Robotics, artificial intelligence and advanced agriculture are changing the way we produce food!

From commonsense sustainable practices to idiocentric genome-specific personalisations, to robotic kitchens, to cellular agriculture, food systems in the future will make you jump out of your skin.

A scientist examining parts of a plant

Nothing emerges out of thin air. Unless it’s meat. Air Protein™ is revolutionising the way meat is consumed by whisking elements of air with lab cultures to produce protein-rich flour, which is also 100 per cent carbon-negative, in addition to being hormones-GMOs and pesticides-free. Once the flour is processed, it can be turned into any kind of ‘meat’ (or eggs and seafood) complete with the colour, texture and taste of the actual product, within a few hours. That’s the future of food for you. Scalable, sustainable, commonsensical and affordable. 

Experts predict food systems to look very different from what they look like right now. “It is an industry that will be expected to feed 9.7 billion people by 2050 so the future of food has to centre around planet-forward processes, community-supported initiatives and solutions to manage the global food crisis,” says Pawan Bisht, Corporate Chef, One8 Commune, New Delhi. Some of the things that will matter the most are: 

The transformative power of technology 

Agtech will bring about a big change in matters of food production. According to a report by Bain & Company, the market is predicted to grow to $30-35 billion by 2025. “We are using everything from data analytics, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and other systems to streamline processes for a sizeable yield, while lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Another upcoming feature is the use of specialised RNAi-based technologies in place of chemical pesticides to save the soil. These biopesticides or pesticides derived from natural materials are easily broken down by microbes in the soil, thus, avoiding bioaccumulation,” says Ludhiana-based Agtech entrepreneur Gurjeet Singh Dillon.

Cellular agriculture 

Still in its infancy, the next decade is going to be definitive for cell-cultured protein or protein grown in labs. Considering the demand for proteins is predicted to increase 40 percent by 2050, cellular agriculture is at the threshold of big impact. Driven also by issues of animal welfare, health, environmental stability, and sustainability, the demand for animal-less protein is on the rise. In cellular agriculture, there is no need for animal breeding. “Protein can be germinated using fermentation. In another process, stem cells are put into bioreactors and pumped with essential nutrients to achieve animal-free proteins. The properties of the meat, egg or seafood are mimicked by plant alternatives. Even the colouring agents are derived from naturally occurring pigments,” says Bisht. This kind of protein is easier to produce, stock and retain on the shelf, not to mention, it is much cheaper. 

If cultured proteins were to take over 15 percent of the global dairy market by 2035, the price of traditional dairy products and the number of dairy cows would decrease, according to a collaborative research project between PATH, IFPRI, Duke University, and The Nature Conservancy. It will make dairy products more affordable and reduce the prevalence of stunting and wasting. Cultured protein positively impacts the environment by reducing the area currently allocated for grazing. It also reduces methane emissions from cows, a powerful greenhouse gas, which will result in fewer premature deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular disease by 2050, according to the fining. 

Genome-specific personalisations 

Nutrigenetics services are gaining ground. It looks at the role of bioactive food compounds in a person’s gene expression, while offering solutions specific to their biology. Food in the future will be less of a generalisation and more of a customisable product. Precision nutrition is catching up. “Doctors will use genetic tests to figure out DNA loopholes and fill those gaps with tailored-made solutions. The study of the gut microbiome—individual to every human—will play a huge role in constructing diet charts,” says Manipal-based community dietician Prapti Sharma. 

Waste no more

More than one-third of global food production—around 1.3 billion tonnes—is wasted annually. Global waste is set to grow 70 percent by 2050, according to United Nations Environment Programme. One-third of all food is wasted and 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the food industry, reveals The Future of Food: Challenges and Opportunities report by Deloitte. “Because roughly half of the industrialised food waste occurs at the consumption stage, reducing it at the home level will gain traction in the future. Expect home food preservation techniques such as pickling, fermenting, dehydrating, freeze-drying, curing, canning and recycling to gain momentum,” says Delhi-based food upcyclist Aanchal Gupta. Small efforts such as saving seeds to allow them to self-pollinate, eating the skin of certain fruits and vegetables or storing food correctly will become common practice. 

Robotic kitchens 

Robotic technology is on fire right now. Restaurants of the future will have robots not just serving us (which is already the case) but also cooking our food and taking orders. Robotic technology takes up much less space and time and cuts labour costs too. 

Blumenthal-ist flair 

Expect to see the unexpected. Food of the future will take a leaf from British chef Heston Blumenthal’s book of inventive cooking. What does this mean? Edible spray paint could land up on your table and so could algae protein snack bars or beer made with wastewater or even lollipops designed to cure hiccups, if Dr Stuart Farrimond, a food scientist at BBC’s Inside the Factory, is to be believed. 

We hope you’ve got the appetite for it.

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