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The future of food: Florence Knight

Categories: Reflections and opinions

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

Image: Carol Sachs

Florence Knight is an award-winning chef, Sunday Times columnist and the author of One: A Cook and Her Cupboard

In your opinion, what is the single most important food issue facing humanity over the next decade?
Waste. We waste huge amounts of food, both commercially and domestically. The scandal of supermarkets throwing away vast amounts of unused food rumbles along while there are parts of the world where even basic access to sufficient food supplies remains an issue. We have to become much more focused on how we treat food and what we do to make the most of what we have, while encouraging sustainable self-sufficiency in the parts of the world with too little. Our current models for growing and using food are simply unsustainable.

What scares you most about the future of food in Britain?
Britain is officially the fat man of Europe—we eat a lot more than we should and drink far too much alcohol. In this respect, we are a lot worse than our European neighbours.

And what are you most excited about?
No one can deny there’s been a food revolution in the UK in the last 20 years and this seems to be continuing apace. As long as you know where to look for it, we now have access to some of the best homegrown products in the world. And this has also impacted the quality of food produced by our restaurants. I’m also excited about movements like Slow Food and the Real Bread Campaign, as well as young chefs that are returning to a simpler, more ingredient-led style of cooking.

What ingredients will soon disappear from our plates?
Fish. We are apparently at the end of the line for many fish species, including many we had come to consider as staples, such as tuna. The treatment of our seas is heartbreaking and I’m pretty certain that by the time my children grow-up, seafood will be a rare delicacy.

And what new ingredients do you think we’ll embrace?
Wild food. It is edging its way onto plates in restaurants and getting good press. Though it can seem daunting, foraging is both inspiring and nutritious. It is absolutely normal in much of Europe and quite puzzling that it fell out of favour in Britain. I also hope we will start to see more fresh, seasonal ingredients grown in the UK on our supermarket shelves and less interest in transporting produce half way around the world. We could just as easily eat what’s available and wait for the right season for the more exotic varieties.

What scenario is more likely: Britain goes meat-free or gives-up alcohol?
Neither. I think most people are aware that we should eat a balanced diet of meat and veg and not drink too much.

What technological innovation will soon revolutionise the way we eat, drink or cook?
I’m the least techie person I know so I have no idea, frankly. People seem very keen on ordering food on their telephones but I’d rather stay at home and make it myself. Knife skills are an underrated skill that I think could revolutionise the way many people cook. One of the most important things any aspiring chef can have is a sharp knife!

We’ve had clean eating, craft beer and cronuts—but what’s the next big trend we don’t know about?
I’m not interested in food fads but I do hope the current trend for local sustainable sourcing is here to stay. I also think dairy is due for a renaissance; we have some wonderful dairy farmers in this country and it would be excellent if they received greater support.

Will the average British diet be more or less healthy in 10 years’ time?
I hope I’m wrong but I fear it will be worse. Our national dietary pendulum seems to swing between over consumption and fad diets. The impact of food delivery companies means that fast, casual, mass-produced food is more readily available than ever and I think this can only have a negative impact in the long term. To counter this, we need to build awareness and start food education earlier.

Picture yourself in a restaurant 100 years from now. How has eating-out changed?
I really doubt much will change about the essential experience of eating out. We visit restaurants not just to fill our bellies but to socialise, taste something new, and to avoid the drudgery of cooking and washing up. I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

What will drive the way we shop for food in the future: price or provenance?
That will depend entirely on the economic circumstances of the shopper, as it does now. For people on lower incomes, price will always be the overriding factor. But hopefully we will begin to care a great deal more about how and where our food is produced.