PARIS - Spelt risotto was on the menu at a recent lunch in Paris. Spelt is an ancient form of wheat with a nutty flavor. It is rich in fiber and minerals, and counts among dozens of sometimes ancient and obscure foods scientists say benefit people and the planet.
A green cuisine effort is growing in France as scientists warn that meat consumption must be drastically cut to fight climate change and sustainably feed a global human population set to reach 10 billion by 2050.
"Seventy-five percent of our food comes from 12 crops and five animals. Sixty percent of all our calories come through three vegetables," said David Edwards, director of food strategy at environmental group WWF, which jointly produced a report, "Future 50 Foods," with the German food giant Knorr.
The message: Our current eating habits, which rely heavily on large-scale farming and livestock production, have got to change.
"We've had a 60 percent decline in the wildlife population since the 1970s — the last 50 years, within a lifetime," Edwards added. "And ... a precipitous decline in insect populations also ... food has pushed wildlife into the extreme margins."
The Paris lunch featured many of the report's so-called "future" foods. Vegetables are in. Meat is out. On the menu: walnuts, root vegetables, lentil flour, yams and soy milk.
Also, fonio — a drought-resistant grain that Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam now markets in the United States and serves at his New York City restaurant. He sources it from smallholder farmers in Africa.
"We're still importing food like rice in Senegal. Yet we could have our own fonio, our own millet. We should be consuming it. But we still have this mentality that what comes from the West is best," Thiam said.
Former White House chef Sam Kass, who led Michelle Obama's campaign against childhood obesity, is now fighting for the environment.
"When we talk about these dramatic changes to overhaul everything, people are like, 'I don't know what you're talking about, I don't know what to do.' And here, it's like, just pick 2 to 3 foods and eat them once a week. That would be a big start," Kass said.
In Europe, research fellow Laura Wellesley of British think-tank Chatham House says governments must aid in a shift to so-called plant-based meat and, more controversially, meat grown in laboratories.
"The EU has really invested quite heavily in this area … but it could do more," Wellesley said. "It could invest more public finance in the research and development of culture and plant-based meat that are truly sustainable and are healthy options. And it could also support the commercialization of innovations."
At the Paris lunch, diner Thomas Blomme gave his first course a thumbs-up.
"[S]ome sort of soup, with a lot of spices and some new ingredients. Tasted really well with some lentils," he said.
And for diners heading back to work but feeling a bit sleepy after the seven-course tasting menu: A green moringa after-party booster juice was offered.