What does 2020 have in store for food?
Reflecting on the past decade in food, it seems like so much has changed when it comes to our attitudes, concerns and practices. What was once novel — high-tech meat alternatives especially — has become banal, whereas many of the foods we take for granted as reliable staples — such as chickpeas, coffee and seafood — face increasingly uncertain futures.
When it comes to contemplating what 2020 could bring, though, signs point to a continuation of the familiar rather than any marked differences. Trends that have been picking up steam of late will likely continue their inevitable march to the mainstream: Interest in plant-based diets, and a plethora of meatless and dairyless products; and strategies for mitigating the repercussions of climate change on food systems being chief among them.
Demonstrating a comical contradiction, Google Canada’s Year in Search identified “plant-based” as the top trending diet for 2019 and “beef stroganoff” as the top trending recipe. Seemingly incompatible, the findings support a known shift in eating patterns. As much as we’re embracing plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, we’re simultaneously saving room for creamy, beefy comfort foods.
While the number of vegetarians and vegans has stayed pretty much the same in recent years, the rise of so-called flexitarians (although few would self-identify as such; so far, the word has been mostly relegated to industry jargon) is driving the availability and diversity of plant-based options. This is only expected to expand in the coming year, with food delivery services Grubhub and Uber Eats projecting an increased appetite for the likes of oat milk, celery juice, the Impossible Burger, avocado toast, kale, street corn, starfruit and brussels sprouts.
Whole Foods Market, meanwhile, is predicting a fresh crop of plant-based products for 2020, including meat-plant blends (e.g. beef burgers made with 30 per cent plant-based ingredients), and foods that forgo the use of soybeans, such as dairy-free yogurts made with a mixture of grains and mung beans instead, and no-soy sauces.
On a more solemn note, the effects of climate change on both beloved dietary pillars and the global food supply at large are becoming impossible to ignore. In the summer, a United Nations report warned that the “unprecedented” exploitation of the world’s land and water could result in a widespread food crisis. And according to research from the Public Health Agency of Canada, a warming planet may make our food less safe as outbreaks of food-borne illnesses become progressively persistent.
In a sweeping sense, if left unchecked, climate change is poised to threaten the food security of roughly 90 per cent of humanity, according to a paper published in the journal Science Advances in November. While Canada is rare in that fish stocks and grain harvests might swell, study co-author William Cheung from the University of British Columbia told The Canadian Press that this shouldn’t make us feel assured: “We are living in the same world. Everything is connected. Any country that thinks they would be able to isolate themselves from any problems or impacts in other countries is unrealistic.”
The myriad ramifications of climate change on food systems are also being investigated on a molecular level. Recent studies include an examination of how changing ocean chemistry is affecting the flavour and texture of shrimp: “You can actually taste acidification,” Sam Dupont, a researcher at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, told The New Food Economy. Ocean acidification — a drop in pH caused mainly by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — resulted in generally less flavourful shellfish, he explained. A panel of tasters could not only tell the difference, but they consistently preferred today’s shrimp over those of the future.
As the subject is examined from various angles, we see an increased awareness playing out in new projects and expanding areas of interest. Regenerative agriculture — “farming and grazing practices that restore degraded soil, improve biodiversity and increase carbon capture to create long-lasting environmental benefits, such as positively impacting climate change” — is among Whole Foods Market’s food trend predictions for 2020.
An exercise in sustainable urban agriculture, a pioneering floating dairy farm — the aptly named Floating Farm (currently anchored in the Port of Rotterdam), which is operated by two humans and three robots — opened this spring. In 2020, expect to see more models exploring viable options for our “sinking and shrinking” world.