Food is a tricky subject. We all need it, love it and consume it such large quantities that the production of it is under serious threat.
Take meat, for example. Our global insatiable appetite for meat continues to boom. In fact, animal agriculture is set to increase by 70 per cent by 2050, putting a huge strain on worldwide water supplies – not to mention the rapid use of fertilisers and the enormous carbon footprint of methane-trumping cattle.
The idea that it will continue to expand to feed nine billion people by the middle of the century is worrying to say the least. Already, one-third of the world’s grains are used to feed livestock and cattle occupy 24 per cent of global land.
The same can be said of many other commodities we know and love. Demand for chocolate could see a worldwide shortage within the next four years, if cocoa farmers are not effectively supported in boosting production. The 3.5 million tonnes of cocoa harvested every year to make chocolate is just not enough now that a burgeoning middle class, in places like China, have got a taste for the stuff.
So, what can be done to ween ourselves off traditional foodstuffs which continue to cause environmental havoc and put pressure on agricultural systems everywhere? Well, there is a growing band of start-ups coming up with new foods to tantalise the tastebuds and appeal to the masses.
Here’s a pick of the best alternative foods trying to create positive change in the world.
1. Beyond Meat
Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat, is on a mission to convince people there is a better way to feed the planet. The challenge is persuading consumers that ‘meat’ can be defined by its chemical constituents, rather than whether it actually came from a live cow pig or chicken.
Far removed from most nasty-tasting veggie burgers, his company creates meat from plants. Yes, the animal protein we get from meat is substituted by those that can be garnered from plants – something the business says does wonders for human health, for the environment, for conservation of natural resources and for animals.
And Ethan is having success. The company’s range of products – including ‘Beast Burgers’ made with non-GMO soy and pea protein – are now stocked in thousands of stores across the US, and sales are doubling every year.
In 2013, Gabi Lewis and Greg Sewitz ordered 2,000 live crickets to be delivered to their student house at Brown University campus. Armed with some sketchy Google research, a vague recipe for cricket flour, an oven and a blender, they got to work on creating a food product using insects that actually tasted good.
Six years on and Exo, the pair’s business, is going from strength to strength on the back of their range of protein bars made with cricket flour – which is not as mad as it sounds given that 80 per cent of the world’s population regularly munches on insects.
Animal agriculture is set to increase by 70 per cent by 2050 putting huge, huge strain on worldwide water supplies.
So, why crickets? Well, the company points to the fact that the little bugs contain all of your essential amino acids and twice as much iron as spinach. Then there’s the environmental benefits. Making food from crickets use one gallon per pound, compared to 2,000 gallons per pound of beef.
3. Kuli Kuli
Lisa Curtis stumbled across the moringa plant while working as a peace corp volunteer in Niger, in West Africa. As a vegetarian, she was surviving on meagre portions of rice and little else and felt sluggish and lacking in nutrients. The local women encouraged her to add moringa extracts to her diet. She soon felt great. The rest is history.
On her return to the US she founded Kuli Kuli, her own brand of energy bars and health shots that make use of moringa as the ultimate superfood. The health benefits of the plant speak for themselves; 15 times more potassium than bananas, 17 times more calcium than milk, 25 times more iron than spinach.
But it is what Lisa and her team are doing to support smallholder farmers in places like Haiti that is most impressive. By scaling up the business, Kuli Kuli is supporting the development of brand new moringa plantations, creating new revenue streams for local communities and sustaining the livelihoods of thousands across the developing world in the process.
4. Ripple Foods
One of the men behind Ripple Foods is Adam Lowry, the co-founder of Method, the green cleaning products business that sold out to Ecover a few years back. Now, he’s back, this time with two feet firmly in the alternative food market.
Bemoaning the fact that kids are overfed, undernourished and deficient in vitamin D and calcium, the business has developed a protein-rich alternative to milk using processed peas. Ripple products have eight times the protein of almond milk and half the sugar of dairy milk. They are also high in bio-available calcium (50 per cent more than milk), potassium and provide a good source of omega 3s.
Oh, and best of all, they have the creamy texture that many dairy-free drinkers really miss. And just think about the negative environmental impacts of dairy farming that Ripple is working around.
Toast Pale Ale wants to put itself out of business. You see, it uses leftover bread that would otherwise be thrown out by bakeries everywhere to make beer. The moment bread is not wasted it will cease to exist, it says.
Strictly speaking, Toast is not producing an alternative foodstuff – its recipe still makes use of traditional barley, hops, yeast and water (the toast is said to add caramel notes that balance the bitter hops, giving a malty taste similar to amber ales).
But the company is tackling a huge environmental problem. With 15 million tonnes of food thrown away every year in the UK – and 44 per cent of all bread produced ending up in the bin – Toast is doing its best to solve the problem by gathering up surplus bread from delis, bakeries and sandwich makers everywhere, crushing it into breadcrumbs and adding it to its production process.