The Future of Food

featured image with future foods
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Overview

For the last 10,000 years, farming was a fairly simple process; find good land close to water, grow animals, fruits and vegetables (and stop birds and bugs from eating all the food). In the last 200 years, the Earth experienced about a 1,000% increase in population. The world now has more money and technology than ever before, and people also eat more than they did in the past.

graph of human population over time

By 2050, the world population is expected to reach 10 billion (10,000,000,000) people. Increased population and increased food demand are among the most serious problems in the entire world. The way humans have farmed over the last several thousand years will not be efficient enough to meet food demand for 10 billion people.

The image below shows us key risks the world is facing, the chances they will happen and how big of a problem it will be. The top four risks are climate action failure (global warming), extreme weather, biodiversity loss (losing plants and animals as forests are cut down), and extreme weather. It may not seem this way, but these are all closely connected with agriculture. For example, 25% of the Earth’s land is no longer productive. By 2030, half the world’s population will not have enough water. The way we farm currently produces huge amounts of pollution, uses up vast amounts of water, and produces large amounts of air pollution. Without serious changes in the agricultural industry, not only will people go hungry from lack of food, but people also risk the safety of all life on Earth.

Graph of the greatest risks to the world
Source: Visual Capitalist

Food Problems

We will need to produce more food in the next 50 years than we have grown in the last 10,000. However, the foods we grow and the way we grow them cause heavy, heavy environmental pollution. For example, one kilogram of beef requires 15,415 liters of water and produces 60 kilograms of greenhouse gases. Animal agriculture creates 18% of all greenhouse gases, a lot of which is methane gas (which actually holds much more heat than other greenhouse gases).

Source: Visual Capitalist

Solutions for the Future

There are many ways that people are working to solve the world’s food problems. Sadly, some of the best ideas cannot be brought to market. For example, bugs use a small percentage of the water and land that animals use. We could eat bugs, but just by a guess, the people who eat the most beef and chicken are probably also the kinds of people who will never eat bugs no matter how cheap they become. This problem needs to be solved with products that people want to eat more than farm raised meats. Here are three ways that the agricultural industry is trying to become more efficient:

Vertical Farming

Vertical farms are grown inside buildings, where the environment can be completely controlled. The result is that vertical farms produce (up to) 150 – 350x more food. It also tastes more delicious, doesn’t require bug-killing chemicals, uses 95% less land, and 90% less water. Vertical farms are built near larger cities, which saves time and lowers pollution from food transportation.

Source: plenty.ag

Lab-Grown Meat

People can now grow meat in a lab without growing the whole animal; it’s called synthetic meat. This means animals do not need to be killed to produce food. More importantly, just like vertical farming, synthetic meat produces much less environmental pollution and uses much less food, land and water than traditional animal agriculture.

3D Ocean Farms

Fish farming is not a new idea. However, 3D ocean farms grow specific kinds of seafood. The fishermen are taking fish in a controlled, measurable way. The fish and shellfish grown keep the environment in balance. When done right, 3D farms don’t just grow food sustainably, it can actually take pollution out of the water.

Companies are researching all kinds of other ways to solve the food problem, but these three methods provide efficient ways to produce high quality, low-cost food that most of the world is ready to accept and eat. The year 2020 is an interesting time; so many new technologies which will help the environment are just now becoming cost-efficient.