There is no denying it. People love meat. Our knowledge of what it takes to get the product to our tables leaves us conflicted about how it’s made…
and the strain it puts on the environment. Now, pioneering steps are being made that will make it easier for us to adopt a more vegetarian and environmentally sustainable food future.
Do you see the juicy, mouth-watering, delicious looking hamburger above? What if you found out that the meat patty in that burger was not made of meat? When it is raw, it is red and soft like ground beef, it sizzles and sears like meat when cooked, it is juicy when cooked like a gourmet hamburger and it tastes delicious—so good that the best chefs are clamboring over each other to use it. The meat is not made from any animal, and can be produced using 95% less land, 74% less water, and with 87% less greenhouse gas emissions than beef. Moreover, the Impossible Foods meat is made without any hormones or antibiotics.
The Impossible burger represents a key issue humanity will have to face in the future: how to feed ourselves in a more sustainable manner.
As human populations have become more wealthy, without fail through history meat consumption has risen. Going back hundreds of years, the famous “Beefeaters” of the Tower of London were even known for being well off, due to their generous stipend of meat. Many people are vegetarians by necessity, not choice due to their economic situation.
“Today we rely on cows to turn plants into meat. There has to be a better way.”
Eating meat is almost as much a status symbol as a nutritional component of our diet. With rising prosperity Chinese meat consumption graphs look like Moore’s Law charts over the last few decades as meat eating, particularly pork, skyrockets in Asia.
Janet Larsen, the Director of Research at the Earth Policy Institute has said that, “Dramatic meat consumption in China is responsible for reshaping landscapes in western hemisphere.” Growing more and more feed-related crops has dramatically altered the shape of farming worldwide, and has led to a tremendous increase in the use of pesticides and herbicides.
According to a study by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, herbicide use between 2003 and 2008 rose 50 percent in Brazil and average fungicide use in that same period for soybean plants rose 70 percent. Monoculture soybean crops have been greatly increased in the country to grow food for pigs which are feeding out insatiable appetite for bacon, sausage, ham and other meat products. Tropical rainforest destruction is a direct effect of this appetite. The animals that are raised are also notorious methane producers, further contributing to climate change.
Meat consumption is also affecting the health and well being of communities across the globe in ways we have not experienced or thought of before.
The impact that a high meat diet has on the environment and health has not been overlooked by the developing nations. The Chinese government has recently established a plan to reduce its citizens’ meat consumption by 50%, in a move that climate campaigners hope will provide major heft in the effort to avoid runaway global warming.
What are some of the ways we can cut down our consumption of meat?
Vegetarianism is a choice for many, with well documented health benefits, but adoption of the habit is difficult for many of us. As the Impossible Foods meat demonstrates, creating artificial, synthetic and even lab-grown meat replacements may be a way for people to cut down on our meat consumption, and still satisfy our tastebuds.
“Today we rely on cows to turn plants into meat. There has to be a better way,” says Pat O. Brown, Impossible Foods Founder and CEO.
One adventurous researcher in Japan has even looked at a very unconventional, but potentially very environmentally solution to the creation of artificial meat. Mitsuyuki Ikeda has created a product using sewage mud as his material. The end product is 63 percent protein, 25 percent carbohydrates, 3 percent lipids and 9 percent, minerals.
New growing technologies like vertical farming and robotic farming may also help make production of our food, including the ingredients for artificial meat more efficient and sustainable. Genetically modified organism’s or GMO’s, will also undoubtedly be a part of our future diets.
Our agricultural system—including deforestation and land use change—accounts for one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing the amount of crop lost to insects and weeds, genetic engineering of pest-resistant or herbicide-tolerant strains increases the productivity of existing farmland and resources. Also, the cultivation of herbicide-tolerant crops reduces the need to till fields, a mechanical method of weed control that contributes to soil erosion and releases even more greenhouse gases.
Another company, Soylent isn’t exactly out to offer a meat replacement, but a new way to feed us. According to the company, Soylent is a Soylent is a simple, efficient and affordable drink that possesses what a body needs to be healthy. Remember science fiction stories where the food of the future was going to be pill form—Soylent is the closest thing we have to that idea. The vegan-based product containing soy protein, algal oil, isomaltoluse and minerals is intended to be a meal replacement.
Soylent openly embrace GMO’s in their production:
GMOs currently on the market provide ample cases of tangible benefit with relatively negligible risk. The pipeline of GE crops highlights the worthy efforts to continue delivering more nutritious, sustainable, and efficient crops, including blight-resistant chestnuts, bacteria-resistant oranges, high-calcium carrots, non-allergenic peanuts, rice with lower methane emissions, and drought-tolerant corn, sugar, and wheat. That the benefits are largely societal, and perhaps more difficult for the individual consumer to appreciate, illustrates the importance of considering the societal impact of our food choices.
While Soylent might not be to everyone’s taste, it, and products like it, may be another component fostering a more meat-free future.
Hampton Creek offers another example of a company racing to produce foods that replace animal products with plant proteins. Its popular vegan Just Mayo products, replace eggs with pea protein. The company manifesto states, “our bodies and the planet, should be affordable and accessible. Most importantly we believe that it should be insanely delicious. That’s the only way that change will happen: by working with everyone from farmers, chefs, and food scientist to single moms, schools and politicians to fix our broken food system for everyone, everywhere.”
While new grains, fruits and vegetables are being bred and created through traditional breeding and genetic modification that will be packed with more nutrition and flavor, replacing our meat with alternatives like cultured and replacement alternatives might have some of the biggest impacts on our future of food.