Food for Thought: the future of nutrition

Eating good food is one of the most important daily activities around the globe. Wherever people are they need to eat and scientists have much learned about what, how and why to eat. A balanced diet of fat, proteins and carbohydrates distributed over the course of a day can supply the right nutritional necessities. Although there are always some trends and diets which suggest specific alterations from the general worldwide existing mixture of dietary ingredients, the majority of people follow this average general modern diet.

Looking into the past of mankind one can see that there was a large variety of dietary differences during the human evolution. Our closest living relatives, the chimps and bonobos are both fructivorous and herbivorous, but sometimes the urge for hunting comes and then they have a carnivorous feast. We know from archaeological studies that our ancestors, Neanderthals and Anatomical Modern Humans, had a large variety of meat and plants in their diets. Seemingly with a higher focus on meat. After the Neolithic transition (the first economic revolution: the agricultural invention) larger groups of people settled down and changed their diets dramatically towards a cereal based diets. From now onwards the majority of people inhabiting this planet lived on a high carbohydrate diet. During the Mediaeval period the majority of Europeans followed the Catholic dietary restrictions with one or more days of no-meat (but fish) and changed the dietary patterns across Europe. In North- and Middle-America the spread of corn became a culture transitioning element and changed the dietary habits of the native Americans. Parallel to the second economic revolution (the start of the industrial era) the distribution of nutritional resources became more uniform and the differences between the classes were fixed to the amount and variety of available food. The general dietary patterns from now on were dominated by a terrestrial based diet on cattle, sheep or pig products with a mixture of few plant products (e.g. cereals, starch-rich plants and vegetables). The latest dietary turnover approached with the fourth economic revolution (the Information Age). Processed food and nutritional products become omnipresent and cheaper than most regular food products, like fruits, vegetables or cereals. The food industry had started a new form of dietary accommodation and serves large parts of the (mainly) urban regions. Right now we are on the threshold of the next novelty of economic revolution, the Machine Age approaches and we are in an intermediate imaginative phase where we should think about how and what we want to eat and what food and nutritional ideas we want to pass on to our children and future generations.

We see right now different approaches in the food industry. First we see the trends of localized food production (small farming communities, micro-breweries) and back to the roots natural production. We have retailers advertising their produce from regional sources and they invest a lot of money to secure their claims. The laboratory techniques invented for food safety and testing are increasing exponentially. Food safety is a race between fraudsters inventing new frauds and the food industry securing their products. This trend follows the increasing awareness of (mainly) urban inhabitants for natural and unprocessed food with a small carbon dioxide footprint. The second trend in food production, this one is diametrically opposite from the first one, shows that the food industry seeks improvement of processing techniques to increase the quality of processed food. The food is designed to be consumer-friendly and contains everything for a healthy living, without the necessity of buying raw products and their preparation and processing. The attempt to produce printed food, biotechnological-sourced supplements, healthy corn-dogs or nutritional sweets are following this second trend with major public funding and private investments.

However, we are the customers and our decisions and choices in the supermarkets and bazaars define the future directions of our nutritional supply. Do we want to live in small range economies with localized production centers or do we follow the large scale industrial production of food products. Both approaches contain advantages for the customers in different situations and needs and might co-exist. We have to understand that we are now in a phase of imagination and invention of our own nutritional future.

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