According to science fiction the human race should all be existing on meal replacement shakes or artificially created food by now. Some dieters in the Western world already are, let’s be honest. Powdered, sweetened gloop with added vitamins and minerals, flavoured with vanilla, berry, chocolate or coffee seems to be the food of preference for those looking to lose weight fast and keep it off. The only trouble with that approach is the fact that any minute change in lifestyle (job, family situation, bad day at work) can lead to the weight piling back on again.
So, given that there is still some way to go before powdered grub takes the place of a well-done steak, what would be a more realistic idea of the future of food manufacturing?
Some food producers think they are already there. There are additives in many products to improve colour, shape or preservation. Growth hormones are fed to meat animals, genetic cross-breeding increases milk yield in cattle. Their products routinely contain artificial sugars, high fructose corn syrup, colouring in prepared foods. Monsanto has already been called out for using pesticides on their crops, which may or may not affect humans as well as removing the crop pests they were designed to combat.
The downside to that approach seems to be an increase in allergies. The human body is obviously ill-equipped to cope with food produced by means of increased crop spraying, genetic modification and a higher use of preservatives and artificial additives. The fairly recent addition of such things to the food chain means that there is no historical data, but it seems like many more people these days suffer from hay fever, asthma, food intolerance and digestive issues than they did when their food was home grown, locally available and produced without artificial assistance.
So as humanity lives longer, needs feeding for longer and has more complex health needs, the future of food manufacturing may be constructed food, but it could well be food that is free from some of the artificial additives causing current intolerances. A gluten-free diet may become the norm rather than the exception. A high proportion of Orientals already have a natural intolerance to lactose, because for generations, their diet has not included it. It seems as if others can also develop, genetically or otherwise, a similar intolerance, and within a shorter time.
It is undeniable that technology, genetic engineering and both the number of humans and their physical limitations will have a deep impact on food manufacturing in the years to come. It may even be that technology can eventually be used to make a normal diet healthier, by increasing the amount of vitamins and minerals in an average meal. The trial periods though are likely to be times where some things work and others don’t. We’re just going to have to make the best of it and eat whatever we can that doesn’t make us ill in the meantime.