Where food innovation is focused

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People are most likely to eat the way they have for generations—ingesting familiar foods. However, three experts who were panelists for a Rochester Beacon online event Tuesday hope that populations here and worldwide, make choices that contribute to their wellness.

The future does hold innovation, from developing nutritious, affordable new foods to technological breakthroughs solving some of the big problems in the industry, including logistics and sourcing of ingredients.

“I’m confident that we can create foods that people choose instead of animals in the food system. I think we’re going to see a lot of exciting new foods available that are nutritious, that are affordable, and delicious,” said David Lipman, a biologist and former chief science officer for Impossible Foods. A Rochester native, Lipman’s family operated the Lipman’s Kosher Market in Brighton.

Joining Lipman as panelists for the Rochester Beacon virtual event titled “The Future of Food” were Bruno Xavier, food scientist and associate director of Cornell University’s Food Venture Center; and Dan Wise, founder and CEO of RealEats. Peter Lovenheim, Beacon’s Washington correspondent, was moderator. 

Armbruster Capital Management, Lamar Advertising and Canandaigua National Bank and Trust Co. sponsored the event. 

Xavier doesn’t anticipate a seismic shift to new foods in the years to come. He does believe, however, that the focus on ingredients—for example, reducing chemical components such as preservatives and color additives—will continue. The protein fad will fade eventually, with the need to increase fiber in diets.

“The future of food is really all about solving (the) health and climate crises … that we’re facing today, and food, of course, has an important role in that. But I do see that being challenged by the kind of need to satisfy consumer demand and preferences at the same time,” Wise said.

“I think we’ve been prioritizing consumption, convenience, efficiency (and) profitability, for decades now, and this has kind of given rise to a food system that generally outputs an abundance of accessible, often lower quality, and in many cases, unhealthy foods. This is leading to disease like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, all of which have some type of a link to diet.”

He also pointed to food waste as an important piece of the puzzle. Globally, 40 percent of the food produced is wasted, Wise said, ending up in landfills and generating methane. The future needs to solve those problems while satiating a demand for foods that are healthy and accessible.

“There will be more and more consumer demand for flexibility of choice and dietary personalization,” said Wise, adding that convenience will continue to prevail, given busy lifestyles. Wise’s company, RealEats, ships farm-to-table, ready-to-eat food to tens of thousands of customers in 31 states.

Innovation in the food industry, the panelists noted, is heavily funded by the government. Prices at grocery stores are largely determined by trade agreements and the like, Xavier said.  

“Government does have a role here because, for example, if we were discussing the environmental impact of food production, either we will prevent that impact from happening, or we will need to get together through government to fix the consequences,” he said. “So, of course, preventing it is a lot cheaper. And that’s part of the reason why we are looking for alternatives.”

The environmental impact of food, especially meat, has resulted in a call for new options. Cattle contribute to methane emissions. Xavier does not expect a lockdown on meat but noted that the intelligence of a civilization hinges on its ability to act preemptively. He would like an inclusive solution that considers individual preferences.

Plant-based alternatives will continue to find room on shelves as will other healthy options.  Better choices will be key, Lipman said. 

“This issue of beef being a problem is real, and animals in general,” he said. “But I also think on the other hand, it’s not going to happen (just) because we thought that somehow people are forced to have alternatives. We have to make, and we can make, alternatives that they choose.”

With alternatives come new jobs—Upstate New York is a prime spot for agriculture—and new ways of thinking. However, healthy, nutrient-dense foods are expensive and will remain options for the affluent and the elite, until they become mainstream, Wise observed. 

The years ahead could change that as human diets continue to evolve.

“There are things that we’re accustomed to, and we like now, and we’ll add to it, and we have to sort of understand those foods as we go,” Lipman said. “I don’t know where it’s going to end up. Because of those steps, I don’t think that we can sort of target and say, ‘Well, what it’s going to be (is) cell-based meats or something.’… I just hope that at that point, it’s not animal-based.”

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

2 thoughts on “Where food innovation is focused

  1. Great comment Howie Jacobson on a great panel and topic. I would like to see a follow-up with more input from ecologists, nutrition scientists, aging scientists and agriculture and farming economists.

  2. This webinar was informative and hosted a terrific panel. Nice to see our Finger Lakes Region has RealEats generating great meals delivered nationwide and Has Cornell working on future healthy options. Personally enjoyed comments from David Lipman- our hometown member of the panel! Thanks, Rochester Beacon , for making this happen.

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