Josh Schonwald,
The Taste of Tomorrow:
Dispatches from the Future of Food

(Harper, 2012)

Predicting the future is always a dicey business, but journalist Josh Schonwald gives it his best shot in The Taste of Tomorrow. His approach is more idiosyncratic than comprehensive, using some of his favorite foods to explore different areas of food development, from radicchio to indoor fish aquaculture, lab-grown meat and food pills. There's plenty in here to interest foodies, environmentalists and techies alike, but it's not a cohesive, game-changing expose the way Omnivore's Dilemma was. The Taste of Tomorrow reads more like a set of loosely connected articles about the cutting edge of food. The thread that binds them is Schonwald's openness to technological innovation and insistence that technology is not at odds with sustainable food.

Schonwald's initial focus is on foods he's personally interested in: salad greens, meat, saltwater fish. He waxes poetic about the under-appreciated radicchio and the surprisingly interesting history of how broccoli became popular, then switches gears to talk about alternate forms of meat (including lab-grown) and indoor, closed-system aquaculture for the next generation of fish. Later in the book, he looks at more theoretical aspects of the future of food: the next big ethnic cuisine, new technologies that could make food optional as long as you're willing to ingest radioactive chemicals. There are even some recipes in the back for a few of the foods he mentions.

For me, the most interesting section by far was on GMOs. Schonwald questions whether the foodie/environmentalist stance against GMOs isn't based on more ideology than good science, and offers scenarios in which GMO could play a significant role in getting us sustainable food. At the very least, he asks us to "not be reflexively and categorically opposed to any and all technological solutions." I heartily agree with the need for greater scientific literacy. I don't share Schonwald's enthusiasm for GMOs and think he overlooks the problems of increasingly resistant pests and involuntary hybridization, but this chapter pushed me to rethink some of my assumptions and learn more about GMO -- always the mark of a good piece of non-fiction!

Although the tone of the book is light, often humorous, and neither defensive nor offensive, Michael Pollan devotees might well be upset by the idea of a food future that involves technology as well as a return to older, more sustainable agricultural practices. Schonwald concedes that indoor fish tanks are a whole lot less romantic than Joel Salatin's lush Virginia fields, but in an uncertain future with more mouths to feed, we might just need both.

I enjoyed The Taste of Tomorrow, but didn't find it compulsively readable. Coverage of topics is often a bit perfunctory, and to be honest, I have no great interest in salad greens, meat or fish. Nonetheless, it offers a thought-provoking counterpoint to the slow/organic food movement. And I, for one, will be looking forward to seeing if Schonwald's prediction for the next big ethnic cuisine comes true.

book review by
Jennifer Mo

4 May 2013

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