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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

What will we eat in the future?

My goal is to answer other people’s questions on this blog. Questions like, “Will we really eat insects in the future?” and, “How realistic is it that fake meat will take over real meat consumption in the next 50 years? Check out the questions I have been asked already on this #AskAFuturist thread and add your own if you’re curious.

Followers on my social media may know that last year, I was asked to design the ‘future pizza’. It was for the launch of the Big Bang Fair, a science, technology and engineering event for kids and young people at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.

We came up with some ideas and then we got together at a pizzeria in London and had them make our future pizza for a panel of kids to try.

Future ingredients: what will we eat in the future?

So, what’s so different about the future pizza? It has three main ingredients that make it different to your normal margherita. I chose all of them because they represent a possible solution to future challenges, where pressures like climate change intersect with trends in technology and taste.

That’s not to say that these will be the answer for everyone or everything. But they are a great way to highlight some of the challenges we face, and the choices.

Cricket flour

The most controversial choice in our future pizza was the introduction of insects. Why put ground up crickets into a pizza dough?

The first is about climate change. Some argue that insects are a much more efficient means of creating protein for human consumption than, for example, cows or even chickens.

The second issue is about health. Insect powder is an incredibly rich form of protein, with 8mg of protein for every 10mg of insect powder.

Vertically farmed tomatoes

The second ingredient to note is vertically farmed tomatoes. These represent one possible answer to the multiple issues of land use, water consumption, pesticides, climate change, and food miles.

Vertical farming means growing food in stacked trays inside a warehouse with a very carefully controlled environment. Rather than being grown in soil, the plants are usually fed nutrients directly through water or vapour.

Vegan cheese

For this experiment we used a vegan cheese made from almond milk. And it tastes like…cheese! This was perhaps the biggest surprise for me as I didn’t have high hopes for a fake cheese. But it grated like cheese, cooked like cheese, and tasted pretty good on our pizza.

The future of the meat industry

So, will the future be vegan, or will we be eating insects? I’d argue that the explosion of choice is a trend far bigger than veganism, but we’re seeing a lot of progress for the future of the meat industry.

Will the future be vegan? Understanding ‘fake meat’

In the last few years there have been two distinct crazes around what might be considered ‘fake meat’. The first is a group of entirely plant-based products designed to come closer to the real thing.

The most famous proponents of this approach, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, have started with the ubiquitous burger. Both use a mixture of proteins, binders and natural colours to produce something with a texture and flavour that is at least analogous to the beef original.

The second set of products is lab grown meat, produced by the likes of the Eat JUST and Memphis Meats – more US start-ups. This approach takes real meat cells and cultures them – i.e., gets them to replicate – creating ‘real’ meat without the slaughter of animals.

How veganism could affect what we will eat in the future

The rise of veganism comes down to three pressure points:

  • Climate change: agriculture makes up more than one-fifth of all greenhouse gases
  • Cruelty: there is a rising number of people who simply don’t want to eat animals
  • Cost: while fake meats are still expensive, real meat continues to be the most expensive item on the plate

Choice: a competitive market for alternatives

The future of the meat industry suggests that we will favour choice in the future – some for health reasons, others for animal welfare.

To me it is pretty clear that average meat consumption in the UK is now on a long-term downward trend. This will be driven by a combination of our falling acceptance of meat consumption, the rise of good alternatives, and the compounding factors of health trends and climate awareness.

So, what will we eat in the future? Honestly, I doubt insects will become part of everyone’s diet. Let’s remember that there are already large parts of the world where insects are entirely normal part of the diet. This isn’t some issue about whether they are edible or good for us.

Likewise, I don’t see meat going away altogether. It will likely become a more expensive choice as volumes decline. And there will be many alternatives, not just fake meat. But in 50 years I’m willing to bet it will still be on the menu. It’s about choice.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

What will cities be like in the future?

If we are to address some of the major crises of our time: climate change, the ageing population, economic disruption, then we need more of us to be living in cities, not fewer.

 

This may sound counter-intuitive but you are likely to have a much lower carbon footprint living in Central London than you would living in the middle of the countryside.

