By: Demir Vangelov, Soylent CEO
The future of food is both exciting and unknown, but with the UN estimating that there will be 10 billion human beings on earth by 2050, I think we’ll be making very different decisions when it comes to how we eat.
For example, I envision a movement from what I like to call “no-kill” to “no-till.” Right now, more people than ever are eating plant-based diets. In fact, Credit Suisse has predicted that the vegan food industry will grow to 100x its current size by 2050. Most of us in the food-tech industry don’t want to kill animals to feed the people, but I think that’s just the beginning. Tilling the ground for large-scale agriculture generally leads to deterioration of soil quality. The topsoil erodes, runoff occurs, and crop residue is reduced, so when it rains plants sometimes get dislodged. Perhaps worst of all, carbon dioxide is released when soil is tilled, which contributes to the already massive problem of global warming. In the future, I hope we’ll start thinking about how to create nutrients that don't require massive amounts of space or negatively impact the earth, and the “no-till” movement will grow from there.
I also think that in the future, there will be a shift toward hyper-transparency. At Soylent, we’ve always wanted you to know exactly what’s in the food you’re putting into your body. We don’t shy away from our label. And I think that this will become a more widespread trend in the future. People will no longer feel that nine ingredients are better than eleven ingredients because they will have a better understanding of labels. Instead, they will read the list of ingredients and ask: Which ones are good for me? Which ingredients does my body require? And which ingredients will help me have a healthier lifestyle?
Still skeptical? Think about bananas. If you look at the nutritional info of a banana, they have dozens and dozens of chemical components. Sure, we don’t label them like an organic chemist would, but they’re still there. And not only are they not bad, but they’re necessary for nutrition. We just haven’t gotten to a place where people fully understand that. And in order to get there, consumers need to have a deeper knowledge of nutrition—something that we at Soylent are already working toward through our emphasis on education.
I believe that the years ahead will bring a new understanding of what "processed" food really means, as well. I hear a lot of people talking about “minimally processed” or “low-processed” food, but I don’t think they always fully understand how it can actually be beneficial. Processing can make the food item more nutritional, think about fortified foods and how these types of “processed foods” have removed vitamin and mineral deficiencies among large populations. Processing can also mean that food can be engineered to serve specific people—like those who are gluten-free or dairy-free—better. We are able to extract nutrients and beneficial compounds from a variety of food sources and put them back together in more nutritionally synergistic and sustainable ways. “Processed” is not a bad word, instead, it means that science has been used to enhance a product - from nutrition profile to shelf life - there are many benefits to processing that helps products better support the needs of diverse populations.
I hope that in the future, people will begin wondering about the science behind processing foods and why certain foods need to be processed in order to ensure health, food safety, or quality—instead of assuming that all processed food is inferior to non-processed food.
We don’t know what the future of food will look like yet. But as we move toward it, I believe the industry will continue to evolve and be shaped by science and innovation - with more food companies also working to minimize their impact on the environment. The future of food is going to require more consumer education about nutrition. Companies like Soylent will continue working closely with scientists and health professionals to promote health in order to help people make even more educated choices. We believe that people who understand the details around healthy nutrition will make better choices for themselves and for the environment in the long term. And that’s what our planet needs as we move into the future.