The future of food and our changing tastes
When one of the world’s most respected and prominent technologists says that we should eat less meat to reduce our carbon footprint, it is probably a good idea to take stock and consume less livestock. Can technology help us do that?
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, said we should all eat less meat to reduce the carbon emissions generated by animal agriculture.
The guy behind the web is a pretty clever dude so we should probably pay close attention to his advice. Rearing animals for food has a big impact on our planet’s resources. One kg of beef requires 15,4000 litres of water, but one kg of rice needs just 2,500 litres.
Furthermore, the animals we eat have an impact on our atmosphere. When cows pass gas they emit methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, up to 200 kg of the gas annually. Multiply that by the world’s 1.4 billion cattle produce 33% of methane emissions.
To bring this figure down, some are looking at tweaking the cows’ diets. Asparagopsis
taxiformis is a type of red seaweed that when introduced to the feed of ruminant animals is found to virtually stop it producing methane. Josh Goldman who leads the project Greener Grazing is trying to find a way to scale the production of Asparagopsis so that it can be incorporated into the diets of sheep and cattle everywhere.
There is also the option of lab-grown meat that originates from a petri dish rather than a
farm. Miniscule pieces of muscle tissue, taken from an animal, have the muscle cells
separated out. Those cells start dividing and the number of cells multiplies, which are then reconstituted. According to Dutch food technology company, Mosa Meat, one trillion cells can be cultured from one muscle cell. Several food tech companies, like Just and Memphis Meats, are now working towards increasing the range of cultured meats, widening the availability and bringing down the cost of cultured meat.
In a similar process to the way animal tissue is broken down to its constituent parts, food
scientists, chemists and engineers are doing the same with molecular components from the plant kingdom.
Gone are the days of dry and grainy veggie burgers, with companies like Impossible, Moving Mountains and Beyond Meat creating plant-based food products that cook, smell, taste and even bleed like meat. The scientists at Impossible looked at the molecular structure of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins and minerals and came across an ingredient called haem which contains a lot of iron and makes the plant patties taste meaty. Beyond Meat pulled a bit of a Halloween trick and use beet juice to mimic the blood.
Tim Berners-Lee is up there with David Attenborough in terms of gravitas and wisdom, and with these developments in food technology heeding his advice could be a piece of cake.