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Plants: Food of the Past, Food of the Future

Even if your retirement plans include moving to Mars, the foods of our future might not be as strange as you think. In fact, they look a lot like foods we've been eating for thousands of years.

mars_picYes, someone recently developed Soylent, a magic-pill type of nutritious glop that can save you from the horrors of having to actually prepare and eat real food. But why would you opt out of a ripe heirloom tomato in the summer or a creamy butternut squash in the winter?

And yes, if you do plan to move to Mars, you'll have to forego the Domino's deliveryman, but you'll score a 3D printer pizza instead.

For the meat lovers, steaks of the future may be grown in labs, without heads or central nervous systems to make things less ethically and environmentally complicated, but most meat-eaters will be eating bugs instead. And yes, on purpose. It's a good reason for going vegan now, one could say.

For the rest of us though, the food of the future isn't very fancy. Or even futuristic sounding. It's made up of the same stuff we've always relied on for the bulk of our nutrition: plants. You know, those delicious, nutritious and easy-to-grow foods that are already a big part of our diet even if we only eat the most refined, deep-fried versions.

René Redzepi, chef-owner of what's been called the best restaurant in the world, Noma, and founder of MAD Symposium and the MADFeed blog wrote a recent article for the Economist about the future of food, "Yes, I understand that such advancements present an opportunity to feed many and supply a demand for the future, but is meat what people really want?" he asks. "Have the majority of us become so lazy, so set in our ways, that we have to put so much effort into preserving the familiar? Or do we just need to shake off some of our habits and put more thought into what has always been around us? Let’s perhaps make plants, farmers and markets more of a priority, and see what that can give us at home."

vertical_garden_picPlants of the future may come to us in new ways. For example, the farmer in the field miles from nowhere may not be the best way to feed the billions who will be living in urban environments. So foods will be grown in the cities. In some cities, that's already happening. Urban gardens are more than just a passing fad. They're providing real sustenance for people. They're particularly valuable in "food deserts"—places like South Central Los Angeles, where the freshly stocked supermarket is a sight far more rare than the drive thru window or the 7-Eleven.

Cities will turn skyscrapers into vertical gardens growing greens, grains, fruits, beans, and other foods while also bringing more oxygen into the urban environment. Some cities will even take growing food underground.

"For us it all started by valuing the carrot as much as the steak," said Redzepi. "In gastronomic terms, when it comes to flavour, there is no difference between them. It just takes questioning some preconceptions, and a bit of imagination. So here’s my suggestion, and my prediction, for 2014 and beyond: eat your vegetables."

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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