Future food security is a global concern. It is estimated that by 2050 the population will be 9.7 billion, meaning that 60% more food will be needed. At present, food production is responsible for about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of water use. In addition, around 30% of food is wasted. Meat consumption has increased 20% in the 2000’s, so even one day of vegetarian eating habits per week could significantly help to offset greenhouse gas emissions.
Unhealthy food is also related to several health problems, like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer. It is estimated that about 40% of premature deaths and chronic illnesses will be attributable to the modern diet and lifestyle.
Future proteins will be obtained from new, local sources that contribute to mitigating climate change.
New, local and sustainable food production alternatives are predicted. At the centre of this change is a change in the human diet, especially the source of one of the essential nutrients, the proteins. At the moment, the majority of Western people get their proteins from animal sources that are fed with imported feeds containing soy.
The future should look different
Vegetarianism and vegetarian food is spoken about more than never before. In Finland, about five percent of the population conforms to some form of a vegetarian diet. The most common group are probably the flexitarians who eat a mostly vegetarian diet, but also some animal products. This group of people is expected to grow in the future.
The change has accelerated the arrival of new vegetable protein products on market shelves, such as the fava bean product “Härkis” and pulled oats. These products are examples of more sustainable food products, and in the long run will probably positively contribute to the public health. In addition, if these kinds of products are produced with domestic raw materials, they will improve the self-sufficiency of national food production.
These crops are good sources of high-quality proteins, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
There are many possibilities in Finland to increase protein self-sufficiency and produce good-quality animal feed and food products. Future proteins will be obtained from new, local sources that contribute to mitigating climate change. These include insects, wild mushrooms, wild fish, and more diverse domestic protein crops grown for arable farming.
The cultivation of protein-rich plants has long been regarded as unprofitable in the Finnish climate. For example, in the past, beans have been mainly produced for animal feeds, but during recent years, interest has risen also regarding their cultivation for human consumption. Due to the nitrogen fixing ability of bean crops, commercial fertilizer use could be reduced, lessening negative impacts on soil and water.
So far, fava beans and peas have been used for human consumption. However, plants like lupin, quinoa, and oil seeds can be cultivated and processed to make food products. These crops are good sources of high-quality proteins, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They contain compounds like polyphenols that can increase the nutritional value of these protein products.
Some studies have shown the health benefits of diets rich in vegetarian foods.
Some studies have shown the health benefits of diets rich in vegetarian foods. However, it should be kept in mind that the health benefits might be due to the presence of several beneficial compounds, especially fibre and polyphenols. On the other hand, meat has some beneficial qualities such as a good amino acid composition and high amount of vitamin B. The new raw materials and products will provide a competitive advantage.
The use of these new materials as food, feed or ingredients requires suitable processing techniques. The raw materials may contain harmful structural components or their taste properties may not be at first suitable or acceptable as food. Bioprocessing techniques are thus very important in this context. In the case of new raw materials or processing techniques, the need for changes in legislation must be taken into account as early as possible.
We all have a role in this change
And it’s not even difficult if we make efforts in everyday life to tackle these issues. Policy makers must encourage society towards more sustainable food production and abolish regulation impeding this transformation.
Consumers will have to open their eyes and minds to alternative protein sources and, at the same time, require companies to produce high-quality and diverse products as alternatives to imported proteins.