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In collaboration with Retro Report

Future of Food

As global climate change worsens and the population expands, humanity must produce more food in the next 50 years than it has in the past 10,000. Are lab-made meat and automation the key to farming in the future, or must we tend to the soil we already have?

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Retro Report
Future of Food

Where We Thought We’d Be

Think you can predict the future? These experts thought they could—and they were often magnificently wrong.

  • 1893 (for 1993)
    Two young girls sipping milk shakes in Japan.

    Liquid lunch

    Before Soylent was even a blip on Silicon Valley’s radar, women’s rights activist Mary E. Lease predicted drinkable meal replacements. She forecast that little bottles of liquid ”from the fertile bosom of mother earth” would take the place of ordinary meals. For Lease, the drink’s principal attraction was in liberating women from the tyranny of the stove.

  • 1931 (for 1981)
    Winston Churchill.

    Lab-made chicken wings

    Writing for Strand magazine, Winston Churchill envisaged a future in which scientists could grow individual chunks of meat. “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium,” he wrote.

  • 1949

    Nutritional yeast

    In his treatise The Coming Age of Wood, former Food and Agriculture Organization forestry director Egon Glesinger thought “nutritional yeast”—a kind of fungus that grows on fermented sawdust—would become an “economical and speedy” building block of people’s diets.

  • 1955

    Single-serve cows

    In the mid-20th century, a writer for Science Digest predicted that “beef cattle the size of dogs will be grazed in the average man’s backyard, eating especially-thick grass and producing specially-tender steaks.” Thanks to the power of radiation, these mini cows would be the perfect size for a single family to eat, bringing bespoke beef literally to one’s doorstep.

  • 1975 (for 1995)
    An 'Insect tsukemen' ramen noodle topped with fried worms and crickets.

    Six-legged protein

    Pioneering entomophagist Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow predicted that insects might have a role to play in global nutrition. The most delicious specimens would be hand-caught or collected out in the fields, while others could be commercially farmed and then sold “cooked and canned, dried or pickled, fresh or in the form of insect-meal.” (Serving suggestions include “roasted locusts with woodlice sauce.”)