The Next Chapter

Why three Canadian academics teamed up to predict the future of food

Ian Mosby talks about co-writing the nonfiction book Uncertain Harvest with Evan D. G. Fraser and Sarah Rotz.
Ian Mosby is a co-author of nonfiction book Uncertain Harvest. (University of Regina Press, Submitted)

Ian Mosby is a Toronto-based food and nutrition historian and professor who wrote about food on Canada's homefront in an earlier book, Food Will Win the War. 

In his new book Uncertain Harvest, co-written with academics Evan D.G. Fraser and Sarah Rotz, he looks ahead to challenges facing future food security. 

Ian Mosby spoke with The Next Chapter about writing Uncertain Harvest.

Food for all

"In this book, we're trying to figure out how we're going to feed an estimated 10 billion people in 2050 — and what kind of food we're going to be growing and what eating is going to look like.

We're trying to figure out how we're going to feed an estimated 10 billion people in 2050.

"Are we going to be eating bugs or are we going to be eating lab-grown meat? Will there be robot farmers?

"We try to look at some of the trends that are dominating the current food landscape and assess which ones are going to be the future of food." 

According to Ian Mosby, rather than subsidizing big farming with more than $6 billion every year, the federal and provincial governments should encourage more small, local farms. (Tory Gillis/CBC)

A collaboration for a cause

"Evan Fraser, Sarah Rotz and myself all have different academic backgrounds, but also different ideas about the food system and had different ideas about what the future of food is going to look like. 

"It's kind of an unlikely collaboration in which we all decided that we could pool our resources — and take a historian, a geographer and the head of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph —and come up with some kind of a middle ground in which all of us could agree on some different directions for the future of food.

Are we going to be eating bugs or are we going to be eating lab-grown meat?

"But in the end, that diversity of perspectives made the book more interesting than it would've been otherwise."

Thinking about food during the pandemic 

"The pandemic has shifted everyone's focus toward the immediate future and how are we going to get through this. We've seen huge changes to the food system because of the pandemic, starting with empty grocery store shelves as the supply chains were disrupted.

"Our book is looking far in the future. But at the same time, we do address the possibilities of disruption within our food system. Climate change is going to be the largest disrupter going forward, but there are a lot of choke points in the food system that we're starting to see because of the pandemic."

The food historian talks about his book on eating habits on the home front during the Second World War. 11:16

Guessing the future of food

"Past predictions about the future are almost universally wrong. That's what I brought to the project — I brought a skepticism about these sort of breathless predictions about things like lab grown meat. I tried to place the types of futures we're talking about in their historical context. 

Past predictions about the future are almost universally wrong.

"History is necessary if we want to understand our current food system and our current place and where we might be going in the future." 

Ian Mosby's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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