It is estimated that 9 billion people will occupy the planet by 2050. Since our current means of food production do not produce nearly enough food for these additional two billion people, it’s essential that we adapt our ways to more sustainable methods of food production. “We must embrace technologies that help farmers to grow more from less,” Greg Page writes in an editorial on Bloomberg. According to Page, food production must increase at least 70% by 2015 in order to provide for the future increased population.
This means an immense responsibility lies on our shoulders to develop and implement methods of food production that use less land, water, and energy than those currently in place. To accomplish this, we will likely need to use a mix of several sustainable food production methods, including energy-efficient agricultural techniques such as aeroponics, genetically modified crops that provide added nutrition, meat grown in labs, and even additional protein sources such as insects. Below are six foods that may change the world and ensure global food security for years to come:
Produce Grown through Aeroponics
Aeroponics is a process by which plants are grown in the air, without soil. The plants’ roots are sprayed with nutrient-rich solutions and the added exposure to air helps the plants grow at much faster rates than those of plants grown in the ground. Since the plants receive nutrients directly, aeroponics requires much less water to grow plants than traditional, soil-based agriculture. Using this technique, plants can also be grown very closely together, meaning aeroponics-grown plants require relatively little space to grow. While aeroponics requires a large initial investment for the equipment used to grow plants as well as technological training in aeroponics techniques, the process could open doors to farmers who currently only have access to arid soil or very little land.
Chicago O’Hare is taking advantage of aeroponics techniques in its in-aiport vertical garden. In a move toward locally-sourced and sustainably grown food, the garden supplies fresh produce to many of the airport’s restaurants, including Stanley’s Blackhawks Lounge and Tuscany.
The Energy Bar Made from Crickets
via Chapul Bars
Though we’ve long known that certain insects are energy-efficient sources of protein, insects are far from a popularly accepted source of food in the U.S. and other western countries. Pat Crowley founded Chapul Bars to introduce the U.S. commercial food sector a palatable way to eat insects. With his cricket-based energy bars, Crowley hopes to change people’s perceptions of what it means to eat bugs.
On his website, Crowley points out that insects convert water, grain, and grass into edible protein up to 10 times more efficiently than do cows and pigs, though both insects and these livestock are rich in key nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. Crowley believes that by adopting insects into our diet we can reduce the huge amount of water currently being irrigated to feed the 300 million cattle and 1.4 billion pigs we slaughter and consume each year.
Don’t worry – when you try Chapul Bars you won’t be picking any legs or antennae out of your teeth. To make Chapul Bars, farmed crickets are baked and then milled to convert them into “cricket powder,” which is then combined with dates, almonds, and other natural ingredients to form the energy bars. Hopefully, the good taste and non-alarming texture of Chapul Bars will help people in the U.S. adopt crickets as a food source. Crowley suggests the problem is psychological. He writes on his website,
Psychology can change – in the early 1960s, most Americans associated raw fish with the local bait shop, but then an entrepreneur named Noritoshi Kanai opened a sushi bar in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1966, catering to Japanese businessmen. The next year, John Belushi started frequenting Kamehachi, a new lunch spot across the street from The Second City, and New York City saw its first sushi bar open in 1975. Today, the residents of Des Moines, Iowa can choose from some 50 sushi restaurants and MenuPages lists 700 for Manhattan alone. I see Chapul in a similar vein – a simple, tasty introduction to a novel delicacy… the first step in a broad culinary shift.”
To order some cricket energy bars for yourself, visit the Chapul Bars store.
Eating Insects as an Art
Ento is another new food company with a goal similar to Crowley’s: to make insects a common part of the western diet while producing food through more energy-efficient processes. Three master’s students from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College joined with a chef to create insect-based food that is visually appealing to westerners. Over time, however, the team hopes to make the insect ingredients in their foods less disguised. This could entail moving from their current dishes of cricket croquettes and mealworm sushi, plates where the insect ingredients are not visibly obvious, to packages of whole insects. The Ento team writes on their website,
Our roadmap for introducing edible insects to the western diet is based on a sequence of delicious products and delightful experiences that will gently challenge our cultural taboo.”
The team is hard at work to get their project off the ground. Next week, Ento will host an “Insect Fine Dining” event in London with sponsorship from Grey Goose.
For more information on Ento, visit their website.
Earlier this week we watched as the world’s first lab-engineered burger was fried and eaten. Though the burger was reportedly lacking in flavor (one person reported it tasted like an “animal-protein cake”) this feat was a milestone in stem cell research that shows mass-production of lab-grown meat may be feasible in our future.
The burger was engineered by researcher Dr. Mark Poster at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands and funded by Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google. Poster grew the five-ounce burger, along with additional tissue for testing, using stem cells taking from cow shoulder muscle. As it stands, the process is far from commercially viable; it took two years and $325,000 to grow the tissue for the burger. Post estimates, however, that if production were scaled up, beef made in this method would cost more than $30 per pound and that it could take 10 years or more before cultured meat became economically feasible.
If processes for growing in-vitro meat were streamlined and made cost-efficient, growing meat could become a sustainable method of creating food, because petri dish burgers such as Poster’s would require less land and energy to grow than cows do.
In a few weeks Filipino scientists will submit samples of “golden rice” to the Philippine government for safety approval. Golden rice is a genetically modified form of rice engineered to produce vitamin A. Vitamin A is lacking in the diets of many Filipinos, a deficiency that is a major preventable cause of blindness among children in the country. Since the government has already enacted campaigns for fortifying flour, instant noodles, and other staples with vitamin A, programs which have already dramatically reduced the vitamin A deficiency in the country, it’s possible that golden rice might not be approved in the Philippines. Even so, golden rice is an example of the ways in which genetically modified crops can enhance the nutritional value of food, among other things. If used with fairness and sustainability in mind, genetically modified crops could revolutionize our food system.
3D Printed Meals
via Intel Free Press
Though it’s not likely 3D printed meals will become a feasible source of food for humans in the near future (except maybe for astronauts), they could make food production a more portable and less wasteful process. Systems and Materials Research, a materials and technology development company based in Texas, has been commissioned by Nasa to develop a 3D printer that produces tasty and nutritious food for astronauts. The machine will follow “digital recipes” and, using nutritional powders, water, and oil, produce food that is similar in taste, texture, and smell to that which we eat today on Earth.
Such a system would provide astronauts greater food variety while on long missions – essential for a trip to Mars, for example. It could also lessen the weight carried by the aircraft by removing the need to carry ready-to-eat meals.
If the technology were established and set to alleviate world hunger, it could be especially useful in locations where nutritional ingredients are scarce and food needs to be sourced quickly, perhaps in a disaster area.
If methods for sustainable food production become socially accepted, we could be on our way to producing healthier and more affordable food for everyone in the world. In addition to preventing a global food crisis as the world population inches toward 9 billion we could solve obesity and other health issues heavily related to poor diets and little access to healthy food.
What do you think of these methods for making food production sustainable? Do you know of other sustainable foods? Share with us in the comments sections!