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Future imperfect?

A bit of future gazing can sometimes provide a welcome escape from the humdrum of daily life, especially during a characteristically dark and dismal February. The ‘future of food’ was definitely on the menu this week.

It began on Tuesday evening, with the annual City Food Lecture delivered at London’s Guildhall. Christophe Jouan, Chief Executive of the Future Foundation delivered his view of the ‘Brave New World’ lying in wait for the food industry, with a presentation billed as “What, when and how we will be eating in 2025”.

By then, we’ll all have taken full control of our lives with new technologies tracking every aspect of our lives, including everything we eat and drink. This was hardly a thrilling prospect for the many cynical technophobes in his audience (including the author of this blog) who were quick to dismiss these notions as the fantasy world of the dinner tables in Islington and hipster cafés of Shoreditch. Neither did concepts such as ‘society of sobriety’ hold much appeal for many or ‘the rebalancing of the indulgence scale’, where guilt about what we eat will overtake ‘indulgence’.

Jouan also forecast that ‘flexitarianism’ would take a greater hold in the years ahead. At one end of the spectrum, there are vegetarians and vegans and, at the other, there are those who will never moderate their meat consumption. In the middle, we’ll have a growing number of ‘flexitarians’, increasingly motivated by health and environmental considerations, who will reduce the amount of meat in some of their meals and eliminate it altogether in others.

However, all is not doom and gloom for meat producers, as less meat eaten in developed countries is likely to be offset by more meat consumed by increasing numbers of affluent consumers in the developing world.

Sales of convenience foods will grow, with more ‘healthier’ variants available, but most of us will still enjoy eating food and the foodservice industry will be challenged to deliver us ever more unique dining experiences in the future.

The growth of convenience foods was back on the agenda on Thursday, as the Food Standards Agency held their 'Our Food Future' conference, when it published findings from recent research undertaken to gain a better understanding of people’s concerns and priorities about their food.

Its research suggested that many of us have anxieties that the growth of convenience foods and the emergence of new sales channels, such as online and ‘food on the go’, will lead to a loss of ‘connection’ with our food and understanding of how it is produced. A balance needs to be struck between ‘a return to the old days’ and a ‘connectionless future’.

So, plenty to chew on but, for the moment, I’m afraid it’s back to the day job.

Friday 19th February