By Janelle Cruz, Humanitas Global
We are in the midst of a ‘protein transition’: As incomes in the developing world rise, so does the consumption of meat with projections showing consumption of animal-based foods to increase by 80 percent by 2050. In the developed world, individuals are already overconsuming animal products, with one study indicating that all but 19 countries and territories were consuming more protein than average daily requirements in 2009. Livestock production is incredibly resource-intensive and responsible for nearly 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. While 795 million people suffer from hunger, a third of all calories produced globally are being fed to livestock. Animal-based foods are an ideal source of nutrition but it comes at a critical cost to the environment and the food system.
An ideal solution, detailed in Chapter Eight the 2016 Global Food Policy Report, includes shifting diets away from overconsumption of animal-based foods. Several start-up companies are on the rise in developing alternatives to animal protein, that may make a habit change more successful. Made from ingredients such as plants and insects, these newer swaps for protein may be innovative alternatives for populations where the provision of animal food sources can be difficult, and may be critical to sustainable food systems.
Plant burger, anyone? This is not your regular meatless veggie burger. Called “The Impossible Burger,” this burger patty claims to have the same taste, texture, and nutritional properties of meat. Heme, an iron-containing molecule in blood that carries oxygen, is added to a combination of wheat, coconut oil, and potatoes to create a burger patty that smells, sizzles, and even “bleeds” like meat when cooking on the grill. Similarly, the Beyond burger made from pea protein, also sizzles like real meat and ‘“bleeds’” with beet juice when cooked. These alternatives are focused on supporting dietary substitutions without a noticeable change. By targeting the ‘carnivore,’ even meat-lovers can contribute to more sustainable food systems with a nearly imperceptible food swap.
A start-up called Exo is engineering protein bars made with dry-roasted milled cricket flour. Like eggs, crickets are a complete protein source, and along with high concentrations of, fat, calcium, zinc, and other micronutrients, crickets contain more than double the amount of iron found in spinach. In a comparison of cricket flour to beef jerky, chicken, salmon, and eggs, cricket flour ranks the highest in protein content at 65%. Insects, including crickets, are also more environmentally friendly to produce. They produce fewer greenhouse gases, require less resources and often have higher feed-conversion rates.
The University of California, Berkeley has just introduced a new course where entrepreneurship and technology students will focus on developing plant-based meat alternatives. This course will specifically target seafood alternatives as a challenge in creating texture alternatives (a key element in the pleasure of eating is texture) and in addressing the vulnerable status of marine ecosystems. Sometime soon, there may be another meat-alternative on the market, courtesy of Berkeley students.
The ultimate goal is to create sustainable food systems. The world is failing to feed 785 million people, and another two million adequately, yet the world also needs to increase food production by 70 percent by 2050 to meet the projected calorie demand. The average daily protein requirement is 50 grams but on average, 126 out of 205 countries observed consumed over 60 grams of protein a day. If this population limits consumption of animal-based foods, our food system can provide nutrition and energy for those in need while ensuring resources and productivity for future populations. While these meat-alternatives are only one option, they represent a response to current dietary habits, which can be stubborn and difficult behaviors to change. These alternatives further represent an inclusive solution to creating a sustainable food system for all.