Hope For A New Food Future: 3 Ways FoodTech is Driving Systemic Change and Increasing Food Access

Food is an essential, but commonplace part of everyday life for many of us – we develop routines and habits around eating that we may not even really notice our meals until a special occasion, holiday, or an unusual craving brings food into focus. However, putting food on the table is a challenge for millions of people around the world who experience food insecurity. Recently, the spike in inflation, and supply-chain interruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the armed conflict in Ukraine have combined with chronic food insecurity in socio-economically disadvantaged communities to create an even bigger problem. 10.2% (13.5MM) of US households are food insecure. 19MM people in the US (or 6.2% of the population) live in food deserts. Shamefully, these statistics are not the result of a supply issue; 40% of the food produced in America is wasted. That works out to 130 billion meals and more than $408 billion worth of food wasted annually. Each year it becomes more evident that the legacy food system is systemically broken and is increasingly incapable of driving environmentally-sustainable and equal access to healthy nutritious food at reasonable costs to all.

On an individual level, many of us try to alleviate food insecurity by giving to food banks, soup kitchens, or other charitable organizations. Charitable donations provide support to many organizations doing important work providing direct aid to people currently in need of meals. There are also other ways to tackle this chronic societal problem at a systemic level that you may not be aware of. Investing in food and agriculture-focused disruptive technologies can tackle some of the systemic problems at the core of the food system and create long-term change.

One of the most exciting areas making huge developments in industry is food FoodTech. FoodTech is the growing industry of companies that are developing products and services utilizing technology to make the food industry more sustainable, modern, and effective. Over the past 10 years, entrepreneurs in FoodTech, enabled by digital technologies, artificial intelligence (“AI”), robotics and scientific breakthroughs in biotech have started to reshape the industry in a way that provides more equal access to nutritious foods while reducing the food system’s harmful effects on the environment and eliminating waste. Developments in FoodTech are providing hope for a new food future by working to solve the systemic societal and environmental issues created by the legacy food system.

FoodTech is innovating in several important areas including:

Waste management

The 40% food wastage mentioned earlier can happen in the supply chain or in the home as American eating habits and “portion creep” often result in an excess of food being prepared in the household. FoodTech is addressing this issue in a number of ways using digital technologies and exciting new packaging formats.

For example FoodTech entrepreneurs have developed a mobile application that connects customers to restaurants and stores that have surplus unsold food that can be sold at a discount. Another company produces an edible film to cover food and preserve it for longer in the supply chain. Software-as-a-service tools in the space allow companies to more effectively manage the food in their supply chains to reduce spoilage. FoodTech entrepreneurs are focused on this critical issue in our food system, working on a variety of solutions to decrease food waste and get food that would otherwise be thrown out into the hands of people who could use it.

Animal agriculture

Our society is currently reliant on animal husbandry as the principal source of macronutrients, like proteins, and this reliance has harmful impacts on climate, human health, and animal welfare. More greenhouse gas emissions are produced by raising livestock for human consumption than by all modes of transportation put together, reaching close to 15% of the total global emissions. Additionally, raising livestock for human consumption uses almost 70% of the world’s agricultural land, making it the primary cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution. As the human population increases and arable land is used up, the planet will not sustain animal husbandry at these rates, further reducing supply, increasing prices and widening the already large gap in terms of access. Alternatives are needed to make these macronutrients sustainably available to all.

New and exciting food technologies are being developed to create meat-analogues using “plant-based” ingredients and “regenerative meat,” which is genuine animal meat that is produced by cultivating animal cells directly in bioreactors. The companies behind these developments are working on expanding the availability of protein alternatives by improving taste and reducing price. They are leveraging new and exciting production methods to eventually eliminate the need to raise and farm animals for food.

Through innovations in biotechnology, the food system of the future can create sustainable and nutritious protein at scale, eventually driving prices to or below that of the current animal husbandry system. Synthetic biology has the potential to create sustainable and healthy solutions to feed the world with low-cost, nutritious foods.

Agriculture and AI

Climate change continues to threaten every aspect of our lives, including crop production. It will reduce the soil moisture in areas close to the equator while leaving northern regions virtually unscathed, according to a study from Wageningen University. We are already seeing the impact of these modified growing conditions on our food production in the form of lower crop yields.

Reduced food production has an especially devastating impact on developing countries. Climate change causes the loss of 35 trillion consumable food calories per year and harms poorer countries who do not have the money to import food. The result is growing food insecurity and rising sea levels only compound the problem.

This is where AI can come in. By using AI for precision agriculture, farmers can monitor crop moisture, soil composition, and temperature in growing areas which helps them to increase yields by determining the ideal amount of water or fertilizer to use. One company has developed AI to help governments and companies in agrochemicals, food, finance, and retail make accurate predictions on climate and agriculture several years out. This allows them to optimize their supply chain, manage risk, and increase yield.

AI is also an important aspect of controlled indoor agriculture which is used to grow food in urban areas. Controlled indoor agriculture has the potential to reduce deforestation and decrease food waste by getting food from where it is grown to consumers faster. This is especially important for developing countries where cities are growing.

FoodTech is one of the ways that we can sustainably increase our food supply to feed the 9.7 billion people projected to populate the world by 2050. Innovative new companies, like those mentioned here, are combining science and technology with food and agriculture to drive systemic change – for a healthier planet and people. Investing in FoodTech and other strategies to support a vibrant and sustainable food system in the long-term is one way for your investments to complement your charitable giving.