How Technology Can Fix Our Broken Food System
When people don’t have adequate food, their ability to lead a healthy, dignified life is compromised. So we need to make sure all have access to one of the most fundamental human rights: food.
Right now, there is enough food to feed the entire world population, yet 1 billion people are hungry and lacking the basic nutrients of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, let alone vital vitamins and minerals, according to the Food and Agricultural Association of the United Nations. With such an incongruity, our food system has indeed been defined as broken. Moreover, researchers and economists conclude that the cost of food worldwide will continue to rise sharply in the coming decades, which could increase the likelihood of food-driven migration or conflicts.
Another concern is that people will feed themselves short-term without the long-term perspective and regulation necessary to sustain the environment. Even industrial farming, which has brought abundant quantity, brings subpar quality to our everyday food choices. Right now we a large gaping hole in the food system that we can ignore anymore. We need to change our food system to the scale of the industrial revolution and fortunately, technology has the scalability, power and potential to start fixing our broken food system.
Food Education in the Fields
The practice of farming has been passed on from generation to generation, even tribe to tribe. Although many of the techniques of agriculture are based on centuries-old principles, changes in biotechnology and seeds, varied weather conditions and fertilizers can leave farmers without the right resources and guidance to make informed decisions.
But the growth of technology has allowed farmers to learn more and be well-versed on how to maximize their land and yield. Companies have even created software specially designed for farmers so that they know in real time the weather and agronomic conditions of their land without even stepping foot on it. Helping farmers make informed management decisions increases the odds of optimal harvests, so that more food is distributed and the farmer can make more money.
Streamlining agricultural education is also important for the future of farming. According to the Worldwatch Institute, for every five farmers over age 65, there is only one farmer under 35; yet there is no shortage of land to be farmed. Enhancing education opportunities can help ensure younger generations have the resources and support to become and continue working as farmers.
Food Waste Tracking
Food waste might be one of the most disheartening problems we face as a civilized society. With many starving even in the United Stated, there is 40 percent food waste. Fortunately, there are unique technologies being created to save food.
For example, now there is GPS technology as foods are being transported so they can be tracked and distributed before they go bad. Another tool against food waste worldwide has come simply from the mobile phone. In countries such as Kenya and Nigeria, it’s been reported that farmers get updates on food markets and bazaars so they know where to sell their produce fresh and fast before it goes rotten.
Another technology may soon be found in your refrigerator. Companies are working on creating a smart refrigerator to alert and plan meals based on food expiration. By saving food, we can help balance food distribution and prevent needless food waste.
No, This Really Tastes Like Chicken
On average, it takes about half a pound of fertilizer, 1,900 gallons of water, and 7 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of grain-fed beef, which is a significant amount of input for output. Some may say that grass-fed meat is a solution to this issue, but it’s certainly not the whole answer either. If all the cows in the United States — which is about 100 million cows — ate only grass, then cattle raising would require about 10 acres per cow, or almost half the country’s land. And that wouldn’t include land for pigs and chickens.
The excessive energy and costs of meat and dairy production is not a new story, but sustainable solutions are surfacing. Becoming vegetarian is one option, and now there are more companies than ever before offering high quality “mock” meat products that taste good. The aim is not to just serve your veggie burger-loving vegetarian friend at a picnic but to offer a mainstream substitute for meat and dairy items by producing protein more efficiently and cheaply, and with less energy, by working with plant proteins.
In particular, rapidly developing nations such as China, India and Brazil, which all have growing appetites for meat consumption, would be ideal markets for a lower-cost meat substitute. One company based in San Francisco is committed to creating the perfect “egg,” which won’t come out of a chicken but will taste and cook like an egg — they’re using genetics and the latest food science technologies to develop this product. A lab in England is creating in vitro meat that is designed to supply the taste, nutrients and bioavailability of actual meat.
In time, food items like eggs may be customizable so, for example, they’re lower in cholesterol for someone who has a cardiac condition. The overall goal is to create food that tastes, looks and costs the same as meat and dairy, and also helps with environmental concerns of meat and dairy production.
Vertical Farming- Sky is the Limit
The notion of moving from horizontal farming, which is farming outward to open land, and using vertical farming, which is controlled greenhouses building what are essentially farm skyscrapers, may be a solution to providing local crops to urban areas.
With climate change and fluctuations, vertical farming can offer a useful foundation to protect crops from weather-related concerns such as floods, pests and droughts. Furthermore, it would help combat climate change in that fewer forests would be depleted for farming. According to New York magazine, nearly all the land that could potentially be farmed is already being farmed. Vertical farms could be built in urban areas and would have the resources to feed people on a massive scale locally, which would reduce carbon emissions from transporting food.
This is especially important as by 2050, it’s estimated that 80 percent of the world’s people will live in urban areas. By operating indoors and using technologies that offer careful monitoring and climate control, we could grow crops all year, free of concerns about bad weather, drought or natural disasters and ensuring consistency in the food supply.
Homemade Technically- 3-D Printing
In the future, food could be homemade, in a literal technical sense, through 3-D printing. Originally, 3-D printing for food started as a NASA project to ensure that food could be provided for those traveling in space at the touch of a button. But experts say that 3-D printing could be used to create nutritionally dense and customized foods.
Food produced this way uses powdered carbohydrates, fats and proteins mixed with water and oil. The upside is that there is no end to what can be made since all food is essentially a specific proportion of water, fat, protein, carbohydrates and protein. The 3-D printing technique could be used a setting such as a hospital where meals could be quickly tailored to a clinical condition.
Our food system should be able to feed all of the hungry people in the world given that the food resources are there. All stakeholders – government, corporations and even you and I — have to be alert to the role we can play in using technology and innovation to lead with scalable solutions.
POST ALSO SEEN: Everyday Health- http://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/jackie-arnett-green-plate-special/how-technology-is-changing-our-broken-food-system/