What to expect for your Christmas dinner in 2050

Christmas in 2050 may look similar to today’s celebrations, but enforced changes in food production technology are likely to mean that turkeys can finally look forward to the festive season.

With the human population expected to increase by three billion by 2050, up to 50 per cent more food will be required. This amounts to needing an area the size of Brazil to help sustain our growth in-demand.

Vertical and micro farming, or eliminating the need for farm animals – they currently feed on about 80 per cent of food grown on cropland – could help. Also, continuous climate change means that droughts will become more frequent, making it increasingly difficult to pasture animals without great expense and difficulty. Dr Kurt Schmidinger from Future Foods says that “one strategy will be raising the yields per hectare by using GMO (genetically modified organism) technologies, but this will still be seen with a critical eye.

“We will have to use the food we grow on our croplands much more efficiently than we do now – this means that we should mainly use this food directly for our nutrition.”

It is also likely that people will gradually turn to a vegetarian lifestyle for health reasons, with many considering animals as sentient beings. ‘Meat’ from soy, lupines, algae, wheat and so forth will be the cheapest, healthiest and more ecologically-friendly option.

Schmidinger believes that a breakdown of industrial farming will occur sometime in the 2030s due to outbreaks of pandemics that will most likely originate in chicken farms – as medicine loses the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

To combat this, lots of new types of ‘meat’ will be created by using in-vitro methods. Known as cloned, cultured, clean or in-vitro meat, it will be formed from specially-selected stem cells, taken from ‘farmed’ and wild animals via a harmless biopsy, and then grown in huge bioreactors to produce vast quantities of ‘meats’. No animals would be killed in this process and it will cost about the same as meat available now.

Chris Davis, founder of Impossible Foods, says that meat may not particularly resemble today’s food because there’s no intrinsic reason.

“The form factors we have for food right now are derived from that it starts off as an animal, so if you’re not constrained by that, there’s no reason you couldn’t make it in a particular shape – you’d have no restrictions in your creativity,” he says. 

Schmidinger says: “it will have become fancy in the early 2030s to eat things like mixed crocodile/kangaroo-steaks, of course without killing these animals.

“It will be mainly eaten in the western world. The advantages of cultured meat over the industrially farmed meat that was produced in earlier decades is that it contains more vitamins, less cholesterol, more Omega 3 and less saturated fatty acids. Such health improvements are quite easy to achieve by modifying the composition of the media in which the cells grow.”

In more rural areas, or where people have less income, some families may become part of collective organisations, where they will group up with their neighbours and buy, rear and slaughter their own animal, each taking a piece for Christmas. This may be the same for vegetables and fruit, grown in a small allotment or patch of land. Futurologist Dr Morgaine Gaye thinks that we will most likely be growing more at home via hydroponics, so we can grow plants ourselves, becoming less dependent on mass producers and maximising space for our own kind of micro-farming. Hybridised seeds will also be available, enabling people to grow fruit and vegetables in many varying conditions.

As well as changing the way we grow our foodstuffs, one of the biggest progressions we would have made – at least in the western world – would be the quantified self, also known as self-tracking with technology.

A whole new post-industrial wave of customisation would have occurred before 2050, which would make us extremely aware of what we consume, the air we breathe and how long we sleep.

There will be an especially large focus on how we will function after a particular meal. This could mean planning ahead, such as getting the precise amount of mineral or compound in our meals for an exact amount of activity, like jogging or reading a novel.

This could be done by using a breathalyser or Fitbit-type tracking device that will measure what we need, if we’ve had too much, or if we’re lacking in something by monitoring blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, number of calories consumed, activity and sleep. This self-quantification won’t rule our lives, but will counsel us on what we specifically require, and most will follow that.

Although Christmas is usually the time to indulge, we will still be advised by our AI trackers to follow nutritional requirements. Perhaps we will choose to have an individual meal in that group dining setting, or have a precise amount of food on the plate.

Our tailored nutrition could be as easy as programming a 3D printer-type oven to correspond with our trackers, making a bitesize slab of chemical compounds, or a delicious hot dish that looks homemade.

Antony Dobrzensky, co-founder of Food Ink says: “You can have food that is perfectly suited to your personal tastes and needs and will converge with wearables and self-quantification.

“Starting in about 2020, we’re going to start to see 3D food printers scale into the domestic market, being a gadget that people can use in their everyday lives on their kitchen counter.

“Much sooner than the 2030s it probably won’t even make sense to consider that there’s a device in the kitchen called a ‘3D food printer’ as it will be integrated with the oven and microwave, and with the AI assistant that you have that is automating all those mundane tasks, such as chopping vegetables, stirring and doing the prep work which steals away so much of your time.”

Dobrzensky believes that the popularity of 3D printing food will rapidly spread and “we may well see the Red Cross bringing a 3D food printer in a village in the developing countries where it can be precisely calibrated to nutritional deficiencies to people living there.

“There are some very advanced things you can do economically and more effectively in the coming years with this kind of technology.”

As well as the oven, your refrigerator will also be ‘smart’, knowing everything that’s inside it. Your smart refrigerator will correspond with your interactive Fitbit-type device and stock the fridge with certain things, lock the fridge if you need to diet, and remind you that you need to exercise or cut down to access the food inside.

Dobrzensky adds: “We can look at the light-hearted side of it, but it’s just using the example of food to illustrate what is a very profound and ubiquitous trend that will shape all our lives.”

Squeaky clean, cruelty free

Starting something super

In the present day, start-ups like SuperMeat are already working on making meat ‘clean’. Ronen Bar, spokesperson for the company, explains that “a small biopsy sample will be taken from a chicken, without hurting it. The sample will be segregated into separate cells that proliferate in culture.

“Then, we form tiny tissues from the cells and grow them organically into full-size tissue, all done within a unique environment designed to mimic the chicken’s physiology.

SuperMeat ensures they don’t use serum, which contains calf blood, so meat is made without any animal ingredients outside the primary animal cell sample.

“This unique approach will allow us to design small scale meat producing machines, suitable for restaurants, supermarkets, and eventually, individual homes,” Bar says.

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