Noble: The future of food is less meat and more bugs (column)
Eat bugs and plants, less meat and cut back on food waste — the fate of the world depends on it. Food is a major driver of climate change and how it affects the planet does not receive nearly the attention it warrants.
You may be thinking, “You first, Claire.” Fair enough, but saving the planet does not have to taste bad.
Give crickets a chance. If scientists could design the perfect protein, they would design a cricket. Crickets provide twice the protein per pound as beef but use a fraction of the land and water with none of the methane emissions. Are they really that different from crabs and lobster? Besides, they taste just like chicken. Just kidding, they don’t. Can’t deal with legs and antennae? Neither can I. When they are ground into flour you would never know they are there. When I tried Chirps chips they tasted like the other main ingredient in the chips — corn.
Still not convinced bugs could be part of your diet? Consider laboratory-grown meat. While still expensive, the costs have come down dramatically. Future Meat Technologies, an Israel-based start-up, hopes to have costs down to $2.30 to $4.50 pound by 2020. Tyson Foods, Richard Branson and Bill Gates are just a few of the investors in the numerous laboratory meat start-ups. JUST, which currently makes a vegetable-based egg product, is now partnering with Japanese Awano Food Group to develop cell-based wagyu and they are rolling out a laboratory-grown chicken nugget this year that really does taste just like chicken. The benefits to the environment are impressive. According to a 2011 study by the Good Food Institute, “clean meat produces 78 to 96 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, uses 99 percent less land and between 82 and 92 percent less water.”
Producers and consumers spend $218 billion on food that ends up in the trash. That colossal sum is staggering on its own and made even more devastating when the waste of resources to produce it is considered — 21 percent of our fresh water and 18 percent of our crop land.
The processing and distribution of food, an estimated 30-50 percent of which is wasted, results in the release of carbon dioxide. All of that food sent to landfill, an estimated 52 million tons a year, results in the release of methane. Methane is an especially potent greenhouse gas. Although its atmospheric lifespan is only about 12 years, methane is significantly more efficient at trapping radiation than carbon dioxide.
Landfill emissions, however, pale in comparison to agriculture. Agriculture constitutes 40 percent of all methane emissions. Livestock enteric emissions are the primary driver of these emissions. In other words, gas from both ends of the cow results in methane emissions which significantly contribute to the warming of our planet. Laboratory-grown meat is sounding better and better.
Eating less meat is a bigger ask than simply wasting less food. When I mentioned it to the carnivores in my house they looked like the wanted to vote me off the island.
However, the journal Nature estimates that Americans will need to reduce their consumption of meat by up to 90 percent. How will we make up the protein deficit? Moreover, a looming question we must address is how do we feed 10 billion people by 2050 and meet their protein needs without destroying the planet in the process?
In 1898 the first International Urban Planning Conference was held in New York City. The pressing problem of the day was horse manure from an estimated 200,000 horses on New York streets on a daily basis. Other cities had a similar problem. Ten years later, in 1908, the first Model T rolled off the assembly line. Within a mere four years, in 1912, cars outnumbered horses on New York’s streets. Could the same revolution be on the horizon for food?
The Vail Symposium will present The Future of Food, Part 1 on March 4, which will address food waste and the effects of increasing levels of carbon dioxide on crop nutrient levels. Later this year a follow-on program will address protein alternatives. I hope you will join us for this culinary adventure and environmental imperative. Check out all of our upcoming programs at vailsymposium.org.
Claire Noble can be found online at clairenoble.org and “Claire Noble Writer” on Facebook.