David M was well informed upon introducing Dr Anna Campbell here tonight to talk about the ‘world of food.’ A Dunedin girl, now raising her teens here, Anna is very involved in her community centred around her family, cricket and hockey. I got the feeling that no matter what the task at hand, Anna would throw herself wholeheartedly into the fray. Enduring a rather “torturous” financial dinner 3 - 4 years ago, the conversation had turned to the ways of the ‘80’s. For Anna it was a moment to think and reflect on past behaviours and how these had changed in the way we look at, produce, consume and acquire food.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” is about how little things can make a big difference, the sociological changes that mark everyday life. Think about the plastic supermarket bag - the 101 uses around the home and how not that long ago, we thought we couldn’t live without. Slow to accept change, the idea for bringing your own bags to the supermarket was raised 2 decades ago (let’s face it paper/bring your own bags were the reality over 50 years ago!!!) The metamorphosis in our way of thinking I don’t need them, I forgot them, to the mortification of being seen shopping with plastic bags, only appears to have been a fast phenomenon. How things change, how behaviours change. 

2019 is the Year of the Vegan. John Parker, The Economist says “Where millennials lead, businesses and governments will follow…Fully a quarter of 25- to 34-year-old Americans say they are vegans or vegetarians.” Emotive statements from high profile figures endorse the end or reduction in animal farming, its effects and meat consumption. Science steps into the breach with 2 alternative food sources for protein; cellular and plant based (think the impossible burger.) Red meat is not the only food group to be replaced - eggs, chicken, finless fish and don’t forget the meteoric rise of alternative milk sources already cramming the supermarket shelves. In 2017 $52 million was spent on almond, coconut, rice, oat and soy milk, a $12 million increase in 2 years. With every, dare I say ‘fad,’ there is the ‘be careful what you wish for’ side of the coin. We are very quick to accept and take up the latest healthy trend often without questioning the nutritional value and its merits. Almost a blinkered vision of the bigger picture and the wider effect the demand has globally. Only 2.5 % of almonds are used to make your easily available almond milk. It takes however, a lot of water to grow almonds, almonds are in huge demand. Where does the extra water required come from? What effect does that water redirection have? Do we even think about this as we put the carton in the trolley? 

Anna pointed out we live in a world of contradiction.  As Managing Director of AbacusBio she sees this contradiction in developing countries such as India, China and Africa. With a rise in wealth comes a rise in protein eating, meat equates to wealth and nutrition. Yet as said earlier, alternative protein sources are here, soon to be a part of our everyday lives and food choices. What does this mean for NZ agriculture, for the commodity products we currently deliver? What is the market telling us? Millennials and their needs have a huge market share, no longer do they want expensive trinkets, fine dining or even breakfast cereal. It’s all about the experience, exposure to what the world has to offer, travel, sharing platters - deep fried crickets washed down with boutique beer enjoying the moment with your friends. Anna shared her insight into how the industry needs to shift their thinking around what currently works, where the future markets lie, the vision we need for ourselves in the Global market. To use the old cliche, ‘think outside of the box,’ be the boutique market celebrating our unique and beautiful landscape in our food. Of course food choices are a conscious choice - eat healthy, exercise, limit plastic, food wastage, our carbon footprint. Once again though, we need to think about the bigger picture around our conscious choices and what we think we are doing right for the environment, our health and food products. Anna’s one trip to Melbourne for work about all of the above, would take two years of Veganism to mitigate. The challenge therefore, is in how we tell our story. This outlook was highlighted at a recent Rabobank conference, thinking about the food chain with an alternate lens. Measuring our food and land-use by nutrient value rather than, or in addition to, the carbon footprint. Recognising the place or value of high density foods have such as Venison vs high fructose syrup. “Cows' milk has a much higher carbon footprint than soy-milk, but it also has a much greater nutrient density index. Beer has a similar caloric index to cow and soy-milk but a nutrient density index of zero. Putting them all on a level playing field, what does the world need and what should we be producing?” The Wellness economy is a “multi-market mega opportunity” a $4.2 trillion market. Shift our thinking. “ Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” Hippocrates. For example, iron tablets for pregnant women vs venison meat. In other words natural NZ products, supported by scientific research and development, balanced with environmental positioning and nutritional value. Be the ultimate wellness product.

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled

into inaction.” Bill Gates

Obviously a very thought provoking topic as some insightful questions were asked. The place of insects on our tables in the future? Already here, insects will become the norm as animal feed to flour (Cricket flour tortillas already available at Gardens New World) to a meat replacement. Technology will continue to have a huge impact on food wastage, we as households are the biggest contributors not the supermarkets. Yes the Government vs the private sector does need to invest more into R & D and the science around nutrition and its value for the future of Agriculture in NZ. 

Robyn C thanked her long time friend for an interesting and insightful talk. Not the doom and gloom one had potentially expected rather thinking outside the square. Dr Anna Campbell’s fortnightly column in the ODT is a good read and Robyn often flicks Anna a text with positive feedback. FYI 2 programs to watch on Netflix “Inside Bill’s Brain” and David Letterman’s “My next guest needs no introduction” with Melinda Gates.  

“Food for Thought.”