We’re Going to Skip the Comical Anecdote
All the food humankind has cumulatively produced over the last 4,000 years would not be enough to fulfill the snowballing global demands for food production in the next 30 years of Earth’s future, postulates a sobering speech from TED.com. By the year 2050 (assuming our current cultures, technology, and consumption patterns stay true to form), nearly all experts agree on these estimates: global population will be just shy of 10 billion people; food production will need to increase by 70% of current volumes; 2.5 billion people are currently malnourished; 850 million people this year are food insecure. To meet the world’s explosive demands for feeding people and the production of biofuels, annual global crop production will need to increase by over 100% to a total of two billion tonnes (4,000,000,000,000 pounds) annually by the year 2050. Global data company Gro Intelligence predicts that within the next decade we will reach a global need of 214 trillio n calories. Within the past four decades, approximately 35% of the 1.5 million hectares of globally arable land has been documented to be significantly degraded by a combination of man-made pollutants/toxins and environmental factors such as top soil erosion, desertification, and increased sea levels. Regenerating and increasing the efficiency of this land is paramount. From year 1950, the global average ratio of per capita arable land will have decreased by more than 50% upon reaching year 2050 (meaning there will be half as much land per person available to grow food). The global food industry accounts for 70% of all freshwater usage. The statistics abound in what appears to be an overwhelming and almost inescapable avalanche.
The many expert organizations presenting these eye-opening projections (including the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Resources Institute, Gro Intelligence, TED.com, National Geographic, etc.), offer a myriad of solutions. Among the widely varying political, ecological, and socioeconomic opinions a few common threads emerge, one being the significant need for a global and sustainable shift in our food culture. How does one elicit such change and digest such daunting statistics?
- We start by refocusing the narrative to “hopeful figures”; for each challenging projection, we find hundreds of new innovative, resilient, enthusiastic ventures and ideas toward course correction. From the megastructure, multinational arena to the grassroots community platform, we find an abundance of determination and hope.
- We work to create long-term sustainability by rooting a strong foundation of these values in the little acorns that will grow into tomorrow’s great oaks—we feed our children with the same open-minded determination, innovation, and hope.
Tomatoes as an Adventure vs. Tomatoes as a Chore
So much in life simply boils down to our choices, which are both affected greatly by perception and conversely affect our perceptions. We are all born with the exact number of taste buds we will ever have. As we age, they degrade; kids may have as many as three times the number of taste buds as adults. Adult “super tasters,” people with a higher- than-average amount of taste buds, are able to have highly developed flavor palates. If we as children start off with effectively “300% better taste,” this would be the perfect time to learn to appreciate and enjoy a wide variety of foods and flavors.
There are four major components to how we develop our “sense of taste” (perception of flavors):
- Physiology/physics: the physical molecular shape of the food and how these molecules fit the papillae on our tastebuds
- Neurochemistry: how are our brain chemically interprets and responds to these foods/flavors
- Emotional/psychological: deeply memorable experiences—positive or negative that imprint on us
- Cultural: how the beliefs/values/social norms of our community relate to food
Being a father of two boys, I find it preferable to frame as much as possible as an “adventure.” My youngest, three-year-old Aiden, loves tomatoes. Well, he loves tomatoes when he’s in the middle of a farm picking and eating them ripe from a two-meter-tall terrace loaded with hundreds of tomatoes, or he loves them when we make a homemade pizza party and it’s fun to choose the same toppings as dad. However, if he opens his lunch box at school and finds tomatoes, with an adult instructing him to eat his tomatoes (as a chore) before he can have his cookies, he’s likely to say “yucky” and push them aside.
The children of today will grow up into a world that will be faced with greater challenges regarding resources and sustainability than any prior generation has ever seen. They will have a huge responsibility in making sustainable and healthy choices for themselves and the planet in the next 20–30 years—choices that can have monumental impacts on the future of humankind and our green earth. We can lay a foundation with them now to value and choose health/sustainability in the simplest of things: their summertime snacks!
The Vegetarian Lion: What Is the Foundation We Are Setting for Our Children?
Little Tyke, a celebrity of the 1950s with a well-documented (and controversial) story, was a fully grown healthy vegetarian lioness that lived for nearly 10 years with her keepers on a farm/animal sanctuary in Washington. A rescue animal herself, she was raised from a cub on nutritionally dense vegetarian foods and grew to over 10 feet and over 350 pounds from whiskers to tail. Although a peculiar and debatable story, it undeniably causes one to think about nature vs. nurture. As our infants/toddlers transition to solid foods, we can create those positive and happy cultural views and indelible memories/emotions around delicious, fun, nutritious/sustainable foods, causing the components of physiology/physics and neurochemistry to fall into place. Through “adventurously” feeding our children organically grown superfoods (which can and should be as delicious as they are nutritious), they can learn to value this type of eating and the ecosystems needed to sustainably grow these superfoods. In doing so, we nurture our “little lion cubs” toward a sustainable shift in food culture.
