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New Perspectives
on Invention and Innovation

Food for Tomorrow

November 5-6, 2010
at the National Museum of American History

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Keynote Address
Saturday, November 6, 2010

Warren Belasco, "An Introduction to the Future of Food"

Warren BelascoWhat might be on our tables in the year 2050, and beyond? In Warren Belasco's opinion, it's going to be "mushy," he quipped somewhat facetiously. "One of the undercurrents I have noticed in doing a lot of research on the future, is that it was assumed that people either would have no teeth in the future, or would not want to use them," he joked. But he then got to a more serious assessment of the future: "The way I approach the question of the future of food is: Are we going to starve? How will we provide enough food for future generations?" He then considered three different approaches to this question.

The first was Thomas Malthus's contention that, as populations boom, agriculture won't be able to keep up with the demand for food. Malthus argued that either we needed to stop making more humans or nature will take care of overpopulation through famine and disease, Belasco summarized. This idea has been characterized by demographer Joel Cohen as the “Fewer Forks at the Table” position. The cornucopian idea that through technology and better business practices we can always produce more food—a kind of technological fix—was argued by the French philosopher, Marquis De Condorcet. And finally, Belasco mentioned the views of William Godwin, a British radical. Godwin made an egalitarian argument: if we share our food and redistribute it better, we will have more than enough food to serve our future needs. Belasco saw this as an “anthropological fix,” meaning we have to change human nature.

So which view does Belasco think will be dominant in our future? Watch the video of his talk to find out.

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Last Update: 10 Apr 2012

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