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Food of the future: What will we be eating?

A female scientist wearing a lap coat prodding raw meat

Sustainability, the future of food and how it will affect us

A female scientist wearing a lap coat prodding raw meat

Futurists, environmentalists and scientists have all come to the same conclusion about the future of food – what’s on our plates now will look very different in 10, 50 and 100 years’ time.

Our burgeoning global population means millions of extra mouths to feed over the next century, rendering some of our current diet staples unsuitable, if not completely unavailable for mass consumption. On the flipside, some will become more popular than ever.

But, don’t start mourning the loss of your favourite pizza or salted caramel gelato yet. We spoke to the experts to get some predictions on what will be on - and off - the menu over the next few decades.

What is food sustainability?

Growing (or raising), producing, packaging and transporting food produces greenhouse gas emissions and damages our planet, according to the University of Queensland (UQ). In fact, for most folk, their choice of food is the biggest contributor to their personal carbon footprint at 28.2%, ahead of electricity (12.8%) and transport (9%).

Here are just a few ways UQ says food impacts the environmental bottom line:

  • Approximately 60% of greenhouse gases produced from food are generated from animal products

  • Pesticides and fertilisers involved in farming emit greenhouse gasses and contaminate water supplies and soil

  • The further imported products travel, the more energy is burned, and transport-related pollutants emitted

  • Food processing uses energy and water, as does packaging the finished product and transporting it to the shops – not to mention the energy that’s used to refrigerate or freeze the food once it gets there

Food sustainability also refers to rendering some foods extinct through overconsumption. Seafood is an excellent example - 11 of the 93 fish stocks assessed in Australia are classified as overfished (not to mention three more are subject to overfishing and another 24 species are questionable) and a whopping 80 per cent of the world’s fish stocks are fully exploited or overexploited

A family prepare food in the kitchen

What foods are off the menu?

Fish isn’t the only animal product on the endangered list, meat intake is predicted to plummet. “The planet’s burgeoning population literally will not support a meat-inclusive diet for everyone in the decades to come,” says Kali Gray, dietitian, nutritionist and CEO at My Food Culture. We’re already seeing a culture shift take place, with an increasing number of faux-meat products - including non-animal protein minces, being stocked in the meat section at major supermarkets.

Over the next 10 years, we’ll also see a decline in low quality, cheap and highly packaged foods as the dual concerns about personal and planetary health continue to grow, says Sharon Natoli, founding director of Food and Nutrition Australia.

Many of the ‘superfoods’ we take for granted may not be available as freely as they are today, Kali predicts. “Foods like acai and goji are grown in some of the most lush, fertile lands in the world. As places like the Amazon are increasingly threatened, I predict that our foreign superfood supply will be as well,” she says.

Some of the foods and drinks most vulnerable to climate change include avocados, coffee, peaches, bananas and rice. Plus, seafood like sardines, anchovies and prawns, according to Sharon.

What might we eat in the future?

Plant-based and vegan diets will become increasingly popular, says Kali. Eating seasonal locally produced foods is also tipped to become the norm and Sharon says we’ll increasingly source foods from vertical and indoor farms along with community gardens.

On a local level, Sharon predicts we’ll be seeing more ‘bush foods’ on our tables.

“Due to their high levels of nutrition, we will likely consume more wholefoods like Kakadu plums, quandongs and wild limes along with various seeds and nuts,” she says, adding that nutrient-rich seaweed is also tipped to become part of our staple diet, requiring no land or fresh water to grow.

“We’re also seeing an increase in the use of more ancient grains, seeds and crops as a way to reinstate a more biodiverse food supply; currently 75% of the world’s food supply comes from just 12 plants and five animal species,” says Sharon. She predicts increasing use of grains teff, millet, sorghum and Fonio.

In terms of meat eating, our animal proteins will come from unusual places - think jellyfish for seafood, and insects for ‘meat’.

“Insect protein requires little water and generates little waste. In fact, cricket farms actually use up leftover food waste as feed for the insects and it provides a high-quality protein and micronutrient source,” says Kali. Also look out for red meat from inventive means; Sharon says in the future we will see the availability of ‘meat’ grown in labs from cell cultures.

Animal proteins will come from unusual places; think jellyfish for seafood and insects for ‘meat'

How to help reduce your food related carbon footprint

Keen to do your part to eat sustainably? The news is good – there are lots of simple ways to do so, and most involve healthy eating practices.

  • Go meat free at least one day a week. While we may need meat for protein throughout the day, there are plenty of plant sources to keep your body fuelled. This goes for seafood too – go for local, fresh, sustainably sourced fish. Check out Sustainable Table’s handy guide to sustainable options

  • Keep a close check on waste – almost half of all fruit and vegetables are wasted and OzHarvest says households are the biggest contributors to this wastage. The easiest way to reduce this waste is to check what you have before shopping each week and freeze whatever you know you won’t eat in time (mark it so you know what it is and when it was frozen). This may mean making casseroles and soups once a week, which is handy for when you don’t feel like cooking!

  • For more tips on eating sustainably, check out this article written by Practising Dietitian Sarah Leung, 4 quick ways to climate hack your diet

Looking for a simple, healthy lunch that you can keep in the freezer until you need it? Try our zucchini bake recipe. It's a quick and nourishing take on the traditional Italian pasta bake.

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