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We asked some of the boldest thinkers what the world will be like in 50 years. Here’s what their answers tell us about the future.

Sponsored by
Dan Barber

Dan Barber

Chef and co-owner, Blue Hill

Dan Barber is the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and the author of "The Third Plate." Barber also co-founded Row 7 Seed Company, which brings together chefs and plant breeders to develop new varieties of vegetables and grains. Barber has received multiple James Beard awards including Best Chef: New York City (2006) and the country's Outstanding Chef (2009).

  • Who will run the world?

    • It’s our choice—either big agribusiness or organic farmers. Now is the time to choose. As Michael Pollan has reminded us, we vote with our forks, three times a day. That’s a powerful voice to advocate for the kind of food economy we want for the future.

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    • What will we eat?

      • Broadly speaking, the future is going to be delicious, if for no other reason than that more and more people are going to demand food with flavor and nutrition, and food with a story. There is no turning back to the food I grew up with in the 1970s and 1980s, which was about overly processed and packaged foods. More specifically, the future is going to bring plant breeders into the conversation. We’ve become more in tune with where and how our food is grown, but we have turned a blind eye to the source of it all: seeds. Plant breeders, the people who create new varieties of fruits, vegetables, and grains, are the real architects of our food system. Unfortunately, much of their work is dictated by the handful of agricultural giants who control the seed industry. That means selecting for yield and uniformity above all else—a seed planted in New York is expected to perform the same as it does in Mexico or even China. In the future, we will be breeding fruits and vegetables that are better suited for their local ecology, better adapted for organic farming systems, and of course, for better flavor.

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    • What will our most valuable resource be?

      • Our most valuable resource will be phosphorous, an instrumental element used in modern agriculture. We’ll need phosphate (the form of phosphorus that plants can absorb) to grow the amount of food we’re currently producing; however, it’s a non-renewable resource and we are rapidly depleting it. Scientists are predicting that we’re going to run out of it in less than 100 years. What happens then? We won’t be able to grow enough food to feed the planet.  
         
        This impending crisis can be avoided. Plants can only uptake a small fraction of the phosphate they get in fertilizer, so most of it gets washed out of the topsoil into bodies of water, creating dead zones. We know our stores of phosphate are limited and yet we’re unnecessarily drowning our plants in it and polluting the environment. If we’re hoping for food security in the future, we’ll have to dramatically reduce our phosphorus consumption now.

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