The future of food: Tim Hayward

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: Mike Sim

Tim Hayward is a writer, broadcaster and restaurateur. His latest book, Knife: The Cult, Craft and Culture of the Cook’s Knife (Quadrille), is out now.

What is the number one food issue facing humanity?
As somebody who writes about food, is immersed in the food industry and actually runs a food business, I believe that the biggest single problem we have in the UK right now is the general public’s inability to value food correctly. Marketing over the years—particularly by supermarkets—has warped how much we are prepared to spend. And we now wrongly expect food to be exceptionally cheap. In fact, the only country that spends less of its annual income on food is the United States, which is not something to be proud of. Even significantly poorer countries than the UK spend more than we do. This approach favours big business and is responsible for putting a lot of farmers, producers and restaurants out of business. Until we can persuade the public to spend more money on good food then we cannot even begin to push things like organic food and sustainable farming.

What scares you most about the future of food in Britain?
Brexit scares the crap out of me for two major reasons. Firstly, the UK is not going to be able to match the farming subsidies currently paid by the EU, which means many farmers will have to go out of business. Secondly, over 50 per cent of people currently working in our catering industry are from abroad. When these people leave, they are not going to be replaced by cheery, enthusiastic English kids.

What are you most excited about?
The thing that really cheers me up at the moment is that people aren’t really interested in celebrity chefs anymore. People are actually eating good food and are wanting to cook and engage with different ingredients—they couldn’t really give a toss what some shouty, wrinkly-faced guy is saying in America. And that’s the way it should be.

Are there any food or drinks that might soon disappear?
I don’t think so. The food culture here swings between innovation and weird nostalgia. If offal starts to disappear from our plates for some reason in the next 10 years, then in 10 years there will be another great offal revival. What does concern me is the loss of proper food names. I’d quite like there still to be tangerines and clementines but supermarkets have now rebranded them as ‘easy-peelers’.

And what new foods do you think we’ll embrace?
Mexican food is really kicking-off right now. And this is not chilli con carne, enchiladas or any of the other obvious stuff you get in a Tex-Mex restaurant. This is vegetables I’ve never seen before, spices I’ve never heard of and phenomenal, mind-blowing mole sauces. I cannot get enough of it.

What scenario is more likely: Britain goes meat-free or gives up alcohol?
I don’t think there is the faintest possibility of either. We would never give-up alcohol—I mean the very idea of it is utterly, utterly ridiculous. Even in massively Muslim countries where not drinking alcohol is a religious requirement you can still get a pint if you really want one. And the only thing that is more absurd than the idea of giving up alcohol is giving up meat. Our bodies and our digestive systems are designed to be omnivorous. You would have to eat a shed load of grass before you got half the nutritional value of meat—and we simply haven’t got time for this.

What technological innovation will soon revolutionise the way we eat, drink or cook?
There don’t appear to be any more innovations on the horizon. I mean, there are these new so-called ‘super pots’ that are a bit like pressure cookers but with digital timers that can be operated from your phone. But personally, I don’t see the point of these labour-saving devices. I believe that the act of cooking is as important as the food itself. Cooking is social, human and attractive. It as important as falling in love or breathing. We already have the tools we need so there’s no need for any innovation.

We’ve had clean eating, craft beer and cronuts—but what’s the next big trend we don’t know about?
We’re hearing a great deal of utter rubbish about turmeric at the moment and I expect there is more to come. Turmeric used to be something you and I put in our curries to make them go a bit yellow. But in the last couple of weeks I’ve read two or three articles that posit it as a genuine cure for cancer.

Will the average British diet be more or less healthy in 10 years’ time?
That is a fascinating question. I guess it depends on what your definition of healthy is. We are dying of malnutrition and starvation in this country at a lower rate than we have in our entire history. We’re living longer than ever before and we’re better nourished. Food is cheap and generally more delicious that it’s ever been, which makes us happy. So, in this respect we are already eating healthily. I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

Picture yourself at a restaurant 100 years from now—how has it changed?
I hope the experience of eating out will be more human and more hospitable. The things that bug me about restaurants more than anything else are pretention and foolishness. The hospitality industry is about the simple act of welcoming someone into your space, feeding them and making sure they have a happy time. It’s the simplest format we’ve ever had, and it’s something we need to get closer and closer to. Fortunately, this appears to be the way we’re going. What I love about restaurants today is that they’re full of young people who are immensely enthusiastic and talented, and who are using their creativity to delight and entertain their customers. If all restaurants are like this in 100 years’ time then that would be just great.

What will drive the way we shop for food in the future: price or provenance?
I hope with all my heart that it is provenance. But unless a total revolution takes place then I’m afraid that price will always prevail.