A common theme in science fiction movies is a dystopian future where food is scarce. If you watched the recent Harrison Ford movie, Blade Runner 2049, you’d have noticed that in the near future humans will have to turn to eating grubs for their source of protein.
Short of a nuclear war, earth probably won’t resemble anything as miserable as how it’s depicted in that movie. But by 2049, earth’s population will be about nine billion people.
With so many mouths to feed, food production would need to undergo a revolution in order to meet demand. Fortunately, real life offers a more optimistic outlook than science fiction movies when it comes to the future of food.
“I believe that in 30 years or so we’ll no longer need to kill any animals and that all meat will either be clean or plant-based, taste the same, and also be much healthier for everyone,” predicts Virgin founder Richard Branson. He could be right if some of the most cutting-edge food tech companies have their way. Many of them are offering revolutionary new ways to produce meat, seafood, dairy and eggs.
These companies typically fall under two categories. One type makes meat-like products from plants. The other makes meat from animal cells. Almost all of them are driven by environmentally-conscious principles of wanting to find a better way to produce food without harming the earth and without causing suffering to animals.
Of course, in order for their products to be commercially-viable, they need to appeal more to other factors than just environmental concerns. Some people might eat environmentally-friendly meals as a matter of principle but most people care more about taste, cost and convenience.
If you can offer people meat alternatives that taste just like the real thing, costs less, and is widely available, there’s no reason people won’t opt for it. But doing that is easier said than done. But some companies are making exceptional strides in this area.
Healthier eating and environmentally-friendly
Meat: Fake & Cultured
Livestock production is really bad for the environment. It takes up a lot of land and water and produces a lot of greenhouse gas. Impossible Foods has come up with a veggie-based burger that uses 95 per cent less land, a quarter of the water and produces only an eighth of the greenhouse gases compared to what it takes to make an equivalent amount of real beef patties.
If you’ve tasted mock meat in vegetarian restaurants, you’ll probably have the impression that veggie-based meat will never come close to tasting like the real thing. But the Impossible Burger has something going for it that today’s mock meat doesn’t — it incorporates heme into its burgers.
Heme is an iron-carrying chemical that makes blood red and gives meat its familiar flavour. To achieve the same meaty flavour, Impossible Foods uses a plant-based version of heme that works remarkably well when blended with a special mixture of amino acids, sugars and vitamins. Coconut oil is used in place of animal fats so that the patties sizzle when cooked. The result is a patty that tastes just like beef. Not only is the Impossible Burger environmentally-friendly, it’s also better for you than real meat because it doesn’t have hormones, antibiotics, cholesterol or any artificial flavours.
The company recently launched a new plant in California that can produce about 454,000 kilogrammes of Impossible Burgers per month. The cost of producing that burger is still higher than the cost of a meat-based burger but the company estimates that it should be able to match the cost of meat within two or three years and eventually be cheaper than the real thing.
A different approach to producing meat without animals is being pursued by Memphis Meats, which is creating meat from real animal cells. Doing it this way eliminates the need to breed, feed and slaughter animals. The company grows these cells in large steel tanks. It says this approach uses a tenth of the water and one percent of the land needed to rear animals.
Seafood: Fake and Cultured
Our oceans are over-exploited as consumption of fish continues to climb. If nothing is done about this, fish stocks will get depleted in the near future. But if the governments of the world impose strict limits on fishing, the cost of seafood — which is generally already quite expensive — will skyrocket.
New Wave Foods is producing a vegan shrimp that looks and tastes just like the real thing. It’s not that mock meat stuff you can find in Chinese restaurants which don’t look or taste like real shrimp.
To make the shrimp realistic, the company uses the same red algae consumed by shrimp that gives them their characteristic pinkish colouring, and combines it with plant-based proteins to create the fake shrimp. No animal cells are used. Because of that, it’s low-fat, cholesterol-free and allergen-free. Best of all, you don’t have to peel the shrimp (there’s no shell to peel) and you don’t need to devein it either. What you have is just the “meat” part of the shrimp to enjoy.
As with the case of red meat, seafood also has a cultured approach for those who want real seafood meat instead of a plant substitute. One company leading the way on that is Finless Foods.
By using a cutting-edge cell culture technique, a small sample of cells from a living marine animal is cultured and structured in a brewery-like environment in the shape of a fish fillet. It’ll grow into a shape that resembles and has the same texture as real fish meat. Best of all, it’s fish meat without antibiotics, mercury and other negative elements that can be found in seafood today.
Dairy-Free Milk & Chicken-less Eggs
There are many types of plant-based alternatives to real milk. But almost all of today’s dairy-free milk options contain very little or even no protein. Almond milk, for example, has 1g of protein per serving. Coconut milk and cashew milk have none.
Ripple is a company that creates dairy-free milk from peas, which offers an impressive 8g of protein per serving 8g. Not only that, it’s also high in bioavailable calcium (50 per cent more than in real milk), potassium and omega-3. It’s also lower in calories than real milk. For those who have all kinds of allergies, rest assured Ripple milk is free of nuts, lactose, gluten and soya. Best of all, it has all rich, creamy texture of milk that today’s alternatives don’t have.
Meanwhile, Clara Foods is working towards making the world’s first animal-free egg white. Eggs are a great source of protein but unfortunately, the battery-type of farming isn’t only unsanitary and unhealthy, the chickens involved suffer greatly. Clara Foods wants to take the chicken out of the equation and is producing egg white that’s completely animal-free and uses less land and water.
It leverages on advances in fermentation technology to develop these egg whites in a more sustainable, human and disease-free way. It goes without saying that its product will look and taste like the real thing and have the same nutritional value. The challenge is to make it cheaper than the real thing. That will take time but that should happen in due time.
Hopefully we won’t have to resort to eating grubs or insects in the future but instead can continue to enjoy what we like to eat in a healthier way and without causing too much damage to the environment or causing suffering to animals. Let’s hope these companies succeed in the market place with their cutting-edge products in the years to come.