Whenever I shop at the grocery store, I’m amazed by all the food choices available to us nowadays.
My local store offers three different varieties of pears (not counting the organic produce); crunchy snacks made out of chickpeas and root veggies; and a rainbow of yogurts in every flavor and texture imaginable.
Yes, it’s a golden age for those of us who love to customize what we eat to our personal preferences. With all this food creativity, I can’t imagine what we will find in grocery stores, and on our plates, in the next decade or so.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what our food – and agriculture – will look like in the future after reading a book I discovered at the library, titled “The Fate of Food: What We Will Eat in a Hotter, Crowded, Smarter World.”
Author Amanda Little embarked on a global quest and ate what many scientists and entrepreneurs believe will be the foods of the future: 3-D printed pancakes, NASA-designed protein bars, hydroponic lettuce, lab-grown proteins and vitamin-fortified meal replacement drinks.
At the end of her journey, Little concluded that we need to embrace both old and new technologies in agriculture and food production to overcome the challenges of feeding the world’s growing population.
Whatever your views on global warming, there’s no dispute that we need to discover new ways to grow food successfully despite weather threats. Scientists warn that climate change could lead to widespread drought or flooding in the world’s most productive farmland.
This week, hundreds of scientists, farmers and political leaders are gathering in Des Moines for the annual World Food Prize ceremony to discuss solutions to feeding the global population of 7 billion people and growing.
As the book emphasizes, we will need all our available knowledge and resources - including precision agriculture technology, aquaculture, GMOs, organic and conventional farming practices, robotics and drones - to fill our plates in the future.
Today, farmers account for only 2% of the U.S. population. On average, each U.S. farmer feeds 155 people, compared to just 19 people in the 1940s.
And farmers take their responsibility seriously. They have made tremendous strides in adopting new technologies, like GMOs and precision agriculture, to reduce chemical use, conserve soil and reduce potential greenhouse gas emissions.
Livestock farmers have also adopted best management practices, including raising farm animals indoors, to reduce antibiotic usage and ensure that animals receive the individual care they need to stay health, protect their well-being and provide consumers with safe, nutritious food.
However, we as consumers need to do our part. We need to support efforts that help farmers improve productivity, protect our natural resources and pass on their farms to the next generation.
We also need to support investments in research and technology to find solutions to conserve water, reduce the need for pesticides and lower the cost of food production.
And, as the book points out, we need to take a closer look at our own food choices, especially at reducing food waste. Nearly 40% of U.S. food production is wasted and ends up in landfills. Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. And the majority of food waste occurs in our homes.
If you want to do your part to combat climate change, ignore the food labels that marketing use to get you to buy their product.
Instead, you can help reduce food waste by making a meal plan, buying what you need, using up what food you already have on hand, eating leftovers and giving away any food you don’t plan on using to a local food pantry.
For more ideas on how to reduce food waste at home, visit Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s “Spend Smart. Eat Smart” website at www.spendsmarteatsmart.org.
And to learn more about modern agriculture, food production and overcoming the challenge of feeding the world, I recommend you follow the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation on Facebook. I’m always learning something new about agriculture from the foundation’s Facebook posts.
By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.