report: the future of food

At the recent Food Writers New Zealand conference, a panel of food experts pondered the future of food. Niki Bezzant chaired the panel, and reports on the thought-provoking discussion.

What is the future of food? That’s the rather hefty question we sought to address in the panel discussion at this year’s Food Writers New Zealand conference. It was a big ask for our panellists, and they all came at it from refreshingly different directions. Along the way we were educated, entertained and challenged to think differently. We journeyed from public fruit trees to fish fins, and even touched on the connection between cooking and extra-marital affairs.

Fiona Grieg, head of the FoodGroup at Network PR, started us off by approaching the future from a nutritional perspective. She suggested applying the popular concept of mindfulness to eating as a way of slowing down and re-engaging with our food. Fiona also introduced us to the emerging science of nutrigenomics: the idea that in the not-too-distant future we may be able to find out what diseases our genes predispose us to and tailor our diets to mitigate those risks. She challenged us: if you could find out the risk for you, would you want to know?

Food writer Anna King Shahab proposed the public planting of fruit trees as a way of reconnecting with our food, redistributing food to those in need and solving the issue of wasted food. Given the theme of the day – waste not want not – this felt like a timely suggestion.

Mt Cook Alpine Salmon’s Scott Murray took us on his journey of sustainability – from sushi chef to global salmon ambassador. In his vision of the future, Kiwis are following the lead of other countries and embracing a ‘skin to fin’ philosophy when it comes to fish. Crispy fish fins are now on my ‘must try’ list.

Ray McVinnie continued the theme of reconnecting with our food as the way forward. He introduced the idea of “conspicuous competence”; the affluent, he said, are doing “things the servants used to do” like serious cooking and gardening, while the poor eat “additive-laden junk food”. Ray’s solution to the inequality: the teaching of basic cooking, as in programmes such as Garden to Table. People who cook, he said, have the power to feed themselves well; cooking at home makes it hard to eat poorly. He sees a future where food technology could help to create processed foods that are still naturally good.

Chef Mikey Newlands of Bracu restaurant added his thoughtful perspective to the discussion by taking a macro view; zooming back from the ‘micro’ view he says chefs are prone to. He’d like to see a food future where we move away from a commodity-based food system, echoing Scott’s call for using all parts of an animal and making the case for more wild game to be eaten; we learned only a third of the game shot ends up on the table. Mikey also challenged his fellow chefs to speak up on political issues. Why, he said, aren’t local chefs stepping up and calling for action on issues like a sugary drinks tax? Where’s our local Jamie Oliver?

Our panellists came from diverse worlds, but throughout their discussions, two clear themes emerged – reconnection and education. A brief but lively discussion on these themes followed. We didn’t have enough time to come up with a complete vision for the future of food, but we were certainly all inspired to think more deeply about it. Oh, and in case you were wondering about the infidelity connection? This was one of Ray McVinnie’s contributions – he has no truck with people who say they are too ‘time poor’ to cook. “If it’s important to you, you make time for it,” he said. “Just look at all those people having affairs.”