Leeds International Festival of Ideas – Do we have enough food?

This Leeds International Festival of Ideas event took place at City Varieties Music Hall, with a panel of experts in food and drink led by food critic Grace Dent.

Much is being promulgated about the challenges that we face in the future as our population grows. Recent estimates suggest that we’re going to have a global population of more than 9 billion people in less than 40 years, and increase of 1.2 billion, which will pose a huge challenge for the global food system.

Speakers included Elizabeth Cottam, who is a leading chef and restauranteur in and around Leeds. I met Liz a couple of years ago when she opened The Owl in Kirkgate Market following the success of HOME, a top end, and creative fine-dining restaurant. Ben Davy was another speaker who is also Leeds based. Ben has over 20 years of experience working in kitchens and over the past 7 years has worked as the Executive Chef for popular Leeds eateries including Belgrave Music Hall and Ox Club. He recently took on the role of Director of the newly opened Leeds restaurant House of Fu, which I visited just a couple of weeks ago. Another of the speakers was Ness Knight, who now lives on a carbon neutral farm in North Yorkshire, but is also an adventurer who recently completed the first ‘source to sea’ descent of the Guyanese Essequibo River.

The discussion explored what the production of food will look like in the future. It was highlighted that at the moment, we have enough food for our population, but that lots of people are hungry and/or malnourished. The situation will need to change in order to feed the additional people who will be living on the planet by 2050. One of the speakers, Mike Lee, co-founder and co-CEO of Alpha Food Labs, a New York based food innovation company, gave some insights into his work – helping companies innovate to make products that are better suited to the changing needs of the global population. Other speakers added their thoughts about what changes might occur and what changes could be made to ensure we are ready for them. Bug based meals and lab grown meat were mentioned, two topics that I am interested to find out more about as they offer a sustainable and humane way of feeding the growing population.

Panelists chatted about how the environment might change over the next few decades and how that will impact on what we eat. Temperature and environmental changes were highlighted, with changes in the productivity of farms and changing preferences of populations mentioned. Mike discussed some of his findings and insights from his role as founder of The Future Market, which is a futurist food lab that is working to investigate how the food system might change over the next couple of decades. Another of the speakers, Dr Morgaine Gaye, who is a Food Futurologist, spoke about how we might have to change how we eat as a social and cultural practice. She also gave some insights into her work with food companies, where she helps them to come up with new products and ideas.

The question of the direction to take with regards to food over the next few years is an interesting one, and I’m intrigued by how the changes might impact on our behaviours and eating practices. I am also looking forward to reading more about the future of food, and seeing what innovative meals I will be able to conjure up with bugs!

Photography by Tom Martin.

Dr Gemma Bridge

Gemma, is a freelance writer and independent researcher. She has been writing for over 10 years and loves to share what's going on in and around Leeds. She is also an international athlete, the Running Mayor of Leeds and the creator of Leeds Food Guide. You can find her on Instagram at @GLB_racewalk or @Leeds_FoodGuide, or on Twitter at @glbridge1 or @RunMayor_Leeds

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