Alternative Foods: What’s For Dinner in 2050?

Evolution drives all living things to maximize survival, because only those who are the most fit and the most adaptable to change will survive. It should not come as a surprise then, that people are infatuated with nutrition and food in general. Seen as everything from a drug, to an elixir of life, to a source of disease, food very much can serve as both a necessity for and a terminator of life. This need and love for food, coupled with growing ecological concerns from the booming human populace, has driven many to look for novel alternatives to the common Western diet of poultry, pork, and beef, which have degraded lands through grazing and put a great strain on water supplies.

From this environmental concern, whole companies and industries have arisen to meet this new demand for more resource conscientious food. Soylent, insects, and juices have come to the forefront of this race to combine nutrition, efficiency, and eco-friendliness. The first of these, Soylent, which is likely the most bold and futuristic alternative, came into being in 2013 when founder Rob Rhinehart foresaw many of the issues previously stated and decided to create a product as a solution. This beige-colored, meal-replacement liquid with a pancake batter consistency hopes fulfill all nutrition needed by humans while eliminating the waste of animal food products and the distraction of long meal consumption times. As a second alternative, insects have been widely consumed in much of the world outside of the Western sphere, particularly in East Asian countries. With their high levels of protein, fiber, and omega-3 relative to the amounts of fat and their water usage, those critters may just be the next food paradigm. Even if eating a whole dead bug doesn’t float your boat, companies are beginning to offer cricket powder, which is made entirely of crickets but acts as a flour to be used in baking. Third, juices with their ever-increasing popularity and Instagram relevance have been the focus of cleanses, detoxification, and the incorporation of more herbs and spices into an existing diet. Juices and smoothies have great popularity because of their arguable health benefits while also being tasty. These various categories of alternative foods may all seem pretty different, but they are linked by the fact that I have tried all of them for some period of time.

By some force of nature, I felt compelled to try a number of these alternative foods. It began when I first heard of Soylent. About three years ago, I went ahead and bought a month’s worth of Soylent with the intention of eating nothing else. What I discovered was the social power, more than anything, of meals. Spending only a couple minutes on meals removes you from the very social activity of eating and talking with friends. Beyond that, the original formulation tasted pretty awful in my opinion, and it became difficult to take in all 2 liters that would give me 2000 calories daily. Plus, it can give you a ‘distinct’ smell, as your diet is composed of only pancake batter type liquid. Ultimately, I concluded that the combination of social need, poor taste, and physiological changes would render Soylent as not a real contender for the future of food. I then looked to insects, the ones that have been hailed as this superfood, so I bought a lot of salted crickets. After trying some plain and gagging, I moved to sauces and sauteeing the crunchy critters, but that did not prove super effective. At least for my Western palate, insects will need to be incorporated more subtly - though they do seem to have a real shot at becoming more commonplace in our diets. Finally, I attempted a juice cleanse for what was supposed to be five days, but I only got to day three; let me tell you - cayenne pepper lemonade is about as awful as you would imagine. From green vegetable kale drinks to peanut butter pink smoothies, the variety is huge within the world of juice cleanses, but many experts have since come out saying they do not actually have the health benefits that are marketed. From my experience, if these drinks are not really healthy or detoxifying, then they are not worth it.

Ultimately, it can be difficult to tell which, if any, of these alternative foods will come to dominate the landscape as the food of the future. If I were a betting man, I would say that of these three, insects have the best prospect. However, more than anything, the hype for novel comestibles is real, and if people are willing to buy, someone will be willing to sell. Don’t expect your local juice press to close any time soon, but maybe go out and try a cricket cookie; you might just like it.

Sources: Soylent, Prevention, The Atlantic, Edible Insects