What future foods will be on your Christmas table in 2050?

Edible algae? Surprising seeds? Insects? La Trobe’s scientists and nutritionists reveal what sustainable fare could be on your plate in Christmases to come.

In 2050, the world’s population is projected to hit a colossal 10 billion people. To sustainably feed this many mouths, we’ll need to create new technology to increase food production in the face of a changing climate, fewer resources and limited agricultural land. But we’ll also need to make some healthy changes to what we eat.

Scientists across the world agree a ‘flexitarian’ diet is one answer. This diet includes a wide variety of plant-based foods, with some meat, dairy and the occasional insect thrown in.

“Future foods is about embracing natural whole foods and thinking a little more about the foods we choose to develop, grow, buy and eat. It’s about considering sustainability, biodiversity, nutrition and health, and the impacts of our decisions,” explains alumna Susan McLeod (Bachelor of Human Nutrition, 2014; Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, 2018), a nutritionist and lecturer at La Trobe.

Susan is one of several passionate La Trobe academics helping people understand the science of food and the role research plays in producing sustainable food products. Read on to hear their ideas for what you'll eat in festive seasons to come.

1. Crickets

Move over traditional Christmas meats – in 2050, there’ll be a more sustainable protein source on your plate. But before you pick up your cutlery, you’ll need to ask yourself: how do you feel about eating insects?

“Many of us are set in our ways in terms of what foods we like to eat,” says La Trobe lecturer Dr Matthew Ruby in a recent interview. Matthew researches the psychology behind our food choices and what he calls ‘the modern omnivore’s dilemma’ – the conflict between people’s desire for meat and the costs of indulging this desire.

“For a lot of people in Australia and many western cultural contexts, the idea of eating insects is a really confronting, disgusting thought. But around the world, about a billion people do it on a regular basis and they generally enjoy eating insects. If you’re used to it, it’s not that unusual,” he says.

Enter crickets: a leaping, chirping, antennae-waving insect that also happens to be a nutrient-dense food. Packed with complete protein, vitamin B12 and iron, crickets are one of many emerging alternative protein sources gaining popularity among people seeking healthy, sustainable food.

“In the past few years we’ve seen an absolute flood of products in the market’s alternative protein sector. We’ve seen things like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Just Foods that mimic the taste, smell and texture of many traditionally animal-derived proteins. They’ve become quite popular and trendy, but you need to make sure you’re getting something that’s nutritious and doesn’t just taste good,” says Matthew.

To make sure your crickets are both nutritious and delicious, try our recipes for White Choc Chunk Cricket Brownies or Cricket Macaroons. Cricket powder is available from a range of online retailers, including Australian company Grilo (which means ‘cricket’ in Portuguese), who also sell packets of roasted crickets and cricket energy bars.

2. Seaweed

With a sweet taste and silky texture, wakame seaweed is an edible algae that’s been popular in Japanese diets for centuries. In fact, you might have already tried it. You’ll often find it rehydrated in miso soup, or on the menu as a striking green salad.

Wakame seaweed is an extremely sustainable food source. It grows rapidly in oceans, without demanding resources like arable land or fresh water, and captures carbon quickly. It’s also highly nutritious, packed with protein, omega-3 fatty acids and minerals like sodium, calcium, thiamine, niacin and iodine. Just one teaspoon of wakame a day will give you 100 per cent of your recommended daily iodine intake, which is vital for your thyroid hormone production.

One challenge, particularly in Australia, is that wakame seaweed is considered an invasive species. Its rapid growth can quickly take the habitat of native seaweeds, which impacts other marine species’ food sources. The solution? Harvest the surplus wakame in Australia’s oceans for food, before it takes over. Aussie wakame seaweed retailers Alg Seaweed are doing just that – turning our tastebuds green, while helping maintain the environmental balance of Tasmania's local coastlines.

By 2050, a recipe for sustainably sourced Wakame Salad could be just the splash of greenery your Christmas table needs. You might also swap the salt and pepper for some palate-pleasing wakame seaweed sprinkles, to add a little magic to a festive dish of rice, vegetables or eggs.

3. Hemp seeds

Hemp is a type of cannabis that’s been used for many thousands of years as a textile, food and medicine. Today, hemp seeds are gaining popularity as a tasty and nutritious food.

“Hemp is a fascinating plant. It’s used for a whole range of products, including drugs and medicines. But the part you eat is the seed, which doesn’t contain any drug chemicals,” says La Trobe’s Kim Johnson, a senior research fellow at the La Trobe Institute for Agriculture and Food.

“Hemp seeds are an amazing food product. They contain a complete protein, which means it has every amino acid the body needs. Hemp seeds are also really high in dietary fibre and have some amazing oils, like the omega-3 and omega-6 oils our bodies need.”

Researchers like Kim are exploring the potential for hemp to be a sustainable and nutritious future food, and how we might grow hemp crops for the Australian climate.

“Hemp can grow in lots of different places. It tends to grow in tropical environment, but it can be bred for different areas in Australia. It’s really quick-growing, it’s disease-resistant and it’s pretty drought tolerant as well,” Kim says in a recent interview.

By 2050, you’ll likely see Hemp Bread appearing at the Christmas dinner table. Or, for a festive breakfast, perhaps you’ll start the day with Hemp Protein Pancakes?

One thing's for sure – to feed everyone in 2050, the food on your Christmas table will be healthier, better nutritionally balanced and more planet-friendly. So, if you're keen to move to a sustainable food future, why not put a recipe to the test this December, and taste tomorrow today?