“I decided to join INRA in order to conduct applied research. For me, it was very important to connect research to what is happening in society.” Since his arrival at INRA in 1990, Jean-Michel Chardigny has had many hats: after working as a researcher in Dijon in the field of dietary fats, he was Deputy Director and Director of the Human Nutrition Research Unit in Clermont-Ferrand, and later in charge of partnership and innovation. “I spent 15 years in science, followed by management positions, and now you could say I do science by proxy,” he says jokingly. “I like these shifts in focus; they’ve allowed me to do a variety of things while remaining at INRA, where I feel like I'm doing something useful, which for me is really important.” My current job is to propose new ideas as well as support the efforts and organisation of teams, whoever it may concern”.
“A typical day for me? It usually involves a suitcase!” he says, laughing. “My job is never boring, and I love that. I have a lot of appointments and, because I work with competitiveness clusters, associations and industrial partners, I meet a lot of people.” Jean-Michel has one goal: provide better and better answers to the questions asked by INRA’s partners. Whether he is working with a major company or a start up, Jean-Michel strives to develop a nutritional offer that meets new demands in society. Sustainable, varied, natural, more plant-based, gluten-free...our eating habits are shifting in significant ways – for good reason.
By 2050 there will be 9 billion people on Earth, making it necessary to ensure that nutritional options meet the needs of the world’s population. Also important is the need for a nutritional transition, particularly in developing countries, where people tend to overeat. “Let’s be optimistic: in the future, I hope we will eat less meat, of better quality, and more plant-based foods such as legumes and grains,” adds Jean-Michel without being prompted. “There is real conflict today over the expansion of protein-based foods. We need to spread their development around the globe better." This is why the partnership and innovation manager is involved in several projects: “Among other things, I helped develop a programme within the DID’IT metaprogramme aimed at widening the selection of plant-based foods available, with the goal of making food increasingly more sustainable”, in liaison with a stakeholders’ committee.
Off the beaten track
I hope we will eat less meat in the future.
Alongside his work at INRA, Jean-Michel Chardigny has a ‘full plate’ of activities. He is the chairman of an editorial board on nutrition and diet, and a member of other scientific committees such as Insectinnov. Writing the book Insectes au menu? [Insects on the menu?] (in French) was an invitation to step off the beaten track and to work with entomologist Vincent Albouy. “I enjoyed it immensely; it provided an interlude in which to explore new themes.” And to really get away, Jean-Michel goes hiking in the Jura and Alps regions at the first chance he gets, and enjoying cycling near Dijon. When he says he “never gets bored”, we believe him!
Plant proteins: no joking matter
Humans eat too much animal protein: 70% of the protein we consume is currently sourced from animals, despite recommendations that we eat as much plant protein, or less overall, to spread intake in a more balanced manner. Debate is growing on the efficiency of the plant proteins fed to animals used to produce meat and animal products. Would it not be wiser to eat the plant proteins directly? “We’ve observed an increase in the worldwide consumption of chicken. But these animals are fed soy-based products grown in South America, resulting in deforestation – in Argentina especially, but not only: because we can go no further there, we then go after Brazil,” warns Jean-Michel Chardigny. “It’s disastrous. I’d stop short of saying it’s terrifying, but it creates enormous issues,” he concludes.
What's next? Will we eat insects in the future?
Finding ways to feed the world’s continually growing population is one of the challenges we face. For Jean-Michel, “insects and seaweed will remain marginal, especially in Western countries, where these foods will be eaten in powder form as ingredients. It will remain a niche market for human foods, but not necessarily for those fed to animals such as fish, poultry, cats and dogs. Feeding insects to fish modifies their organoleptic qualities.” So insects are an amusing trend – for people only. For the moment, the sale of insects is prohibited in France, contrary to Switzerland, where insect-based burgers are appearing on the market. The future, it would appear, lies in legumes...
Born in June 1961 / Three children / Two grandchildren
PhD from the Université de Bourgogne in Physiology, with a minor in nutrition in 1989
Accreditation to supervise Life Sciences research in 1997
September 1990: Joined INRA’s Lipid Nutrition Unit in Dijon
2005: Flavour, outlook and consumer habits, Dijon
2006: Human Nutrition Unit at INRA–Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
2014 to present: Project Manager in INRA's Nutrition, Chemical Food Safety and Consumer Behaviour Division and for INRA's Scientific director for Food, Nutrition and Bioeconomy
2016: Partnership and Innovation Manager in the area of human and animal food proteins
Des insectes au menu? [Insects on the menu?] (in French) (Éditions Quae), co-authored with entomologist Vincent Albouy