Food Futures

an essay on the future of agriculture

by Joe Boudreault

   If you are what you eat, try and imagine what you are going to be in the future. What may seem hard to picture today will be commonplace tomorrow. This has always been true of innovation. P&H Foods, for example, have been processing and marketing poultry for a long time now, and efficiencies in this business run all the way from the products to the distribution. Imagine a customized food industry where you have the choice in all of the specifics from the planting to the table.


   There are some amazing changes coming our way in the next century. Biotechnology already allows for safer, more nutritious, and easier to grow foods. Think what a crop or animal could do for us with just the smallest of alterations. Consider hybrids that will grow faster, with less sunlight or water, making use of poorer soils or differing climates, feeding us all more abundantly. Such science has already prevented starvation in India, Africa and the Philippines in the past. Foods will also help solve energy needs by producing fuels from biomass and effluents. We reap better if we can sow better.


   In a fully integrated global system, nothing will go to waste because what is grown will be fully consumed. This will replace the mentality of ‘we’ll plant and raise it and hope somebody will buy it’. Genetically modified foods (GMOs), precision bioscience and nanotechnology will dominate but will not be exclusive. Seeds, fertilizers, and even the soil will be adjusted meticulously for the end product. DNA and nanotech information particles will be imbedded into everything, including the animals. Molecule-sized robots and biological strands will direct new processes in plant and animal characteristics. Monoculture fields will be replaced by intensively mixed crops that actually benefit each other, and weeds will aid, not hinder, the growing process. If this stuff sounds scary to some, think about the great harm caused over past centuries by pesticides, biocides and insecticides.


   Imagine an entirely new poultry industry. Currently, turkey processing uses many methods to make it palatable, from ingredients added to materials removed. Think of a day when all of the animal will be consumable. Wholesome additives would contain not just multivitamins but anti-bacterial substances and pro-digestion enzymes. Eviscerated items will be processed for humans, not just pets, in an appetizing way. Bones and feathers will be re-processed for additives or side-dishes.


   But not only animal parts will be used this way. Packaging will be more inventive. Why recycle it when you can eat it? From the plastic wrap to the box, food containers can be either edible for pets or for humans. Nothing needs to be thrown away. If we can eat sausage skins, why not some new, tough, edible turkey or chicken wrap instead of plastic? Why not digestive cookie panels instead of cardboard or Styrofoam peanuts filler evolving into cotton candy filler?


   In a mostly cashless society, imagine shopping that is automated to the hilt. You’ll carry a ‘computer’ that is no bigger than a small card, which identifies you in the marketplace. It will bear your every taste and preference and your credit details, edited simply by speaking to it. No more swiping a credit card at the check-out. A quick pass over the product you are choosing and the deal is done. No more searching through products themselves or reading label information: your specific tastes and desires are pre-programmed and the card tells you what is inside what, including the location of the producer. Remember those nano-technology information particles? A potential danger is that this card, as a tiny chip, can be implanted in you. I do not like that possibility because it opens the door into total digital control in our lives. Yet such a devilish sidetrack can happen. Nevertheless, think of the convenience: simply pick up what you want and walk away; the invisible transaction is completed. Or your products are deposited automatically, when needed, into a receptacle at your home, like mail delivery. One other thing, however: such technology hints at a cashless society, which is another choice being removed from us. There is good and bad behind the use of all technologies.


   Delivery systems will certainly change. From the farm to the plant to the home, food will move in a wholly different way. You will be able to order specialty items for presentation at your address, when desired. Labeling will be personalized as well as being edible. Imagine a photograph of yourself on the label, which will be part of the delivery. Having food that no longer requires freezing, canning, or vacuum-packing will be a bonus, offering foods that are even more tasty and presentable than now.


   And these foods will always have that ‘down-on-the-farm’ freshness. Anti-spoilage and super-vitamized biotechnology will take care of that. When it comes to cooking the turkey, imagine that you just insert a cooking thermometer into the bird, with a fiber net around it, and the thermometer does the cooking. A compact, programmed miniature microwave device; no oven needed.


   Not only can we maintain our biodiversity, we can increase it for our benefit. The future is ours, if we make the right choices along the way.