Food Waste

While food is highly controversial, most people would agree that our eating at present is not ideal. The problems are:

  1. We waste lots of the food we buy. In Europe and the USA about a third by weight is wasted by consumers.
  2. We eat too much. That’s one reason obesity levels are rising.
  3. We eat the wrong stuff from a health perspective. Too much sugar, the wrong fats, too much salt.
  4. We eat the wrong stuff from a planet perspective. In particular we eat too many cows. Cows are inefficient at turning vegetable food into meat. They also use far too much water and need too much space. Rain forests are threatened by the need to provide pasture for cows, and the need to grow food for them.

How much waste does all this add up to? How much less land would we use for food if we all ate differently? This study by Vaclav Smil, a world authority in the field. Bill Gates said “There is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil”. In the link Smil looks at the question of ‘How many people can the earth feed?’. He concludes “it would seem realistic to conclude that the Earth could support a population of 10-11 billion people during the next century”. However it assumes a move away from the western high meat diets which it describes as unsustainable on a global scale. So – the answer is that we can support the entire planet in 2050 (around 9 billion people) if we all eat a healthy, low meat diet. There should be space enough remaining for significant wild life reserves.

If we don’t change our diet the western lifestyle will spread east and south as countries become prosperous and population grows. That is because the American lifestyle is very attractive to young people. It is promoted by advertising and movies. The excessive meat eating of Americans is therefore even more harmful.

If the US  gets healthy, and if US businesses have healthy products to promote, the developing countries will perhaps aspire to something more sustainable.

This post assumes that most people want to be healthy, and that the main thing they lack is information and firm advice. Food intake is in fact very complex. We eat many different foods each day. We have snacks, coffee, sugary drinks, alcohol. Some foods are simple, others are processed. It takes some effort to weigh and record total food intake. Recording will be automatic by 2050.

I am pretty confident that accurate, easily accessed information will be highly influential. There is a parallel with cigarette packets, where graphic illustrations of the damage caused by smoking have reduced the habit. Whether information alone will be effective enough needs research.

I think that for most people a healthy diet will equate to a planet friendly diet,  because most dietary experts recommend a diet high in vegetables and with minimum red meat. There are however a few slimming experts who advocate a high protein diet. There is also a trend towards body building and athletics, both with high protein requirements. Those who consider high protein diets may need to be reminded of the planetary consequences.  Watch for a post soon on the controversial issue of measuring each person’s environmental impact.

Won’t domestic robots do the cooking in 2050? Maybe, but I doubt it on several grounds. Firstly, if easy food is needed why not just bring it in? Secondly, domestic robots use energy and in 2050 there will be a need to reduce energy use. Thirdly, robots have been predicted for years and never arrived so far. I can imagine better dishwashers and automatic vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers by 2050, but not general housemaids. But lastly, cooking is fun, and people may look for help and shortcuts, but they actually enjoy cooking.

What form will the head set take? I don’t know. It could be spectacles, it could be a band round the forehead, it might be disguised or visible. That’s an issue of fashion. People have worn plenty of things around their heads in the past, and no doubt will in the future. I forsee that it will need to carry two ‘eyes’ for stereo vision, and sensors to pick up other signals such as enjoyment, confusion, or effort level.

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