The future of food: Chicken feet & veggie burgers that bleed

25 March 2018 - 00:01 By SHANTHINI NAIDOO
Meat or veggie burger? Soon you might not be able to tell the difference.
Meat or veggie burger? Soon you might not be able to tell the difference.
Image: 123RF/sonjachnyj

Lunch is a sizzling, bleeding veggie burger. It is tailor-made with ingredients that suit your DNA and arrives on your 3-D printer when your health app reminds you it is time to eat. Your meal might also include ingredients such as chicken feet, baobab fruit, amasi, locally grown imifino (greens) and amaranth.

Welcome to the future of food. The future also means going back to basics. Cooking, eating and growing food like our grandparents did will keep us healthy, eating ethically and cheaply.

Chef and author Nompumelelo Mqwebu says that while writing her book, Through the Eyes of an African Chef, she went on a hunt for izindlubu in KwaZulu-Natal.

"It is a bean which has been forgotten, but it is so good for us. And it grows well in times of drought. When you plant it, the soil says: 'I know you, and we can still work if there isn't enough rain.'"

While the world talks about fermented foods such as kombucha and kefir to maintain gut health, Africans have long consumed fermented foods. Amasi, which is basically fermented milk, has been caring for belly bugs for ages and the popular amahewu consists of fermented ingredients.

Amaranth is a local cereal alternative (as opposed to spelt or wheat) and a superfood. Our various local greens are packed with vitamins and minerals.

As for the bleeding veggie burger, it is one of many innovations to encourage eating plants instead of meat. It's not as futuristic as insect protein, and is already making headway as a protein option.

"It is meant to be an alternative protein source. Even if you eat fish for one meal, chicken the next day, you could consider this for another day," says natural food champion Dean Kowarski.

After attending a recent natural food innovation event, held in Anaheim, California, Kowarski says plant-based eating is no longer unusual. Retailers know that millennials are putting their money where there mouths are - buying according to concerns about where their food comes from, its impact on the planet and what it does to their bodies.

"This isn't for the hippie vegan generation. It is a mainstream consumer space," he says.

It isn't about the wealthy consumer either. Considering worldwide food insecurity, Mqwebu says health and affordability will be tackled at home.

Mqwebu is spearheading African cuisine training, because young chefs cannot tell the difference between various imifino greens.

"Amadumbe is packed with calcium, we all need it. In old age when people were becoming frail, they would eat it. It is a natural food that you can turn into gnocchi and add to curries and salads, as you would a potato," she says of the root vegetable that is popular in KwaZulu-Natal.

Eating chicken feet does not mean you are from a poor community, it is not a backward African thing. That is why our ancestors were much stronger than we are
Chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu

Then there's the question of nose-to-tail eating. Some foods, such as chicken feet, are avoided by the middle classes who consider them poor man's food. Incidentally, chicken feet are high in collagen.

"Eating chicken feet does not mean you are from a poor community, it is not a backward African thing. That is why our ancestors were much stronger than we are, they were healthy and productive, they worked much harder ... we have all this medicine and we aren't healthy," says Mqwebu.

We will also be looking around us for superfoods instead of sourcing them from faraway places in the future.

"I have been preaching about the baobab. Most South Africans know the tree but few can identify the fruit. I use it for smoothies and cheesecake - it has a tart taste that can replace lemon. More importantly, it is a good source of potassium and it has a slow-release energy. Yes, it's a superfood."

Recognising that indigenous plants can survive dry conditions is part of another trend.

Kowarski says sustainability has advanced to more restorative farming methods - fixing the soil.

Mqwebu says that when Italians realised they were importing tomatoes, they knew something was wrong. "Some heirloom seeds were nearly lost because chefs discounted how valuable their own produce was.

"If chefs cook African food and grow it in their gardens, they will know what food security is about. They will support the auntie growing organic spinach because that is how she always did it, with her back in the sun, water and good soil and nothing else. Indigenous produce will also give better harvests," she says.

"We had a saying growing up that if your grandmother didn't recognise it, probably you shouldn't eat it. Go back to what you know."

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