Food – The Brave New World

18th July 2016

How can we innovate our way out of the predicted global food shortage?

Read Roald Dahl as a child and the world of food opens up as a magical and adventurous place. From Dahl’s defining vision of food manufacturing in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to the idea of eating your home in James and the Giant Peach, right through to disgusting but vital for health snozzcumbers in The BFG the idea of a weird and wonderful diet permeates his writing. He even examines survival of the fittest and the reversal of accepted food chains in ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’.  After his death his widow Felicity confirmed Dahl’s obsession with food, specifically ‘treats’ and published his book ‘Revolting Recipes’ for him posthumously.

A feeling of wonder and surprise around food can only be a good thing for us humans, by keeping discussions on our food interesting and vital we encourage innovation and fresh thinking. London based Bompas and Parr are a favourite source of inspiration here at JW European Ltd. Their walk in cloud bar in Borough market challenges the idea of drinking cocktails by replacing the drinking with breathing in. It would also appear that they they too read Dahl as children. Their newest venture due to run through September and October in the vaults in Waterloo is called ‘Dinner at the Twits’. It promises to be ‘truly revolting’ and involves the Twit’s disgusting specialities of bird pie and special brew complete with glass eye at the bottom of your glass.

But how can all these ideas be really relevant to the gloomy predictions for our food supply chains, can they do anything other than tantalise and inspire?

On June 16th 2016 a food start-up competition called ‘FoodBytes!’ by Rabobank took place in San Francisco. The brief for the start-ups was to combine science, nature and art to find various ways to combat the global food issues of hunger, obesity and climate change. The competition had 175 applications and 10 finalists were given 5 minutes to pitch their idea at the event with 10 runners up then given 60 seconds to pitch theirs. The ultimate aim of the event was to connect disruptive startups with investors and industry leaders so that innovation finds the space it needs to respond to the challenges awaiting us in our future. Underscoring all this is the fact that the UN has estimated that farmers will have to produce 70% more food to feed the nine billion people likely to be on the earth by 2050.

Among the twenty companies pitching two definite themes arose. The first was using things that are currently not thought of as food as foodstuffs. The main examples being the use of crickets as food, ‘Six Foods/Chirps’ suggest finely milling them into a flour to make tortilla chips with, and of seaweed being used to create pasta. The other theme emerging was, of course, food waste. ‘Imperfect Produce’ pitched a low value grocery box scheme that operates locally and ‘Foodfully’ is a piece of technology that tracks purchases, emits spoilage alerts and suggest recipes to use up items about to go to waste.

Over at the Hazel Technologies blog you can read about many more companies working hard to create new technology within the food industry to make our food chains more sustainable. It also covers US scientific projects that are researching theories with the same aim. Ways of converting food waste into other products such as energy that can charge smartphones or medical and beauty creams are a big theme among US scientists currently.

These technologies and theories could well be founding the base of our future food supply. Our future could well depend on us being brave enough to support, fund and recognise ideas to make crazy Roald Dahl type food ideas feel like everyday meal options.

We do also need to be brave enough to eat these things..!