From new technology to the next big trends: in an exclusive series of interviews for Borough Market Daniel Tapper asks some of Britain’s most respected experts to foresee the future of food
Dave Broom is an award-winning drinks writer and the author of Rum The Manual (Octopus)
What is the number one food issue facing humanity?
The issue that concerns me most is climate change. We are seeing major shifts in global weather systems, and this is already affecting the food industry. It’s not all bad news; English wine growers, for example, are producing better grapes, and farmers as far north as Iceland are producing barley close to the Arctic Circle. This means Icelandic distillers can produce whisky from locally grown grain and English wine will continue to win more awards.
However, the overriding effect of climate change on farming and the rural environment could be catastrophic. It is likely that we will see environmental degradation as a result of climate change, which will mean a decrease in food security, as well as the loss of certain wildlife habitats. Farmers are going to have to be exceedingly dynamic to deal with these problems.
What scares you most about the future of food in Britain?
It scares me how easy it is to get caught up in a comfortable middle class bubble. On almost every street high street in Britain you can now buy sourdough bread and craft beer. This is fantastic if you can afford it. But while I’m walking down the street clutching a cup of expensive single-origin coffee, I’m also passing numerous food banks where people are struggling to eat from one day to the next. The issue isn’t that we have a lack of food: it is entirely down to poverty and inequality. These major political issues need addressing before good food can be made available to everyone.
What are you most excited about?
Though not everyone has access to amazing food, you cannot ignore the fact that big strides are being made by small producers across the country. It excites me that many of these are making great use of local, seasonal ingredients and are really pushing flavour boundaries. I’m also reassured by the amount of appreciation there is from the public.
Are there any food or drinks that might soon disappear?
If I had a wish list I’d say sugar, palm oil and industrialised British bread. But on a more serious note, there are a number of traditional, regional drinks that appear to be on the brink. Armagnac, for example, isn’t even drunk by people who live in Armagnac, never mind anywhere else. This has nothing to do with quality; it’s all down to a lack of consumer awareness.
And what new drinks do you think we’ll embrace?
I think we will soon start to see more interesting varieties of whisky on offer. Whisky by definition is cereal based, non-neutral in flavour and is cask aged. That’s actually quite a wide remit to play with. Small-scale producers are already starting to incorporate rye, oats and even quinoa instead of barley. In Iceland, some distillers are using sheep dung instead of wood or peat to smoke their malt. I predict that in the next 10 years, some of the larger distilleries in Scotland will follow their lead and start to incorporate more innovative ingredients.
What scenario is more likely: Britain goes meat-free or gives-up alcohol?
It is more likely that we will see less red meat being consumed. There has been a realisation in recent years that over consumption of red meat isn’t just bad for our health, it is bad for the environment, too. One of the major problems is the vast quantity of grain that needs to be grown just to feed the cattle. As for alcohol, I think people are drinking less, which is sensible. But culturally I just don’t think we are capable of giving up booze.
What technological innovation will soon revolutionise the way we eat, drink or cook?
If I knew the answer to this I definitely wouldn’t tell you. I could soon become an exceedingly rich man!
We’ve had clean eating, craft beer and cronuts—what’s the next big trend we don’t know about?
It used to be relatively easy to predict the next big thing because there would be a five-year gap between bartenders getting really excited about something and the public picking up on it. But consumers are much more promiscuous these days, in terms of drink. They will be drinking craft beer one day and gin the next. It’s very different to how it used to be. My dad, for example, would have one dram of whisky every night and one glass of wine a year. But the days of brand loyalty are gone. This is a bit of a nightmare for drinks producers, but really interesting for people like me who enjoy variation.
Picture yourself at a bar 100 years from now—how has it changed?
I imagine we’ll probably have automated bars with algorithms instead of bar staff, which will know what you want to drink before you do. Having said that, I have a funny feeling that given human nature there will still be some dive bars about where people can enjoy drinks the old-fashioned way.
What will drive the way we shop for food in the future: price or provenance.
I hope that one day locally produced food and drink is so ubiquitous that provenance won’t even be an issue. But price will always trump quality, especially in unequal societies. And I don’t see us moving toward a more egalitarian system anytime soon.