The future of food: Dan Hunter

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: Colin Page

Dan Hunter is a pioneering Australian chef and the founder of Brae, one of Australia’s most critically acclaimed restaurants. His debut cookbook, Brae (Phaidon), is out now.

What is the number one food issue facing humanity?
In many parts of the world people can no longer rely on a steady and stable supply of good quality water. This is particularly problematic in Australia. One year, we had to hand-water all our vegetables for five months because not a single drop of rain fell. Droughts obviously aren’t a new thing but they are becoming more frequent and less predictable due to global warming.

What are you most excited about?
I’m really excited about the growing urbanisation of food production. As populations grow, more and more people are choosing to live in urban areas. And this has sparked a whole new movement of local, inner-city food production. Communities are getting together to create urban smallholdings, rooftop gardens and farmers’ markets that can support entire neighbourhoods. This in turn is promoting community spirit and reducing the need for importing food and drink from further afield. It’s a really, really positive movement because locally grown food also tends to be more seasonal and sustainably grown.

Is there any food or drink that might soon disappear?
We are seeing fewer types of seafood on our plates because commercial fishing fleets are focusing on just a few species of profitable fish. The trouble with this approach is that they also end up catching large quantities of bi-catch, much of which goes to waste. Where I live, near Melbourne, southern rock lobster is a highly celebrated food. But the fishermen unavoidably catch octopuses too, which they legally cannot land. As such, we are missing out on a delicious source of sustainable seafood, while fishermen are losing out on a potentially valuable source of income.

And what new foods do you think we’ll embrace?
I think we are slowly beginning to realise that there are other forms of protein out there that aren’t sourced from four-legged animals and that don’t require huge amounts of water and feed to grow them. I can definitely foresee growing numbers of people adopting plant-based diets that are healthier and more sustainable.

What scenario is more likely: we go meat-free or give up alcohol?
I suspect that—given the choice—humans would much sooner give up meat than alcohol. The move towards greater meat-based protein diets is a relatively new phenomenon that has only been taking place for the last 50 years or so. And before this it was largely enjoyed in small quantities as a celebratory food. Alcohol, on the other hand, has been integral to human culture for thousands of years.

What technological innovation will soon revolutionise the way we eat, drink or cook?
I’m very interested in the idea of harnessing alternative sources of power for our kitchens. One answer could be community-based composting systems. Imagine the heat generated by a small mound of garden compost. If this was carried out on a large scale, using waste from entire neighbourhoods, we could potentially produce vast amounts of heat and energy, freeing us from our reliance on electricity for cooking.

We’ve had clean eating, craft beer and cronuts—but what’s the next big trend we don’t know about?
I don’t know what the next big food is going to be—if I did, I’d be making it right now. I hope there will be a growing trend for the appreciation of quality over quantity. I know this doesn’t sound very flashy but it’s something that could have hugely positive implications for both the environment and our health.

Will the average person’s diet be more or less healthy in 10 years’ time?
I spend much of my time stuck in my own little bubble; I live on a farm, grow organic food and all of my friends are just as passionate about good food as I am. So I sometimes have to remind myself that McDonald’s restaurants are still being opened at a startlingly high rate and that obesity is on the rise. The good news is that I do think that big food companies are increasingly being held to account. In Australia, soft drinks have largely been banned in places where kids hang out, such as schools and swimming pools, and I reckon unhealthy ingredients will one day be treated with as much caution as tobacco. This has to be a good sign of things to come.

Picture yourself at a restaurant 100 years from now—how has it changed?
I strongly doubt that eating out will change. We see a lot of trends and innovations in cooking but the format of sitting in a restaurant and being served food hasn’t changed in about 400 years. This is definitely a good thing. We are entering a period of great political, social and cultural change—not all of it very nice—and I think people find restaurants reassuringly stable places where they can experience a bit of normality.

What will drive the way we shop for food in the future: price or provenance?
Price is always going to be a concern because people naturally look to feed the most people they can for the least amount of money. The trouble with this approach is that it has resulted in the devaluing of food, especially in developed countries that have mastered mass production. As a result, people aren’t prepared to spend an appropriate amount of money on good food. This isn’t just bad for our health; it is terrible for small-scale businesses that cannot possibly compete with larger companies.