Just a little meat on our menu in 2050

What will our menu look like in 2050? If it were up to Imke de Boer, personal professor of Animal and Sustainable Food Systems, it would contain more plant-based products as well as seasonal and locally produced products. ‘Better for our health and that of the planet.’

Imke, you call for a healthy and circular food system in 2050. How do you envision that?

‘It is a system based on a completely different point of departure: the carrying capacity of our planet. We have begun to produce what we want to eat rather than eating what the earth has to offer us. Everything starts with healthy soil and water, or: healthy agro-ecosystems.

Subsequently, we will no longer use farmlands to produce animal feed, which is a highly inefficient use of natural resources. Currently, some forty per cent of our farmlands are used for the production of animal feed. In the future, that land will only be used to produce foods for human consumption, such as potatoes, vegetables and fruit. The waste streams they yield are laden with valuable nutrients. These will be reintroduced into the food system as animal feed and fertilisers.’

What will we see on our plates in 2050?

‘More vegetables and fruits, legumes, wholewheat products and unsaturated fats. And a little meat, dairy and eggs, produced by animals that are fed with the plant-based waste streams and grass. Preliminary estimates show that if we were to feed animals circularly, we could satisfy approximately thirty per cent of our protein requirements with animal-based foods. That percentage aligns perfectly with the recommendations for a healthy diet. Moreover, we will eat mainly locally produced foods. So, no potatoes that are produced in Israel, while our local farmers are left with their harvest unsold. A product such as cocoa, which is not locally produced, will still be imported. However, in 2050 we will no longer import cocoa beans but entire chocolate bars. The added value thus stays in the country of origin, leading to a more equitable distribution of wealth.’

How will this impact a western country such as the Netherlands?

‘To begin with, we must minimise the losses from ‘farm to fork’. You can contribute by making a soup from all the products that remain in your fridge on Fridays. But also, through buying only what you need, and no “buy one, get one free” products that you don’t really need. And yes, we will have to cut back on our consumption of animal-based food. I am convinced that we will still be able to feed the world in 2050, but not if the entire world starts copying the western eating pattern. In some countries, a slightly elevated intake of animal-based foods could significantly improve the quality of the diets. Research has shown that eating a little animal-based food during the first one thousand days after birth has a positive effect on the health and development of children in low-income countries.’

Great. But isn’t this a bit of a utopia?

‘No. We know for certain that the food system as we know it cannot be sustained within the limits of our planet. Moreover, we are currently meandering from crisis to crisis. The best short-term approach is to develop a long-term perspective. And, keep in mind that an increasing number of farmers and consumers are already proving that contributing to a healthy and circular food system is quite possible.’