Health begins on the plate, as does ecology
Pascale Hebel is the chief delegate for external action of the CREDOC (Research Centre for the Study of the Conditions of Life) in Paris. For the last 30 years, she and her teams have been analyzing changes in the eating habits of the French. The trends are clear: consumers, now better informed and more committed to protecting the environment, are looking for high-quality food produced in line with sustainable development. This attitude is particularly noticeable with not only Generation X(1), brought up with an awareness for health concerns, but also Generation Y(2), who exhibit a need for reassurance in their consumer choices, as illustrated by their enthusiasm for organic food and responsible producer labels.
Commitment and transparency
In response to this need for information and transparency, Aleksandra Mandic Killy co-founded Kwali.to, an app that scans products to pinpoint their composition. Developed in partnership with producers, Kwali.to also proposes a tool that can be integrated into the browser when you surf retailer sites. You then just need to define the filtering criteria to reorganize the site’s database according to your eating habits, the seasonality of products, the labels you keep an eye out for and ingredients you want to remove from your shopping, such as gluten or certain allergens. « We have created a tool that restores power to consumers, » says Aleksandra. « With these filters, our users can finally find out what they are eating, and these purchasing decisions send strong signals to players in the agri-food industry, guiding them towards more virtuous production and distribution methods. »
Locavores and urban gardens
The desire to eat local produce and reduce the distance between producers and consumers is another emerging preoccupation and the number one priority for « locavores »: consumers who are keen to foster short distribution circuits. Today, the average distance travelled by a food product varies between 2,400 and 4,800 km. But it is not enough to establish short circuits to reduce the environmental cost. We also need to produce efficiently, as we are told by Damien Conaré, Secretary General of the UNESCO Chair in World Food Systems, based in Montpellier In this city, all the communities can now eat organic bread produced locally, in a spirit of solidarity. But what can you do if you live in the city center? This question has been tackled by Pretapousser.fr, a start-up business that provides mini-mushroom beds and herb garden kits that can be set up in the kitchen. As well as the joy of eating fresh produce, the project is fun for city dwellers. Another initiative promoted by the Agripolis company helps businesses and communities to set up urban gardens on their roofs. These vertical vegetable gardens take the form of columns, producing plants of organic-equivalent quality without dirt and with only 10% of the water required for traditional growing. Agripolis is inspired by « garden towers »: buildings with roofs devoted to vegetable-growing now flourishing in the USA (L.A. Urban Farms, Gothamgreens.com), Canada (Lufa Farms) and Asia (Sky Green farm tower). The company offers around 40 fruit and vegetable varieties, and a team of gardeners of the future take care of the crops throughout the year.
By 2050, it is estimated that food production will have to increase by 70% to meet the needs of the planet. This awareness goes hand-in-hand with reducing meat consumption and a search for alternative protein sources. For researchers, part of the solution lies in developing food products based on microalgae, which yield up to 10 times more than wheat or soya, and provide a large quantity of essential nutrients. Among the thousands of microalgae being studied, spiruline contains up to 65% protein. This is the extraordinary seaweed found in the composition of « Springwave », a naturally blue water with antioxidant properties launched by Algama. « The challenge with microalgae is to make them appetizing. To do this, we are working with nutritionists and researchers from the CNRS and the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, because it’s not enough to be a good cook – you also have to be a good scientist, » says Mathieu Gonçalves, co-founder of the young start-up, who smilingly offers us a pot of their second product under development: a vegan « mayonnaise » based on spirulina, which has an amazing taste, contains no eggs and is made with half the usual fats.
Revolutionizing the culinary imagination
Vegans were the first to understand that to convince meat-eaters, they have to build on the symbols that appeal to them. Generous, juicy, red (but not rare) beetroot hamburgers are one of Camilla’s favorite propaganda weapons. On her site « Paint it Green », the young Italian chef who specializes in vegan catering enjoys transforming traditional dishes into vegetable recipes. But the most difficult task is that undertaken by the team of Jiminis, who propose food based on crickets and delicately spiced insects, with flavors including fruity curry, barbecue, garlic and herb, sesame and cumin, Greek-style, pepper and dried tomatoes, and sweet mango. Highly popular in Asia, these protein bombs are still not making much headway with the French. « It’s hard changing the model of the French meal, and design can help in getting past certain visual barriers and accelerating the protein transition, » says Benoit Millet, a food designer at the Nantes Design school. To bring grasshoppers into our diet, the Jiminis team experiment with festive scenarios, or incorporate insects in powder form into energy bars. « 10 kg of fodder produce 9 kg of insects compared with only 1 kg of beef. With savings on this scale, we can reduce the impact of the deforestation caused by the soya plantations needed for animal feed, » says Bastien, one of the cofounders. « It’s very simple, really: if you want to save the world, crunch on crickets! »
(1) Generation X refers to people born between 1966 and 1976.
(2) Generation Y are those born roughly between the early 1980s and mid-1990s.