 

Why? For a start, your home is likely to be newer and better insulated – not least because there are likely to be other homes above and below it. The infrastructure and the tarmac around you stores heat, keeping temperatures in cities 1-3° warmer than the countryside, further reducing your investment in heating.

 

Cities are also the cheapest place to serve citizens with utilities. The closer together people are, the more cost effective it is to provide water, waste services, electricity and connectivity. This is why many rural parts of the country still run on oil deliveries and septic tanks and have crap broadband.

 

Future city logistics

When you travel in a city, the amenities are much closer by and you have a much greater chance of being able to travel by public transport. Getting to work, the shops, the pub, or a museum, you will expend a lot less energy.

 

There has been much talk about how self-driving and electric cars might reshape our cities, removing the need for parking, for example — at least in prime areas. They can drop off their passengers and then drive themselves to an out of town garage, or return home, or continue to serve other passengers across the city until they need charging.

 

But there is also a very reasonable challenge that asks whether we should let cars shape our cities again. After all, the last time we allowed a single form of personal transport to shape our cities, it wasn’t all positive. Self-driving, electric cars propose to reduce congestion and pollution, but we already have other ways to do those things.

 

A city shaped by cycling, walking and mass transit is potentially very different to one shaped by smart cars. Even the smartest of cars will present barriers to pedestrians, breaking down streets into two sides. Mass transit implies hubs around which services and people congregate.

 

Housing for the future

I once had the pleasure of interviewing some of the leading lights in the property sector, both residential and commercial. Some of the results went into a report for Hyperoptic on the future of residential broadband.

The CEO of a large developer told me that one of the biggest challenges when building something new is knowing what the user’s needs will be in five, ten, or twenty years. How can you construct something today that will have longevity when technology, culture, and working practices are changing so fast?

 

The future of planning

The answer comes in three parts: design, engineering, and information. Each is influenced by a principle for better strategy that is being adopted across business and I think has a strong role to play in government as well. This principle is simply that adaptation trumps optimisation as a predictor of sustainable success:

 

  • Developers may be able to employ foresight tools to inform their decisions and enhance their arguments for particular developments.
  • We have to consider when we are thinking about the future of planning that the future building may itself be much more adaptable than those in the past.
  • What feeds foresight processes is good data, and there is a huge opportunity in the future for developers and local authorities to better inform their decisions with good data.

 

So, what will cities be like in the future? The design process is informed by rich data that combines geospatial, demographic, economic, and emotional data that assembles a business case and a design brief in a semi-automated fashion. The design itself is created with flexibility in mind, aware of imminent trends but also adaptable to those beyond the range of reasonable foresight.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Why smart cities are important

The term ‘smart city’ means different things to different people. There is something close to a standard definition, from the BSI’s PAS180 Smart City Vocabulary document:

“‘Smart cities’ is a term denoting the effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens.”

Smart cities have been the subject of aggressive marketing from the major tech companies for some years. Their development has come to be seen by some as a success of technology marketing over citizen need. Something of a corporate takeover.

People have issues with the command-and-control format of many smart city programs, with their ‘control centres’ featuring giant screens and dashboards for some mastermind at the middle to monitor the city.

We see a similar discomfort with microchips under the skin. There’s the issue of security: this type of short-range wireless chip has been shown to be susceptible to hacking using widely available hardware.

But despite concerns, there are huge drivers to smart all our cities.

Smart cities and sustainability

Build smart cities means retrofitting technology, processes and partnerships to an existing, evolved organic environment. One model isn’t going to fit every city. Making it happen will be a process of negotiation, integration, iteration. And there will be lots of different parties involved: political leaders, civil servants, service providers, technology companies, health services, police forces, property owners and most important of all, the citizens themselves.

Brokering a framework that keeps all of these people at least relatively happy, while delivering on the promise of smart cities is no small task. It will only come through dialogue. But it’s a conversation we need to have. Because the promise of smarter cities is too great to ignore.

In the first instance there is simply lower costs, both financially and to the environment. There are lifestyle benefits: less traffic, quicker parking, more efficient public transport. Taking things a step further, there are advantages to planners: recognising a noise problem in one place might inform a change in planning to a new building nearby, perhaps requiring materials that absorb or deflect sound, or the planting of trees as a screen.

