A new study out of the University of Copenhagen has predicted what the diet of the future may look like – and beef and chicken have largely disappeared from the menu. Can we interest you in any algae or mollusk instead? These foods may sound unappetizing at first, but they’re much more sustainable and provide the same amount of proteins and fatty acids as traditional meat products.
Regardless of how you may personally feel about a good old fashioned cheeseburger or ribeye steak, there’s no denying that vegetarianism and veganism have never been more popular.
Why are so many people turning away meat products? There’s no one answer to that question; some do so over environmental concerns, while others abstain due to ethical beliefs over the treatment of animals or purely health-related reasons. Moreover, scientists say that meat factory farms are breeding grounds for disease, and possibly, the next global pandemic.
So, it certainly feels like the writing is on the wall. Culturally, ethically, and from a perspective of pure self-preservation, humanity is slowly but surely moving away from meat as a major diet component. But, as any regular meat-eater can attest, saying goodbye to the distinct savory taste of meat is easier said than done for many people.
With all this in mind, the team at UC have outlined a potential diet of the future that doesn’t completely eliminate meat products, but largely replaces them with new, more sustainable, and healthy sources of protein.
“Many people simply crave the umami (savoriness) flavor that is, for example, found in meat. Therefore, it may be more realistic to consider a flexitarian diet, where one consumes small quantities of animal products, such as meat, eggs, and milk, alongside vegetables. However, one can also begin thinking about alternatives to the juicy steak — of which there are many,” comments Professor Ole G. Mouritsen of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food Science in a release.
So what will all of our kids and grandkids be eating decades down the line? One of the main ingredients of the researchers’ diet plan is bottom-dwelling fish. These species of fish are usually disregarded as food sources in favor of more popular seafood dishes like salmon or cod, but provide just as much protein and nutritional value. Furthermore, eating more of these types of fish will allow populations of species like salmon to recover from decades of over-exploitation.
“The climate-friendly bycatch fish currently used for pig feed or fish oil live near the bottom of the ocean. They include: sand lance, a fish which digs into the sandy bottom to lay eggs; sprat, a relative of herring which is widespread in Danish waters; and the black-mouthed gobi, another small, but tasty and overlooked fish,” Professor Mouritsen explains.
In a nutshell, bottom-dwelling fish are an abundant source of nutrition, much more readily available in oceans than the species of fish industrial fishermen have been focusing on for decades, and produce far less CO2 than meats like chicken, beef, or pork.
Moving on to greener matters, the study’s authors also say seaweed and algae represent a major untapped food source for the future.
Look, no one has probably ever looked at some algae and felt hungry, but the fact of the matter is that these substances are absolutely chock full of vitamins and nutrients. Despite all that, only 500 variations of seaweed/algae are recognized as food – out of 10,000 edible species!
On a similarly unappetizing note, cephalopods (squids, cuttlefish, nautilus) aren’t fished and consumed nearly as much as they should be considering their nutritional value. Just like algae/seaweed, despite there being roughly 800 different species of cephalopods, only around 30 are regularly used as food.
“Among other things, this has much to do with our culture and traditions. Food consumption habits take time to change. We have been eating and preparing meat for more than a million years. So even though seaweed, squid, and mollusks contain important fatty acids and vitamins, and can taste great, we remain reluctant to count these species among our food sources,” Professor Mouritsen says.
The professor’s last point is an interesting one. Perhaps most of humanity eats meat so often simply because it’s been what our species has done for so long. Eating foods like seaweed or mollusk just isn’t familiar on an instinctual level. Building on that thought, the study’s authors say humans are so partial toward animal meat because of its distinct, savory flavor signals to the mind that we’re taking care of our muscles & bodies.
“Sweetness signals calories and survival to the brain, and umami signals that we are consuming something good for our muscles. However, many kinds of seafood, marine algae, and vegetables have the potential to taste great, and that’s something that we can use technology to help develop,” Mouritsen expands.
Even if you hate the taste of certain kinds of seafood, seaweeds, or other vegetables, in the future there may be ways to tailor these foods to one’s meat-craving tastes.
“Several Asian food producers have something called ‘shio-koji’, which can also be made at home. Koji is a salty solution of dead microscopic fungi with active enzymes. By adding it to sliced broccoli and putting them in the fridge for a few hours, you’ll be able to taste more sweetness and umami in the pieces of vegetable,” he concludes.
Many will raise their eyebrows and shake their heads at these suggestions, no doubt. Everything changes over time, though, and what sounds odd to us may be the new normal for future generations.
The full study can be found here, published in Frontiers in Psychology.