The future of food: Signe Johansen

Categories: Reflections and opinions

From new technology to the next big trends: in an exclusive series of interviews, Daniel Tapper asks some of Britain’s most respected experts to foresee the future of food

Signe Johansen is a Norwegian chef and the author of How to Hygge: The Secrets of Nordic Living

In your opinion, what is the single most important food issue facing humanity over the next decade? 
With a rapidly growing global population, food security is top of the list. Access to vital resources is something that should concern all of us, especially with so much political uncertainty in the world at the moment.

What scares you most about the future of food in Britain?
We really take our food supply for granted in Britain but we are heavily dependent on food imports here, and that makes us vulnerable to any disruption in trade conditions and currency fluctuations. Brexit will have an impact on our food supply, whatever the Brexiteers like to spin to the contrary. The agricultural sector in this country relies on foreign labour; if the conditions change dramatically—and we don’t know yet whether Britain will stay in the single market and accept the free movement of people after Article 50 is triggered—then we could see a sharp rise in food costs within a relatively short period of time.

And what are you most excited about?
Brits have slowly but surely over the past decade—or a little longer, but it’s definitely been a long time coming—become much more enthusiastic about great British dishes and traditions. This country has brilliant artisans and producers—the cheese here is some of the best in the world—and food writers, cooks and chefs have been doing a sterling job in spreading the message that British food is something to be proud of. If that continues then there’s much to be optimistic about in the future.

What ingredients will soon disappear from our plates?
Well, I’m not sure about this, to be honest. If we have a health crisis on the scale of BSE in the nineties then we could see a particular ingredient vanish from our plates, but it’s very hard to predict.

And what new ingredients will we embrace?
Anything with a ‘healthy’ tag to it seems to be embraced with gusto as people become more health and ‘wellness’-focussed. While that’s understandable, I reckon people could be a little more adventurous with ingredients, regardless of their health merits. Diversity is a good thing when it comes to your kitchen larder. Try something new, I say; you never know—you might like it!

What scenario is more likely: Britain goes meat-free or gives-up alcohol?
Both have been vilified in their own way, and are arguably integral to British identity. I suspect we’re more likely to be forced to go meat-free in the future, than to give up alcohol.

What technological innovation will soon revolutionise the way we eat, drink or cook?
I’ve wondered whether we could have smarter kitchens, using technology to create a space that really encourages people to spend more time in the kitchen and cook. This is a tough one; I honestly don’t know, you’d have to ask a techie!

We’ve had clean eating, craft beer and cronuts—but what’s the next big trend we don’t know about?
I’m tempted to say the ‘back to basics’ trend: knowing how to do a few useful things in the kitchen, understanding the basics of nutrition and disregarding all the noise from marketeers and media. Flippancy aside, I’d like to see DIY fermentation really take off: making your own cheese, yoghurt, pickles, kombucha or bread. Not only are they so delicious but they’re also fun to cook or make.

Will the average British diet be more or less healthy in 10 years’ time?
I’d like to be optimistic about this, but if we take a nasty hit in living standards from Brexit then we may have less money to spend on more expensive food. Unfortunately, that could have serious ramifications for public health, unless we see future governments adopt a more enlightened approach to food policy.

Picture yourself in a restaurant 100 years from now. How has eating-out changed?
We’ll think nothing of going to a local restaurant specialising in an obscure cuisine. Food culture is constantly evolving and we happily adopt new ways of eating from other corners of the world, so I imagine we’ll be even more adventurous in our tastes than we are now. For example, we’ll think nothing of eating ants.

What will drive the way we shop for food in the future: price or provenance?
For a certain demographic, price will always drive the way they shop. And for another demographic, provenance is key. I’m not sure there will be much overlap between the two, which is a pity. But who knows? A food revolution may be just round the corner.