The Age of Humans The Age of Humans

Strange Foods of the Future: The Planet Can Stomach Them, But Can You?

These unusual delicacies could become the staple foods of the future

Samples of cultured meat grown in a laboratory are seen at the University of Maastricht on November 9, 2011. Scientists are cooking up new ways of sustainably feeding the world's hunger for resource-intensive foods like meat products. (FRANCOIS LENOIR/Reuters/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Twenty-first century people don't eat exactly like our grandparents did. Thankfully, those carrot- and even tuna-filled JELL-O molds are largely a thing of the past. But it's probably a good idea to prepare your palate for some changes, because the foods of the future may take some getting used to.

By the year 2050, Earth will be home to nine billion people, and their appetites present a growing economic and environmental challenge. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates it will take 60 percent more food to nourish all those people. Producing it will require similar spikes in the use of energy and water.

Boosting the efficiency of farms can be part of the solution. But the future of food will likely require thinking outside the box and opening our minds and mouths to new, more sustainable menu items.

While some of these delicacies are available now, they're far from typical fare, and they come with plenty of caveats. Will we be able to stomach these futuristic foods? No matter how good they are for the planet, their popularity is going to depend on how they taste.

“You'd like people to eat lower on the food chain, but we have to be realistic,” says Princeton University's Tim Searchinger, lead author of the World Resources Institute's Creating a Sustainable Food Future.  “Generally nagging people is not going to be enough.”  

Swallowing A Bug and Enjoying It

Forward-looking foodies have long eyed the world's insect populations as a cheap source of inexhaustible protein that can be farmed on far less water and feed than cows or chickens. The FAO recently produced a report on edible insects, which notes that they're already eaten by some two billion people worldwide, and they represent a promising protein source for fighting hunger in the developing world. Now insects are being spiffed up to appeal to Western markets. A snack pack of organic, smoky BBQ crickets, for example, will likely make your kid the talk of the lunchroom.

Crunchy, whole crickets may not appeal to everyone. But bugs could be more palatable when made into familiar foods—hence the launch of Chirps snack chips. The crunchy chips are made from cricket flour, which is also being marketed as a baking blend for early adapters of an insect-rich diet. Of course, any animals raised for food, even insects, must themselves eat something. That makes bugs less efficient fare than most vegetable matter—unless they're raised on organic side-streams like animal or even human waste, a possibility noted by the FAO. Cricket cookies, anyone?

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