The Future of Food
How the agriculture industry could go from farming to “ferming.”
By Lauren Jackson, The New York Times (NYT)
July 29, 2022
The lie was delicious.
For years, Americans consumed their frothy, full-dairy cappuccinos, marbled meat and flaky fried chicken without worry. The food was cheap. The drive-throughs, abundant. And the supply seemed infinite — until it wasn’t.
Over the last few decades, a steady drumbeat of documentaries, books and escalating disasters has made it clear that America’s current food system, filled with factories and feedlots, can’t be sustained without making the planet and its people sick. Industrial agriculture, responsible for one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions around the world, is destroying ecosystems.
“If we want to have an American type of food consumption, we need three to five planets,” Dr. Ferdinand von Meyenn, a Swiss food scientist, said in a phone interview. “We don’t have that.”
Americans are aware. A majority, including both Republicans and Democrats, say they are trying to reduce their meat and dairy consumption. Still, inflation is high, systems are stubborn and tastes are hard to change.
So scientists have been searching for solutions, ones that will make protein-rich food cheap, accessible and far more sustainable. The good news? They already have answers. The problem, they say, is scaling them.
The protein problem
People need protein for balanced, healthy diets. But that’s become a problem for the planet.
“We get most of our protein-rich and fat-rich foods from animal farming,” George Monbiot, an ecologist and journalist, said in a phone interview this week. “And animal farming is arguably the most destructive of all industries on Earth.”
He added that the industry as a whole is “the primary cause of habitat destruction, wildlife loss, extinction, land use, soil degradation, water use and one of the major causes of climate breakdown.”
In an effort to address this problem and limit animal cruelty, food entrepreneurs and scientists have spent decades working to develop high-protein meat alternatives from plants. But until just a few years ago, these products were a novelty, eaten by a small group of committed vegans and vegetarians.
That’s changed. Today, popular plant-based alternatives, like those from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, appear on menus of restaurants around the country, from Panda Express to Long John Silver’s. Seventy-one percent of Americans have tried a plant-based burger or other meat alternatives. Demand for alternatives to dairy has been growing, too. Now, almond, oat and other nondairy products make up 14 percent of milk sales in grocery stores.
But even if protein is available in other forms, Americans aren’t converted. In a 2018 Gallup poll, only 5 percent said they were vegetarians. The majority of the country has high fidelity to meat and dairy products — a taste that has long been difficult to replicate with plants.
“To put it simply, plants are crunchy, and meat is chewy. This is why veggie burgers can often feel crumbly or mushy in texture, without the bite and springiness of animal protein,” the chef J. Kenji López-Alt wrote for The Times. He added that “animal fat, which provides mouth-coating richness and juiciness,” is also difficult to replicate with plant-based fats.
But researchers have been working on a solution — one that can replicate the those nutrients, tastes and textures without using animals.
A fermented future? ...
Scaling up ...
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