The Dark Ages were a very troubled period in human history. It was a time of struggle with pestilence, death, and wars. Similarly, 2020 has produced some of the darkest days in recent history. The COVID-19 pandemic compromised many people’s health, businesses, and livelihood. It shut down cultural institutions and performing arts. It exacerbated political divisiveness and civil unrest. It catapulted many into severe economic and emotional distress.
Famine has returned to the world for the first time in many years. In fact, the United Nations is warning that famine is looming in Yemen, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, and northeastern Nigeria, with 16 other countries not far behind in that trajectory.
The Renaissance was an inflection point for humanity, ushering Europe out of the Dark Ages and into modern civilization. It was a time of cultural, artistic, political, scientific, and economic rebirth. It brought forth some of the greatest thinkers, authors, statespersons, scientists, and artists in human history. We need a new Renaissance.
Science will be a key to leading us out of the pandemic, but far too many don’t share this sentiment. We’ve seen a historic level of disregard for scientific advice and rejection of scientific evidence with respect to COVID-19 that has far-reaching impacts beyond the virus.
The same can be said about the widespread distrust in our foods and food supply. We need to return to a place where people know and believe science is something that makes their lives and the world better. It will take our united efforts to get there.
Thinking specifically about the food industry, scientific advances and innovation never ceased during this challenging time. Quite the opposite. There has been an explosion of innovation and investment in this area. Food companies are innovating in many new ways to develop foods that are healthier and more sustainable. Future-forward entrepreneurs are leveraging cutting-edge technologies to boldly reimagine the way food is made. Researchers are exploring foods and ingredients to find new and better uses for food items that are readily available and leave less of an environmental impact on our planet. Food quality and food safety specialists are employing new methods and technologies to protect food from farms to consumers’ plates.
These actions and many more like them will collectively enable us to feed a global population projected to reach 9 billion in 2050 while also addressing the health and wellness challenges we face. However, these efforts are all for naught if science denialism continues and consumers refuse to accept the solutions we create.
Like other scientific disciplines, the science of food has immense opportunities ahead of us that will require us to challenge conventional thinking and the status quo. We’ll need to be more holistic in our approach, making sure we fully understand the impact our innovations have on our bodies, and specifically on our microbiome, upon consumption. We’ll need to be more trustworthy, ensuring that if we make a promise around the benefits of our products, we deliver it. We’ll need to be more conscientious, recognizing and reducing the food system’s significant environmental toll and doing our part to reverse the effects on our planet and society. We’ll need to be more inclusive, stepping out of our comfort zones and engaging more disciplines than ever before. And perhaps the biggest challenge—we’ll need to learn how to better engage with and gain the trust of consumers and help them see that when sound science is properly applied, amazing things can happen.
We need a rebirth of science and trust in scientists to solve the big issues our planet faces. It’s time for a modern Renaissance, and to emerge from the darkness with science helping to lead the way. With a renewed vision and sense of purpose, the science of food community can, and will, effect meaningful change in the world.