Nutrition and Food Security

Food Trends and
Global Hunger

Crop Science Story Food Trends and Global Hunger
Crop Science Story Food Trends and Global Hunger
Soursop fruit, seaweed and insects are increasingly popping up on menus in industrialized nations. While eating habits are changing across the world, there are still regions where there simply isn’t enough food to go around.

Beneath the yellow-green protective canopy of the baobab tree hides a dry, fibrous fruit whose sour taste hints at its secret: baobab is rich in vitamin C. What’s more, the seeds inside contain calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus as well as unsaturated and saturated fats. The high-quality nutritional profile of the baobab makes it a powerful energy booster for the human body and has given it a trendy ‘superfood’ status. “Lots of people today want to eat healthily and are looking for natural foodstuffs rather than processed foods full of artificial additives,” says Simon Dang, food and nutrition expert at Weber Shandwick in China. “Healthy living is the current trend.”

Meals made from fresh, low-fat and nutrient-rich ingredients are forming a growing counterpart to unhealthy diets, which have become a huge problem for many countries.


million people in the world do not have enough to eat.
Source: State of Food Insecurity in the World, FAO 2015

The healthy eating movement is conquering the market with some of the same characteristics that got the fast-food industry established worldwide: varied, tasty and quick food that can be eaten on the move. Modern and mobile food trucks serving healthy takeout dishes at lightning speed have become particularly popular in the U.S. and Asia. In Singapore, for example, 81 percent of people eating out prefer to buy food from street vendors, while visits to restaurants are becoming less frequent.

Grasshopper Burgers

Insects are a source of nutrition for some two billion people, mostly in Asia and Africa. Many consumers in the western world struggle with the idea of chowing down on insects, but according to a study by the Nestlé Future Forum, 52 percent of Germans could imagine eating insects if they were prepared carefully and were not visible in the food. It is possible that, by 2030, grasshopper burgers will be appearing on menus in the west.

Sources: National Geographic, Nestlé, Tagesspiegel

High-quality fast food options such as gourmet burgers are especially popular. Even McDonald’s has jumped on the health food bandwagon. “With the launch of the Veggie Clubhouse, we are broadening our premium segment and satisfying the demand of many consumers for a high-quality, meat-free burger,” says Holger Beeck, CEO of McDonald’s in Germany. Their meat substitute is made from the seeds of a highly sought-after South American plant: “Quinoa is a fantastic source of protein and also contains essential amino acids, a number of polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals, B vitamins and dietary fibers,” says Hartmut Welck, Manager of the Bioactive Plant Foods Network. “The demand for cereal-based substitutes from Latin America has rocketed in the past few years,” he adds. Crops such as quinoa and amaranth are primarily cultivated in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, where they have long been a dietary staple. But now they are also conquering the global market.

Farm-to-table Concept

These nutritional trends are no mere fad: “Food trends change over a period of about 15 years and occur in response to current problems and challenges,” says Hanni Ruetzler, a food trend researcher at Future Food Studio in Vienna. Globalization is not only a driving force behind social upheaval; it is also the cause of fundamental changes in diet around the world. As a result, the focus has returned to the direct marketing of regional produce: “The ‘farm-to-table’ concept is widespread,” says Dang, with people even going as far as only eating food that can be foraged in nature, so-called ‘wild foods’.” In general, consumers are paying more and more attention to the food’s origin and to the crop season. Restaurants initially reacted to this new preference by serving regional dishes, and then by using regional in-season ingredients.

Of course restaurants and hotel kitchens have an additional concern: constantly adjusting their menus to satisfy guests. “Flavor variety is in high demand,” says Stefanie Heckel of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association. Classic home cooking and hearty dishes are enjoying renewed popularity, but there is also demand for new culinary creations. So-called “fusion food,” for example, combines very ­different culinary concepts: from prawn & cherry salad to asparagus & lemon tart. Various creations using seaweed and even insects such as worms, ants, and crickets are also feature on the latest menus. 

But such food waves, the result of migration, are nothing new. “Ultimately, all national markets are influenced by the global eating habits of the day,” says Ruetzler. In France, Arabic spices and cuisine have long been a part of the culture; England’s food is strongly characterized by Indian herbs and teas. “And the Peruvian national dish ceviche – raw fish in lime juice – has its roots in the immigration of Japanese people during the 19th century,” adds Ruetzler.

portrait of Ina Danquah, German Institute of Human Nutrition

Hunger is mostly a problem of distribution.

Ina Danaquah, German Institute of Human Nutrition

Protein Boost

The Amaranthus caudatus plant – not to be confused with the Amaranthus palmeri weed – is one of the oldest crops in the world. It has been a source of nutrition for indigenous South Americans for some 7,000 years – and with good reason. With a protein content of 18 percent, the plant ranks even higher than spelt (15 percent), wheat (14 percent) and rye (10 percent). Amarant grains are also gluten free, and puffed amaranth is increasingly found in breakfast muesli.

