Thought For Food Global Summit 2016: Thinking Ahead

I’m thinking about food and so were a bunch of other people at the TFF Global Summit 2016 in Zurich at the start of the month.

Well about the future of food to be precise. As we all head towards a 2050 in which 9 billion hungry people will roam the world with hungry stomachs it’s a future we all must ponder.

“How will we do it? How will we feed those 9 billion people by 2050? What will need to change? What is the food future we need to create?”

Data from bees, insect oil, fruit powder, ecological noodles, smart sensors in farming, peer-to-peer agricultural investments. Wow! But rather than giving a detailed run down of the extensive and amazing schedule of the two day event, I have decided to make this short and outline my 5 key takeaways. Here goes:

The future of food is….

  1. Interdisciplinary: like basically everything else will have to be. But I was struck by the diversity at the event, of interests, vocations, background etc. Food is something that concerns everyone and the best solution(s) will need to incorporate that attribute. From designers and engineers to family farmers and the regular everyday consumer. We all have an interest in the future of the food we eat and we want to play a role in it’s creation. Food is personal, communal, cultural and important to us in more ways than simply nutrition. Food is livelihoods, survival, spirituality and meaning.
  2. Technical: it’s time to move away from the Greenie Stigma. This conference wasn’t a collection of greenies parading around with anti-GMO banners and promoting organic (although I’m sure a few were present, and there’s nothing wrong with that). It was full of open-minded individuals willing to explore an automated farming future or a future of synthetic food products. We talked about the advantages of genetically modifying food and the naturalist fallacy, explored the possibility of eating traditionally non-food species such as insects (in fact two insect startups were the winners). Because the fact of the matter is, if we are going to prepare for the future we need to embrace technological advancement, see it as our saviour, be willing to question and reinvent the term “natural”. The future of food therefore is inextricably tied to the future of technology, the future of making things, the future of scientific discovery.
  3. Creative: Creativity is a useful tool to help us uproot our assumptions, we need to reopen our adolescent imaginations and view the world of possibilities anew because to imagine the future and subsequently to build it demands this of us. And creativity is not just about traditionally creative disciplines, it’s not about painting a pretty picture, striking the right cords on the guitar it’s about imagining, dreaming and challenging and thus is a quality accessible to anyone. You have to be creative to turn fruit into powder, to make an ecological noodle, or to make oil from an insect. Those are the kind of creations we need.
  4. Fun: another lesson for all futures. Let’s not be overwhelmed by what appears to be difficulty — the thought of feeding 9 billion people — but rather see it as a unique opportunity and challenge for all of humanity. Something we can collectively approach with enthusiasm, it’s a space for creation, learning from mistakes and failures building upon the successive ruins that we create. In the end, learning is fun and more fun when you’re doing it with a world of people behind you to fall back on.
  5. Emotional: Let’s not forget the emotion. It was emotional, it was inspiring, and, at times, it yanked on the heartstrings. Tears were shed and emotions ran high. People’s dreams came true, others (like myself and my flatmate) left suitably inspired and committed to really DOING SOMETHING. But the future of food, as I stated in the first point concerns so much and is relevant to so many people, in the end it is a question of HOW we are going to survive, HOW we can improve/change the current state of things to enrich the lives of others and ourselves.

To summarize…

We need to fundamentally change the way we think about food, the way we label non-food and food objects. We need to banish our expectations and challenge our beliefs if we are to invent a food future able to accommodate this rapidly growing population. However despite all the doom and gloom and long list of necessary changes, I am optimistic. TFF proved that there are brilliant minds and passionate people working to prepare and it’s incredible to see.

I hope this provides some food for thought (to invert the conference name :P). I am so glad I was able to get a taste of life in the TFF community. It was truly a rewarding and eye-opening weekend, in a beautiful place with equally beautiful people.

Stay tuned for more:) And follow on me Twitter! @heidiashby