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A History of Nutri-Evolution

While this efficiency graph has been exponential, this real magic was caused by a few fundamental mind shifts.

Published: 17th October 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th October 2021 03:07 PM   |  A+A-

Lockdown, Coronavirus, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Representational image (Photo | Sunish P Surendran, EPS)

It’s 2050 CE. History, on this front, has never been more eventful. Or enriching. Or massively transformational. Child's play now - feeding the world's 10 billion population, not merely in calories but in calibrated nutrition too. We often need to trim back our nutrient production to keep supply finely tuned with demand, all in real time.

Food (read nutrition) was demonetised rapidly in the last 30 years; the percentage of disposable income spent on nutrition fell globally from 35 percent in 2000 CE to less than 5 percent today - a dramatic decrease, and still falling.

The impact on human wellness therefore has been a 'never before' story. Science historians are united in their opinion that to reach this state required the decimation of the self-imposed boundaries between the sciences - chemistry, physics, biology, genetics, IoT, robotics, AI, software, all pulling together.

Active collaboration between these disciplines has doubled global output of nutrition per square metre in this period with a quadrupling of income yields to the nutrient entrepreneur (the farmer as he was then called). All this in spite of releasing massive land tracts to house a population 50 percent larger.

Essentially what man has sensed through eons that food was essentially the medium of transmitting solar energy via photosynthesis to run a human's microchemical processes (essentially life) is now unarguably a finely established science. Exceedingly inefficient thus far - but no more.

While this efficiency graph has been exponential, this real magic was caused by a few fundamental mind shifts. One was to treat agriculture as a production unit of nutrition (land as a factory of food, so to speak), with much the same engineering or management rigour, if not more than applied to the generation of nuclear power. 

The second major mind shift was to treat nutrition as medicine with the avowed objective to maximising global wellness - parallelly, to relegate medical science, as we knew it, to a rarity of application. The third was to use up each part of the crop for nutrition - no space for waste here.

And then, in a bespoke manner and at every human’s cellular level, using AI to balance nutrition demand and supply. Lastly, genetics was another fundamental shift to take evolution by natural selection to evolution by human direction. Gene editing provided the pathway for plant breeding and nutrient production.

This unlocked our capability to modify crops to shifting environments, eliminating common allergens from crops to create a frictionless nutrient cycle - striking at the very root of what was "disease". Deregulation of genetically engineered material became a veritable mega opportunity for entrepreneurs and technology makers in the last three decades.

As to the pace of change, agriculture picked up speed in the last 10,000 years from man's early dexterity in managing crops, through a period where 80 per cent or so of the world's population tilled the field for sustenance, to about 2020 CE when advanced economies barely consumed 2 percent of a nation's 'horsepower' to grow food.

The last 30 years marked the collaboration of technologies - networked elegantly with AI and software, to create an unimagined growth curve in universalising tech application on nutrition. Society's push to release land to a burgeoning population also caused nutrient production to move vertically.

Housed in soaring glass complexes of millions of kilometres of pipes, insulated from the challenges of uncertain weather, pestilence, generating unimagined capabilities in nutrition capacity and quality, 'soilessly'.

And then there was the three decades of delocalised farming - vertical farms brought nutrient production closer to major consumption centres such as Shanghai and Mumbai, juicing out production and logistics costs to such an extent that made high quality nutrition available uniformly to the entire global population.

Today it sounds mind boggling to recall that in 2020, one-third of earth’s non-ice land mass was used to raise livestock to meet the global demand for meat as protein. The breakthrough was a simple thought—to enjoy a steak, we need not to grow an entire cow.

Backed by super wealth creators like Branson, Bezos, Musk and Gates, technology strove to produce ‘real’ meat from animal cells rather than from whole animals. Within a few years local factories of beef, chicken and duck from cultured cells mushroomed, even delighting traditional taste buds.

Alt-protein ('factory engineered' protein) is now so yesterday. We are now accelerating the massification of alt-carbohydrates. Not difficult to imagine how this inexorable and exponential rise in technology application has created a 'today' for us that is super abundant in nutrition - and has never been more inexpensive for every man, woman, and child on the planet.

 Last year, the median age was 125 years. Targeted and bespoke nutrition for each of us 10 billion has been the key to our enhanced life span. Just 50 years ago, in 2000 CE, this median was a mere 66 years!

(The writer is an ex-corporate honcho and organisational yoda and now an entrepreneur and stargazer. He can be reached at rohtash.mal@gmail.com)



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