The future of food is increasingly volatile. We’re living in a world where entrepreneurs are working on machines which will dispense three, perfectly balanced meals per day. That’s actual technology which people are actually working on. What does this mean for our cell bacteria? What does that mean for the microbiome?
“Foodstuffs are produced with less and less margins for producers, but because people think “I’m getting great value” they don’t challenge it - “why would anyone want to change that?” Eric points out.”
This was our starting point at Terroir Tuscany, which was co-curated by Charlotte Horton and Castello di Potentino. Venture capitalist, Eric Archambeau, works literally on the front line of food futures. As he pointed out, the food industry has been focused on pushing “quality” for the last 60 years, resulting in standardised systems which produce factory-line items made to the same exacting characteristics. Foodstuffs are produced with less and less margins for producers, but because people think “I’m getting great value” they don’t challenge it - “why would anyone want to change that?” Eric points out. The harsh reality of this is that farmers get 25% of a product’s end price, instead of the 75% it used to be.
“People used to have to work a full day to afford one kilo of meat - now it’s 15 minutes”
Industrialised systems have also taken their toll on our soils. People used to have to work a full day to afford one kilo of meat - now it’s 15 minutes. Think about Uber Eats, Delivery Hero, Deliveroo etc. These are visible distribution systems which highlight the speed and convenience with which we can now afford and consume food. As our available budgets soar (and the cost of produce gets driven lower and lower) think about what that rate of consumerism is doing to our soils. Research suggests that the earth has lost over 40% of its arable land in the last 40 years, and yet it takes 500 years to rebuild 5-10cm of soil.
Let that number sink in for a moment because even if you don’t care about the concept of terroir, this statistic alone means our food future is looking gloomy.
So how do we make people responsible for the food they consume, its waste effects, and the toll its takes on our planet? The “when everyone else does it, I’ll do it as well” mentality is a tough one to crack - something that makes Eric pessimistic for short term breakthroughs but mid-term he thinks its a different story. Eric has seen, initiated and affected the sorts of changes that we need to forward our food futures through his work as a impact financier and investor. He focuses his work with new technologies which make a difference, a role which has seen him become a founding partner of Soil Capital - a pioneering land management and investment firm committed to scaling and sustaining regenerative agriculture through market-based solutions, as well as infarm, and La Ruche qui dit Oui (aka Food Assembly) - a direct local food distribution system for sustainable farm producers.
Eric seeks out the innovators who are focused on doing things differently and challenges conventional financier models by starting with the question “what do we need to make this happen” as opposed to “what’s the full cost of financing like this?”
“Why isn’t Nestle paying to have its plastic in the sea?”
That’s just one side of the conundrum though, and whilst Eric does his part, we have to do ours. Consumer pressure is the most important one there is for big businesses. “Why isn’t Nestle paying to have its plastic in the sea?” Eric asks, by way of an example. The answer is because no-one is pressuring them to take responsibility but the moment they do, even big businesses will cave in.
We can all become self-initiated impact innovators at a grass roots level. Let’s start with where we are…
All photos: Ash Naylor Photography