Future city technology: the challenges

Telefonica’s project in Santander has proven there is little money to be made in smart city hardware: the city rolled out 12,000 sensors funded by a relatively small EU1m from the EU. And the sum of the data collected from those sensors, just 5MB per day, similar to a single photo or MP3 file, suggests there is very little to be made in its carriage or storage.

The biggest challenges, and hence the biggest potential revenues, come in processing and presenting the data in a useful form. This is where Telefonica has focused its efforts and is looking to commercialise the learning from the Santander experiment. IBM too has recognised that this is where the value lies.

Why are smart cities important?

Despite these setbacks, smart cities have the potential to push forward our sustainability efforts and bring communities together. Ultimately, there is the prospect of properly understanding our cities and the interactions that make them live, so that we can make more informed decisions about their future, in local government, in corporations, and as individuals.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The future of the city: how can communities work together for change?

If you want to save the planet, live in a city. Even better, live in a city centre. Here, all the amenities are on your doorstep. For the places that you can’t walk, public transport is easily accessible. The more densely you live – within reason – the lower your carbon footprint. And the better the chance that we arrest the decline, ensuring that the future high street will be a thriving, vibrant place.

Ask people whether they care about climate change and these days and all but the most hardcore science-denier will tell you that they do. But how much do they care? Is it enough to take action? The evidence would suggest not.

The Green Party increased its share of the vote in 2019 by a dramatic 60%. But this was a high point in an otherwise largely negative sea of statistics about our environmental behaviour in areas of free choice. Recycling rates? Down. Flights? Up.

But by embracing a future of communities, we can make a real difference – almost without thinking about it.

Future of communities

Cities and high streets offer great potential to bring communities together. The future high street is the perfect place for a school. There will be plenty of space to build one as well. In the last 18 months, it has been accepted in the property sector that the loss of some high street retail is structural, not cyclical. Some classes of shops aren’t coming back, and there is no obvious retail replacement.

We also hear about loneliness and isolation in later life a lot. This is the group who would perhaps most benefit from a move to the city centre.

This group needs a rather different retirement living offer to bring them into the city. This is why I was so pleased to see Legal and General’s planned £2bn investment in city centre developments. The company’s goal is to transform failing retail space into apartments to buy and rent. These will not be for students and young professionals but for those who have retired. Projects like this will have exponentially greater impact than the government’s £675m investment fund for retail redevelopment.

These are not care homes. But that’s not what most of this cohort need. They need a place to live where they have the opportunity to support themselves and engage with other people. What these new developments will have is ready access to critical amenities like doctor’s surgeries, some of which they will be building on site.

What will cities of the future look like?

Given the direction of change there may be many redevelopment opportunities in city centres. A school could replace a department store, or all or part of a shopping centre. With the coming of self-driving cars, it might replace a car park.

Schools aren’t the only requirement for more families to live in a city. If they are to live well, then more green spaces, play areas, and safe pedestrianised zones would be required. But these changes all fit with the direction of travel for current city planning. And these changes all work to encourage other groups back into the city centre.

Despite what the climate change deniers might say, climate change is not a job and wealth creation conspiracy. But some of the technologies and business behaviours most suited to a zero-carbon future are now well aligned to improved business performance. Renewable energy is cheaper than any other source. Flexible working drives greater productivity. Digital communications drive greater reach.

Suburban capitals

I once took part in a panel about the prospect of suburban capitals. These are satellite city centres around the major hubs that are starting to attract more companies for their HQs.

If the conditions prevail and the developments keep on coming, could we re-balance investment across the country? Could we convince people to base big businesses elsewhere and treat London as somewhere to visit rather than live? Perhaps.

This leads back to campaigns to improve public transport, in the South East and in the North, and in the Midlands. Living in Manchester, I’m biased and would argue that the potential of a strong Leeds/Manchester/Liverpool axis should take priority.

But in general, we need better infrastructure. Speed the connections between cities and suburban capitals and we might be able to distribute the wealth a little more evenly, and tackle the UK’s productivity issues. But it will require a very different approach to government.

Saving the planet and the community

Whether it’s a smart city or a suburban capital, cities have the potential to improve our wellbeing and our impact on the planet. What we need now is investment from the government, plus an educational drive to showcase their benefits.

Tom Cheesewright