Our news feeds have been filled with horrific stories from the Ukraine war, hyperinflation, and rising fuel costs in the last few weeks. While doomscrolling on our smartphones, you could be forgiven for thinking we are destined to sit in a cold dark room eating lab-grown meat and a side of ground-up insects or seaweed next winter. But is there more to food tech than the scary headlines suggest?
In a digital world, it often feels that many aspects of the media no longer value context and nuance. However, rather than focusing on the extremes, most people reading this will admit that we need to stop wasting our resources. For example, $1 trillion worth of food is lost or wasted every year. According to the U.N., solving this problem would make it possible to feed 2 billion people, more than twice the number of undernourished people in the world.
Why we need to talk about food waste and its climate footprint
Food waste is also responsible for 3 billion tons of greenhouse gases emitted every year. The one billion cattle raised for beef and milk are reportedly responsible for 65% of livestock emissions. As the world's leaders turn their collective focus to agriculture's climate footprint, we can expect to see many future changes to our food consumption.
Consumers are increasingly questioning where their food comes from and the impact it will have on the environment. These new perspectives and changing attitudes are creating a technological transformation of the entire food sector, or as it's affectionately known, Food Tech. So the race is on for big tech to find a sustainable, healthy, and affordable alternative to animal mass farming.
Air Protein, a California startup, was inspired by NASA research and leveraged carbon capture technology to make vegan meat literally out of thin air. Using probiotic cultures, this is made possible by converting elements found in the air into protein. Finally, the company turns these proteins into any meat imaginable without the need to kill any animals.
A quick scroll down Black Sheep Foods Instagram feed reveals a mouthwatering Lamb Souvla. But the plant-based meat company uses textured pea protein, technology, and analytical chemistry to create a lamb alternative that promises to better the environment and your health. However, food tech is not just about creating meat replacements in a lab.
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. But what if you could eat tasty salmon without the need to catch a fish? A group of foodie scientists is on a mission to save our oceans, one fish at a time, by creating boneless fish made entirely out of plants. Their first creation is Plantish Salmon™️ which is high in protein, Omega-3, and healthy fats.
Many believe that our appetite for cell-based seafood will quickly grow by removing bones, eyeballs, microplastics, and mercury. It's also a big move to tackle the overfishing crisis, but the bigger question is if it will ever make economic sense for businesses to produce this kind of protein at scale?
The traditional dairy industry is also no longer sustainable due to its sheer scale. Israeli startup Remilk believes they have found the answer by copying the gene responsible for milk protein production in cows and inserting it into yeast, where it multiplies and produces the same milk proteins that cows produce but without lactose and cholesterol.
People in most western countries consume between 4 and 9 kg of chocolate per year. But behind the scenes, 3 million hectares of rainforest are lost for cocoa farming, and 1.6 million children are forced to work on the farms. QOA Chocolate, a Munich-based startup, is making chocolate with Fermented micro bacteria instead of cocoa, and I am reliably informed that it tastes much better than it sounds.
These are just a small selection of the hundreds of startups hoping to be a permanent fixture on future menus. On the surface, creating alternative food sources that are sustainable and healthier than what we have now without harming animals is a massive step forward in the name of progress. But for most people, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
The problem with genetic modification and vertical farming is they are inspiring new solutions to entrenched food system problems that got us here in the first place. There is an argument that we should consider phasing out traditional big food and meat corporations that cause harm rather than using technologies to reduce emissions and keep these fading industries alive with lab-grown food that is too expensive to produce.
Although I am happy to skip the side of ground-up insects, I'm open to sampling meat made from thin air or fish made from plants. But you will most likely find me patiently waiting for the 4D-printed, self-hydrating pizzas promised in 'Back to the Future 2'. After all, I am an eternal optimist who just needs a full-body haptic feedback system to be all set for the future.
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