During her vacation, Alícia came to meet the son of a friend who had just started his research career at the leading European university in terms of the development of the agri-food industry.
- How's it up there? Asked.
-It is a privilege, because the technologies that will shape the future of food are researched there in an environment with the main companies and startups... I am very happy, to be honest, I just miss the family... and the good food here .
I leave you another moment to reflect on what I wanted to convey to you by reproducing this true anecdote.
A few days ago I had the opportunity to participate in the Alibetopías conference, a delicatessen organized by the Spanish Federation of Food and Beverage Industries (FIAB) and the technological platform Food for Life Spain, with more than 300 agents from the innovation ecosystem of our industry. food.
Obviously, what I wanted was to convince them to take us into account to develop projects or food products committed to health, sustainability and flavor, but I took advantage of the occasion to provoke a little bit to an auditorium full of experts. Speaking of the innovation necessary to be competitive, I remembered the famous maxim adopted by Ferran Adrià, to create is not to copy, recognizing that for a long time I thought that it was a textbook truism and that if people did not question it it was because of the authority of the chef... until over time I realized that it was no less relevant because it was obvious, because the truth is that while in all fields we fill our mouths with disruptive innovation... we tend rather to photocopy. I showed them an image with the proliferation of vegan burgers that have appeared in recent times and the widespread laughter underlined the evidence.
But knowing how to copy can also be innovative and make us competitive, I continued, quoting this time another no less illustrious mind, Isaac Newton, who popularized the idea that if we can see further it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants, in the sense of that advances in knowledge are always based on the best knowledge previously developed by others. This is the basis not only of scientific progress, but also of wisdom.
So, in order to learn from the best to be more competitive, in the field of food who would be the giants? Houston? Boston? Silicon Valley? The Netherlands? If it's about making the best food (the healthiest, most sustainable and delicious) it will be a matter of looking at those who already excel at preparing it, right?
If we look at the latest market bombs, most of them start from the industrialization of traditional dishes and preparations from the best popular kitchens in the world; hummus, guacamole, pizza, oriental noodle soups, kombuchas or other fermented foods... Even vegetable smoothies.
In reality, the agri-food industry is dedicated to cooking for us and will be excellent to the extent that it comes closer - in terms of flavor, health and sustainability - to the best mothers and grandmothers who have always been the true giants of food knowledge.
Times have changed, of course, and science and technology - which in general can be more universal - will serve to do so with greater precision and scale to feed a humanity that does not stop growing. But they will never be able to do so without standing on the shoulders of the best local traditions. And our country is part of that chosen elite of places where we eat well, which gives us an extraordinary competitive advantage that we should not waste; neither knowledge, nor expertise, nor prestige.
So, let's learn from and around the world, obviously, let's be aware of all the new developments and trends, but without forgetting such important truisms as that gazpacho is the perfect plant-based product, or that the best-selling sauce in the world is Menorcan, or that almond milk and horchatas have been with us for centuries or that, not to mention ham, we are the first producers of the best oil that can be made.
I say that innovating will always be easier based on our competitive advantages, our structural strengths. And from there, as much creativity as we know how to put into it for the health, the planet and the enjoyment of the staff.
I finish with another recent anecdote. At San Sebastián Gastronomika I asked René Redzepi if he really believed that we would eat insects. He answered me that in Denmark they already ate them. As if he had heard me, the next day Rasmus Munk offered to try a butterfly to the congressmen.
I have also tried different insects that are being investigated in Denmark with the complicity of these chefs, or those that are already ancestral in countries like Mexico, Colombia or Thailand. We have even experimented at Alícia transforming worms and other bugs into hamburgers, spaghetti or other formats. I meet European scientists from different disciplines with current research projects on the subject. But it continues to be difficult for me to believe that in the near future we will regularly and willingly ingest significant amounts of protein from insects. Another thing will be animal nutrition, there I do see an imminent journey.
And although methodologically I resist being categorical and I will always be predisposed to accept any food innovation that is for the better (I mean that perhaps we will mutate into insectivores soon) I still do not understand why in Europe, at least in Mediterranean Europe, in Europe where you eat well, we don't start by researching snails. Do you understand what I mean?