On Wednesday the 2nd of March the Crowdfooding launch party took place at L’Anima Café in London. It brought an interesting mix of individuals together who orbit the food, finance and start-up realms. As part of the celebrations we heard from speakers: Guy Routledge (The Food Rush), Sara Roversi (The Future Food Institute) and Rebecca Chesney (Institute for the Future).
For those of you who were unable to attend we’d like to take a moment to share with you some insights from Rebecca’s speech on Foresight for the Future of Food.
Based in Palo Alto California, Institute for the Future is a non-profit research centre that specializes in long-term forecasting, and quantitative futures research methods. One of their current initiatives is the Food Futures Lab, which identifies and catalyses the innovations that have the potential to reinvent our global food system. The lab seeks to understand the motivations, drivers, and impacts of food innovation, and to align the minds and resources shaping the future of food.
As part of their 2013 research agenda, IFTF undertook a yearlong exploration into the ways that emerging technologies and sciences are reshaping the global food web. They explored how several core strategies radically transformed, and continue to shape, our food system across five sectors: Production, Distribution, Manufacturing, Shopping and Eating. They created Seeds of Disruption: How Technology is Remaking the Future of Food, a forecast map and set of four perspectives and Artifacts from the Future, to tell the story of how emerging information technology will reshape every step of the food system.
A fascinating finding was in the realm of production and how resource hungry agriculture will shift to low-impact alternatives. “This will be particularly true when it comes to the balance between rural and urban land. And protein. Protein’s going to be a big deal,” claimed Rebecca.
When it comes to eating meat, people have very different opinions based on their attitudes towards sustainability and animal welfare, but also because of personal social, economic and cultural values. Looking out over the next decade, we are coming up against limits in how we produce and consume animal protein.
“Some advocate that we must reduce our consumption of meat at a social level, through a combination of education and policy change. Others take a technological approach and ask if cultured (lab grown) meat could fix the resource shortages and greenhouse gas emissions of today’s cattle yards,” she said.
Let’s examine this image of a futuristic butcher shop. From afar, it looks like today’s normal selection of meat. But as you start to read the labels you’ll see they are claiming unfamiliar things…. Roadkill? In vitro-lab grown?
“Ethically speaking, we should all be eating roadkill,” claims Modern Farmer. “The animal was not raised for meat, it was not killed for meat; it is just simply and accidentally meat — manna from minivans.” Although there are definitely legal complications and psychological hurdles to jump over, roadkill is a largely sustainable source of protein. According to the article, not eating it is wasteful. If even 1/3 of the deer killed on US roads were salvaged; there would be 20 million pounds of venison available for consumption.
Lab grown or cultured meat has taken off since the debut of the worlds first lab grown hamburger. Proponents of the idea, including Dr. Mark Post, the Dutch researcher who created the hamburger at the University of Maastricht, say that lab-made meat could provide high-quality protein for the world’s growing population while avoiding most of the environmental and animal-welfare issues related to conventional livestock production.
Posts’ hamburger was produced using stem cells — basic cells that can turn into tissue-specific cells — from cow shoulder muscle. The cells were multiplied in a nutrient solution and put into small petri dishes, where they became muscle cells and formed tiny strips of muscle fibre. About 20,000 strips were used to make the five-ounce burger.
Lab grown meat provokes extreme reactions on both sides. Although it may be more environmentally friendly and sustainable, can we really consider cultured meat “real” food? In our opinion, the debate between what is natural and real will continue to swelter with time.
There are already a number of companies out there who are challenging what constitutes as meat, and are redeveloping meat-like products with plant protein. One such company is Beyond Meat whose mission is to create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein. They believe that “replacing animal protein with meat made from plants would do wonders for human health, for the environment, for conservation of natural resources and for animals.” Their products include fake burgers, sliders, chicken strips and meatballs. The New York Times suggested that “a revolution is unfolding in the food world, resulting in the first alternatives to meat that taste like the real thing.”
Another company that is doing unbelievable things with plant protein is Hampton Creek. The company is in the process of cultivating a database of plant species to see what flora can be used as protein alternatives. Mayo was the company’s starting point, and they have launched an incredibly successful product called ‘Just Mayo’, an egg-free dressing that uses the Canadian Yellow Pea No. 9 species as its protein substitute/emulsifier. Other main ingredients include non-GMO expeller pressed canola oil, filtered water, lemon juice and white vinegar. The company has also launched ‘Just Cookies’ – a dairy and egg free ready-to-bake cookie dough, which has been equally successful.
Rebecca concluded, “concepts such as carbon footprints and food miles, humane treatment of animals, ecosystems management, and waste reduction are all big concerns for eaters today. However, as our ability to take all of these to the extreme increases, we’ll see the tradeoffs and choices become more dramatic, creating diverse new sustainability standards.” While eating roadkill and plant-based protein may be fringe behaviours today, in a decade or less, they could become commonplace.
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