Sat, May-25-19, 00:44
The Fate of Food
Not low carb but will probably be of interest to some here:
From The Times
25 May, 2019
The Fate of Food by Amanda Little review — why we’ll be eating faux meat and algae
As global demand for food soars, what we eat is going to radically change, says Melanie Reid
The future of food is already for sale on Amazon. Soylent is an adult version of baby formula, a 400-calorie vegan beverage, nutritionally complete, which saves time, money and carbon footprint. “Proudly made with genetic engineering”, it says on the box. You could eat nothing else and thrive. The Silicon Valley geeks who created it envision a world of shortage in which Soylent is a civil resource, piped into your house through taps.
According to Amanda Little, an American environmental journalist and lover of good food, it tastes like a cross between almond milk and pancake batter — far from delicious, but oddly sating. And by 2050, with permanent drought, millions more mouths to be fed and fresh food beyond all but the rich, Soylent could be commonplace.
The single biggest threat of climate change, according to sombre experts, is the collapse of global food systems. In The Fate of Food Little explores how perilous the future is (very, it seems) and whether the West is prepared for the end of plenty (hardly). But she finds evidence that farmers, entrepreneurs and scientists are starting to radically rethink food — and billions of dollars of private investment is supporting them. “Food is ripe for reinvention,” said Bill Gates in 2014. Five years on, it’s under way.
n the US there’s a revolution afoot with farming robots, which recognise and remove weeds, deliver herbicide to individual plants and dramatically reduce chemical use. The inventor, a Silicon Valley engineer, has gone into partnership with the tractor giant John Deere, heralding an era of precision agriculture that could transform food production and upend the $250-billion agrochemical industry.
In China smog, drought, water rationing, polluted soil and counterfeit produce make feeding the country’s 1.4 billion people a struggle. Farmers use four times more agrochemicals then the US. The Chinese government is investing in indoor vertical farms, soil and chemical-free, where speed of growth and yield are 30 per cent faster than from soil. The Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is backing a San Francisco-based startup that by 2020 will have 300 such farms in Chinese cities, growing food hydroponically.
Aeroponic indoor farming, which grows vegetables with their roots dangling in air, fed by a nutrient-rich mist, is taking off too. Production in the US has jumped more than 60 per cent in the past decade. A company called AeroFarms, with investors from Sweden to Dubai, grows greens in climate-controlled warehouses around New York, shelves stacked into steel towers 40ft high under LED lights, monitored by computer sensors. The company is expanding into China, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. It’s also developing small indoor units for homes.
In Norway Mowi (formerly Marine Harvest), the world’s largest fishery, produces 1.5 billion farmed salmon a year. Its boss, Alf-Helge Aarskog, envisages a blue revolution by 2050 in which aquaculture, including tilapia, carp, catfish and barramundi farmed in Asia, will replace wild-caught fish and sustain billions of people. He points out that oceans are 70 per cent of the planet, but provide only 2 per cent of food.
To escape the blight of sea lice, the company is moving fish into cages called eggs, 150ft deep, made of white polymer, which are impervious to parasites and effectively the watery equivalent of the vertical farm: controlled, hyper-engineered, expensive. The company is also converting carnivorous salmon to vegetarianism, using pellets made from grains and omega-3 fatty acids sourced from algae. The aim is that holy grail: food produced from non-food.
I read this book on holiday in the Outer Hebrides, where the wild scallops on my plate were landed an hour or two earlier. The concept of hungry mega-metropolises seemed distant, but Little’s message is that organic riches and individual effort can never meet future needs. In the book she drops her antagonism to genetically modified food, accepting that tech is essential. As consumers, we are all going to have to get over what she calls the “ick factor” and understand that insect and algae protein, microwave vacuum drying (it preserves food in a state of shrunken chewiness), genetic modification and vegan meal replacements will play a part in diet.
For beef lovers, that means a new frontier of lab-grown and faux meat. Significantly, America’s biggest meat producers are investing in startups that may one day be a substitute for livestock production, responsible for 15 to 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Memphis Meats in California is growing in-vitro meat in the lab using tiny samples of muscle, fat and connective tissue from living animals. Cultured meat, identical at cellular level to animals (it spasms as if alive), reduces emissions by three quarters and water use by 90 per cent. Little tastes lab-grown duck: had it been dressed up and served to her in a restaurant, she says she wouldn’t know the difference. Consumers at large may try it for themselves relatively soon.
A substitute called Beyond Meat, made from soy and pea proteins, coloured with beet juices, is already widely on sale in America. Impossible Foods’ meatless hamburger, made with synthesised blood using soya beans, is a staple at fast-food outlets. It’s a safe bet that it will, with improvements, soon taste identical to a McDonald’s.
Meanwhile, the Wise Company, in Utah, annually doubles its sales of freeze-dried meals. First bought by survivalists, now the pouches are bought by mothers who never want their children to go hungry in the event of catastrophe. The Pentagon is developing food from 3D printers. Sensors on soldiers’ bodies will detect, say, a mineral deficit, then send the information to the printer, which would customise a food bar or pellets from flavoured liquid and powder. The technology is expected in the field by 2025.
Our concept of water must also change. The UN says Egypt will be in water crisis by 2025; by 2040 half of Iranians will need to relocate to escape drought. California and South Africa are critically dry. By 2030 India will need twice what it has. In Israel, however, they have reinvented water. They have a purple pipe network carrying recycled human waste — “poop water”, an enthusiastic Gates calls it — to flush toilets and wash clothes. A separate silver pipe network delivers premium water for drinking and washing. Israel has also, by investing in desalination plants, gone from water deficit to surplus. It can be done.
There’s a timely, positive, thought-provoking message here. It’s just a shame the book is hopelessly overwritten: 100 pages shorter, it would have had real punch. Little is bewilderingly prolix in her scene setting. Aarskog, for instance, has “thick, scowling eyebrows” and approaches the mission of lice eradication “with all the enthusiasm of Caddyshack’s Carl Spackler in his battle against the gophers”; and someone else is “Danny Ocean crossed with the affable Schneider from One Day at a Time”. It’s bad enough, to be honest, to drive me to vegan baby food.
The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World by Amanda Little