oliver Sitrin, chef-partner, The Blind Butcher: The future of dining looks very casual and interesting. I think we will see restaurants continuing to focus on local food and small gardens with more health-minded people.

Blythe Beck, chef-partner, Pink Magnolia: I think that dining ebbs and flows and that the future is all based on the guests. The diners are smart and knowledgeable. Chefs and restaurants will have to be creative and respectful with ingredients and prices. I think comfort is always a winner. I also think the future is about high quality at a reasonable price.  

Brian Zenner, Executive chef, On Premise and The Mitchell: Long term — hopefully a revolution. Eventually the labor model has to change. Front of the house's days look numbered (see: Ten, Small Brewpub, Pecan Lodge, etc.). I think food stalls and trucks and counter service situations where the food is the only star, as opposed to the masquerade of uniforms, lighting, silver ware, plates, wall paper, and flowers distracting you from a totally ordinary plate of food.

Jon Alexis, owner, TJ's Seafood Market: We will continue to see the best emphases in today's food culture (better ingredients, healthier preparations) gain traction outside of fine dining. 

Bradley Anderson, co-owner, Boulevardier and Rapscallion: What do I think the future of dining looks like? "I never think of the future — it comes soon enough." Albert Einstein. To succinctly respond to this question is near impossible. I can only hope that the restaurant group I am proud to be part of is included in whatever future is headed our way. If we have any say in it, our future will be comprised of the things we enjoy: fire, smoke, wine, cocktails, good eats, love, and laughter.

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