Experts predict what we’ll be eating in 2050

Meals served at the  Kids State Dinner luncheon at the White House in August. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Meals served at the Kids State Dinner luncheon at the White House in August. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The second annual Food Day was held on Wednesday, and the theme centered around predicting what our plates will look like 38 years from now.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick celebrated Food Day by discussing sustainability—the buzzword that’s about maintaining our food supply—with local students and members of his cabinet at the Hayley House Café in Roxbury.

In Washington, a gaggle of nutrition experts gathered at the US Capitol to look into their own crystal balls. “Will we be eating algae burgers produced in a giant sea farm or homemade soups with produce from small organic farms?” asked Michael Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit nutrition activist group Center for Science in the Public Interest who organized Food Day.

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Here’s what experts, who attended the panel discussions or contributed their thoughts to a Food Day publication, had to say about what we should expect in our kitchens in 2050.

1. Healthier processed foods. High-sodium foods won’t be a problem because a variety of salt substitutes will have been developed and added to soups, baked goods, and condiments, predicted Jacobson. “Safe sugar substitutes and sweetness enhancers will end the problem of diets too high in sugar,” he added.

2. We’ll eat less meat and chicken. Plant-proteins in fake meat, seafood, and milk will replace three-quarters of the animal products we now consume today. Limited supplies of energy, water, and land will make it too costly to maintain a steady diet of burgers and franks.

3. We’ll have health planners along with financial planners.“Many of us do a very good job when growing our nest egg, but we don’t invest in our future health,” said Dr. David Katz, founding director of the prevention research center at Yale University who served on the panel. “We need to figure out what and how to eat before we get obese or have that first heart attack.” He predicts that personal health coaches—which could be a nurse or physician’s assistant—will help us plan our daily menus as we learn to value our health as much as our bank accounts.

4. A single computerized device will replace multiple appliances. If we could streamline our lives with smartphones, why can’t we have a single appliance that juices, cools, cooks, and freezes our food? “You’ll be able to walk in, talk to the appliance, and it will do whatever you ask it to do,” Cat Cora, who hosts the Iron Chef program on the Food Network, said in an interview with USA Today that appeared in the Food Day publication. She also predicted that supermarkets have computerized shopping carts that automatically fetch what you need. (Do we really need that with online grocery delivery services?)

5. Most of us will have a home garden. Aeroponic technologies, where plants are grown in an air or midst environment without the use of much soil, will allow us to have refrigerator-sized box gardens that can produce one-fifth of the vegetables and legumes we need, said Eric Meade, vice president of the Institute for Alternative Futures who participated in the panel discussion. We’ll also be more likely to participate in community gardens, he added.

6. We’ll have financial incentives to purchase more nutritious foods. Products will be labeled with a numerical value from 1 to 100 based from least to most nutritious and will be priced inversely proportionally to their nutrient value. Foods higher on the nutrient scale will require fewer food stamp dollars or will be discounted for those not on government subsidies. About 1700 supermarkets have already implemented the grading system called NuVal, said Katz who serves on the company board.

Walmart is already taking a few steps in this direction; last week the store teamed up with Humana and began offering healthy food discounts to those on Humana’s health plan. They get a 5 percent discount if they purchase Walmart’s “Great for You” labeled foods, said Andrea Thomas, Walmart’s senior vice president of sustainability. The label is affixed to fruits and vegetables (frozen, fresh, or canned), fiber-rich whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, nuts, seeds, and lean meats.

Thomas said during the panel discussion that she envisions cost-reductions going further with challenges to create nutritious family meals for under $10—with cost-efficient recipes that people can scan into their iPhones while shopping and planning a weekly menu.