The cannibalistic dystopian future depicted in Soylent Green shows humanity at a point in which population has far outstripped food supply and people are forced to eat slabs of synthetic food. The film has not aged well, for the most part, and the final twist is far too widely known to come as a surprise. Edward G. Robinson, in his final performance, does, however, manage to lift the quality of the material. In this, one of the movie’s more memorable scenes, Charlton Heston’s protagonist has commandeered some steak and fresh vegetables, which Robinson serves him in a stew, giving Heston’s detective his first taste of real meat.
Could the Soylent Green future be closer than we think, though? The global population continues to grow and food production cannot keep up. In our current recession, food prices are rising faster than inflation and meat more than that and beef more than any meat. Eventually a steak like we had as a treat on Wednesday may be a far greater treat.
According to the Telegraph, food prices are likely to treble over the next 20 years, in particularly in terms of luxury items like fine cuts of meat. Beef prices are expected to rise between 4 and 6%, following a huge 17% rise last year. The result of this is that such foods are becoming smaller. The average sirloin steak is 8% lighter than three years ago. Food suppliers, whether restaurants or fast food, will have to rethink the size and cost of their steak and beef products as a result.
Here in Britain, we eat around 110g of protein, mostly through meat, per day (the government recommends around half that), in America daily meat consumption is 230g. As you can imagine, then, rising meat prices are an even bigger problem there. Statistics from the American Consumer Price Index show a 1.2% rise in meat prices over the first couple of months of this year alone, compared to 0.4% rises for food prices in general.
So, what is the solution? Apart from the obvious – eat less meat! – people are turning to vegetarian meat substitutes as cheaper than real meat, cheaper or new varieties of meat like horse could be introduced, or we might just have to wait for bioprinting meat from stem cells to take off. With a burger costing around £200,000 using this method, though, perhaps the rising price of a steak in the supermarket doesn’t seem so bad!