What Will We Eat in the Future? A Scientific and Critical Look at Trends and Possibilities

Report by Adam Josef Will, Bachelor’s student English and French, and Amelie Lucke, Bachelor’s student Economics

„Is this edible? Is it still good or does it go in the trash? That’s unhealthy! I can’t tolerate this kind of food!”

Everyone knows this kind of comment, but what’s behind it? In the seminar “What will we eat in the future? A scientific and critical look at trends and possibilities” with Prof. Vilgis from the Max-Planck-Institute for Polymer Research, we approached these and many other questions.

On December 2nd, 2020, we met with Prof. Vilgis outside the MPI building to get acquainted ahead of the seminar. He surprised us with a box full of books he had written about the topic of nutrition. We had the choice between the more political book Einfach essen (“Simple Eating”) and the basic theoretical book Biophysik der Ernährung (“Biophysics of Nutrition”). Afterwards, we talked about our motivations for taking a seminar on the topic of nutrition. With a book in our hands and excitement in our heads, we returned home.

The first digital session opened with the question, “What is your favorite flavor? What do you think of umami, for example?“ When Prof. Vilgis saw eighteen baffled faces, he began to describe the flavor that had been unknown to most of the group. This led into the first section of the seminar: the food biography of homo sapiens. It quickly became clear that flavor and wellbeing have always correlated and determined what homo sapiens are and what they eat today. During the industrialization period in particular, nutrition technology went through many changes that brought along problems as well. Even though the simplification of processes led to an increase in productivity, mass production also saw the first use of chemical additives.

While the first part of the seminar focused on a retrospective, the second took a look at current trends in nutrition such as “paleo”, “vegan”, or “nose to tail.” In this context, we discussed established conventions and whether these have a basis in scientific fact. For instance, even forgotten foods like bone marrow can contribute to a healthy nutrition.
Our course finally culminated in a lively discussion of the future of our nutrition. Aligning ethical, ecological, and economic requirements posed a tremendous challenge, for which we were unable to find a clear answer. Nevertheless, there are several ideas that could prove crucial in the future, whether in-vitro-meat, raising insects as a substitute for meat, or a focus on unconventional plant foods such as duckweeds.

In conclusion, our seminar was characterized by alternating between grounded science and questions of personal responsibility. Prof. Vilgis enriched the sessions not just with his jovial personality, but also with numerous creative cooking ideas, which were quickly tried out by students. When was the last time you had leek root tempura?

Dear Professor Vilgis, you managed to teach both highly technological aspects of food science as well as everyday tips and tricks to students with or without background in the sciences. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your thoughts. We will take your lessons to heart and “taste every day, cook every day, smell every day, then nothing can go wrong.”

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