Feasts Amidst Famines

Such a wave can also be observed in meat consumption – although huge differences exist between the various parts of the world. In industrialized countries the average amount of meat consumed is 80 kg per person per year, roughly 1.5 kg a week. This equates to around 2.5 times more than the average meat consumption of people in developing countries. Worldwide, however, meat consumption is on rise and a clear tendency can be seen: In Europe and the U.S., consumption rates are basically stable but demand in parts of Asia is rocketing. The growing middle class in China is consuming more and more meat and crying out for supplies. India currently exports more beef than Brazil. At the same time, a strong countertrend is emerging: “In some countries, meat consumption is under intense scrutiny and many people are giving it up entirely,” says Ruetzler. One alternative is soy. The liquid extracted from the soy plant’s beans can be used to make yogurt, cheese and tofu. “There’s actually nothing exotic about not eating meat – it has a long tradition in many regions of the world,” explains the nutritionist.

Ruetzler believes “that global developments of nutrition have to be differentiated. We often focus too much on the European perspective for instance, when it comes to the prediction of meat consumption.“ There are too many local circumstances that affect what ends up on the table. In some parts of the world, for example, food is still a scarce commodity. According to current figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 795 million people around the world are malnourished.

meat consumption
meat consumption
Across the world, each person eats an average of 43 kg meat a year.

Source: Statista, the Statistics Portal

Uneven Distribution

98 percent of the world’s hungry live in developing countries. Of that number, around 29 percent live in Africa and 64 percent in the Asia-Pacific region.

Efficient Farming Needed

In some regions, the situation has improved in recent years, for example, in Latin America, Southeast and Central Asia, and North and West Africa. The total number of people living with hunger worldwide has also fallen by 167 million in the last decade. Nevertheless, hunger is still the number one health risk in the world. “Every mother wants to provide her children with enough food to eat but some simply do not have the means to do so,” says Ina Danquah of the German Institute of Human Nutrition, Potsdam-Rehbruecke. The results are nutritional deficiencies leading to weight loss as well as a loss of physical and mental strength. There is a difference between various forms of malnutrition: “People with macronutrient deficiency consume too little protein and lose weight. Insidious micronutrient malnutrition, on the other hand, occurs due to a lack of vitamins,” Danquah continues. Nutrient deficiencies primarily impede the development and growth of newborns and children. But these symptoms do not only occur through malnutrition; the unhealthy diets of many people living in industrialized nations have similar consequences.

The large discrepancy between industrialized and developing nations is due, in fact, to the availability of fresh produce. “We have the ability to feed the world and must make sure that everyone is provided with nutritious food,” says Josef Schmidhuber of the FAO in Italy. In the late 1950s and 1960s, significant progress was made in the agricultural productivity of South-East Asia, particularly in India, Indonesia and Malaysia. But large parts of Africa, for example, lack the infrastructure, institutions, irrigation systems and knowledge transfer required for success. “There is a great deal of poverty in rural areas – that’s where we have to begin,” says Schmidhuber. “Small farms, in particular, are in need of help.”

Whether we’re talking about the latest food trends in industrialized nations or how small farmers in developing countries can guarantee food security for their regions, the basis for ensuring a well-nourished global population is efficient farming – it’s for healthy quinoa burgers in New York or nutritious hybrid rice in Asia.

Josef Schmidhuber, FAO Italy

We must make sure that everyone is provided with nutritious food.

Josef Schmidhuber, FAO Italy

New Food Trends

Hanni Ruetzler is a food trend researcher at futurefoodstudio in Vienna, Austria, specializing in the emergence of new trends in society. She publishes an annual food report in collaboration with the Zukunfts­institut in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.

What are the next food trends you expect?
There will be a fundamental change in food quality over the next ten years. The younger generations have learned to be more relaxed about the variety of options; they are informing themselves about regional products and discovering food that corresponds to their values. Food has become a lifestyle choice and an expression of individuality. Trendsetters know that healthy food doesn’t mean to give up on taste – healthy food can actually be delicious.

How do social trends influence our diets?
It’s nothing new that ethical and religious values are influencing our eating habits. This tendency has become stronger in recent years – we are witnessing a “moralization” of the food markets. In Arab cultures, there are hygiene guidelines and slaughter regulations; halal is an important aspect there. In France and Britain, too, the moral eating trend has gained importance. Kosher food has played a significant role in American gastronomy, and this trend could also spread to Europe.

portrait of Hanni Ruetzler, food trend researcher in Vienna, Austria
portrait of Hanni Ruetzler, food trend researcher in Vienna, Austria
Hanni Ruetzler is a food trend researcher at futurefoodstudio in Vienna, Austria

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