The Problem and the Solution Aren’t So Far Apart
We’ve discussed food security/insecurity, shortage of mass/tonnes of food, and the trillions of calories of which we will be in deficit—but if we take the conversation one very crucial step further, we might find a solution much more attainable than we’ve realized. Nutrients. Yes, we saw that 850 million people are currently food insecure, basically meaning they do not have reliable access to mass food: i.e., basic calories or macronutrients (starches, fats, sugars, proteins, etc.). Yes, this is problematic, but we’ve got a significantly more dire battle to fight when we see that currently 2.5 billion people are malnourished; meaning they are lacking essential nutrients, specifically phytonutrients (micronutrients—vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and so on, that come from plants). We also face the ever-growing problem of urban (food) deserts and yet another burgeoning generation made up of many individuals who have no connection to where/how fresh foods are grown and little knowledge of basic nutrition or how to cook simple, healthy meals.
With a world soon facing upside-down numbers regarding population and the arable land/resources needed to grow enough crops, proposed solutions will come in many formats. Some say we need to invest more in the overall global industry of producing food, others look to futuristic technology as the salvation; some push to strictly curb population with policy (such as China), while others speak of farming crickets, meal worms, and algae. As I look at my background in cultural ecology, knowledge of organic agriculture, international experience as an executive chef, and the most exciting adventure—being a dad of two boys—the basis of a realistic solution that we can attain begins to appear.
Even those of us who aren’t “health nuts” and “foodies” know some basics about the need of nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, beta-carotene, iron, DHA, and more in the healthy development of children. We also know that as adults, we should prioritize certain nutrients and activities to counteract the effects of stress and aging. Antioxidants, healthy fats like Omega-3, adaptogens, keeping a youthful attitude, and making time for “play” are all vital to our well-being.
If only there were a category of foods that can be grown sustainably that are naturally super rich in a wide range of the phytonutrients we need and can supply us with some of our macronutrients without an excess of “empty calories…” Wait! Yes, there is! It’s SUPERFOODS! And many more companies/farms, including aquaculture, hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics, urban vertical indoor farming, and ethical small farm co-ops are popping up to grow and make more of these superfoods accessible. Because of their high ratio of nutrient density to mass and calories, a significantly higher amount of nutrition can be produced in a much smaller space with far less energy and water consumption than other industrialized crops. The massive number of global crop production for year 2050 (much of which go toward livestock feed) and the amount of land needed to grow said foods can be significantly reduced. By growing and consuming more superfoods, we can make that global shift in food culture than can help us avert crisis. When we begin to value eating a delicious organic heirloom vegetable just as much as wagyu beef, the whole system begins to change. As we voice our choices thru our purchasing power, supply and demand will shift along with costs, eventually allowing these superfoods to become more affordable and available to even more people.
Play with Your Food
You read that right—we shouldn’t lose our sense of food adventure as adults; this answer isn’t just for kids. If we as the adults don’t set the example, this shift in food culture won’t work. We need to prioritize regularly eating healthy, sustainable superfoods. If we keep a youthful spirit and shed the bitter, bad food experiences of the past, we will find an adventurous, diverse, delicious, and endlessly creative world of superfoods to cook with. You see, it’s not enough that we know about these superfoods; we have to teach our children about them, why they are so important, how to cook with them, to have fun with them, why ethical trade/sustainability/resource efficiency are important, and to create a lasting home for these superfoods in our culture, our homes, and our hearts.
All clichéd bits of wisdom aside, making these changes and instilling our youth with these positive habits and helping them to choose sustainable superfood summer snacks could help them grow into super kids who could change the world.
“For we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; rather, we borrow it from
~ Native American Proverb
Click HERE for a great recipe from Chef David Robbins for SuperFood Frozen Pops
Chef David Robbins, an award-winning veteran of the international culinary world, has worked with Michelin- and JBF-rated chefs, including Blue Hill’s chef Dan Barber. Robbins is devoted to biodynamic agriculture, slow foods, clean living, veggie-forward cuisine, and family businesses, and volunteers with local charities such as ECHO Farms and SWFL Children’s Hospital. “Growing up on a small family farm in Hawaii has given me a unique appreciation/perspective for the places and people that produce our food.”
Robbins is also the founder of the SWFL startup “Not A Burger,” superfood plant-based protein patties (100% vegan/gf/non-GMO). Made with local organic whole-food ingredients (including beets, quinoa, heirloom lentils, etc.), he hopes to offer a nutritious, delicious, and sustainable option to a growing industry of sometimes questionable plant-based foods. Additionally, Chef David is available for private cooking classes, wine dinners, and personalized catering.
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