Say “Thanksgiving” and images of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie come to mind. But today’s feast bears little resemblance to the first Thanksgiving meal. Through the ages, changes in food production and shifting consumer preferences have defined what ends up on the Thanksgiving table. So it isn’t a stretch to say that the Thanksgiving meal of the future could look vastly different from how it does today.
In the first Thanksgiving meal, duck and venison likely shared the table with wild turkeys. The pilgrims did not have the flour, butter and sugar to make pumpkin pie. And, cranberry sauce did not take off as the holiday favorite until the early twentieth century, when canning allowed the berry to become available year-round.
Just as our Thanksgiving feasts have changed from the original, future meals are likely to look different as well.
The UBS Chief Investment Office (CIO) believes we are on the cusp of a new agricultural revolution. “Sweeping innovations, including trends in vertical farming, aqua-culture, biotech, blockchain and robotics, are transforming the way we produce food,” says Mark Haefele, Global Chief Investment Officer. “But the principal disruptive force is the consumer.”
Millennials, in particular, are increasingly showing a preference for “mindful eating”—choosing brands and foods that come from sustainable sources, according to CIO.
The focus on sustainability, in part, explains the growing preference for plant-based foods. Breeding of livestock requires more water and land. Plus, animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of all human-induced emissions, according to a UN study.
Thanksgiving meals of the future could contain more meat alternatives, though adoption could take some time. Recent advances in food science have made it possible to mimic the taste of meat. Impossible Foods, for instance, makes imitation meat patties by fermenting genetically engineered yeast to create a plant-based heme. Heme is the molecule present abundantly in animals that is thought to give meat its unique taste.
CIO expects the plant-based protein market to grow an annualized 28% through 2030 to USD 85bn.
For those who think Thanksgiving won’t be the same without “real meat,” the sustainable solution may lie in lab-grown meat. Scientists are experimenting with taking stem cells from animals and placing them in bioreactors to produce “cultured meat,” thus reducing the need to breed, raise and slaughter animals.
3D printed meals
Shifting food preferences aren’t the only challenge for Thanksgiving hosts. Increasing awareness of food allergies and intolerances makes preparing a spread that caters to all a daunting task. In the future, 3D food printing may be the answer.
3D printers are increasingly used in an experimental setting—and could ultimately help meet complex nutritional needs. 3D printers loaded with semolina cartridges can now print intricate pasta shapes, and the more advanced 3D printers can produce sophisticated confectionery creations by crystallizing thin layers of sugar into geometric patterns.
“The real value of 3D food printing lies in customization,” says CIO analyst Wayne Gordon. “In more futuristic applications, 3D printers will be able to support even more specialized diets based on novel foods and ingredients aligned with your nutritional needs or preferences, ranging from iron deficiency and vegetarianism to gluten-free.”
These are just a few examples of the way production and consumption of food could change. For more on the future of food, read the food revolution, 17 July 2019.