You may not realise it, but there’s a crisis looming amongst your Everyday Value chicken thighs and Kettle Chips. As the world’s population grows, there’s ever-increasing demand for resources, and food production is one of the biggest drains. Meat production is one of the biggest causes of climate change, thanks to huge carbon dioxide and methane output, and there’s constant pressure to find enough land to grow crops to feed so many new mouths. This hasn’t gone unnoticed, and there are a huge number of initiatives to counter the problem. Paul McCartney has been spearheading the Meat-Free Monday campaign, aimed at getting us to eat even a little bit less meat and thereby reduce our environmental impact. Others have been proposing a new and more efficient way of farming, using hydroponics (growing plants in containers floating on water) to make huge vertical farms – think of a leafy skyscraper and you get the picture.
All this is great, and sure to have some effect, but what if we’re not thinking big enough? Or rather, what if it’s our concept of food altogether that’s the problem? Interestingly, it’s the dotcom entrepreneurs that are pushing forward such thinking, and one such project is Beyond Meat. As the name might suggest, the company aims to remove the need for animal protein for good, but not through the McCartney-style abstinence. Instead, they produce a substitute from pea and soy protein to give us our meaty fix without an animal in sight. I know what you’re thinking – surely that’s what Quorn is for? Beyond Meat is different in that it doesn’t rely on fungi to produce its substitute (fungi sounds so appetising, doesn’t it?) and actually tastes like meat. The texture is unnervingly realistic, which could prove a barrier for seasoned vegetarians, but the concept is there. As we continue to develop more efficient farming techniques, the environment impact of eating ‘meat’ could become no worse than relying solely on plants.
Rather more extreme, but possibly more exciting, is Soylent, a US startup that has raised over $2 million from members of the product. The concept is simple: a life without solid food. The idea started when three 20-somethings in California failed in their attempt to make it big in Silicon Valley. Down to their last few dollars, they realised that the biggest cost of living was food, and decided to apply a scientific approach to it. After much research, they broke down the nutritional needs of the average human into 35 components, and ordered each of these in powdered form. Mixed together with water, this concoction was enough to sustain them and a business was born. Since then, they’ve refined the formula and have been, along with hundreds of other pioneers, been living solely on this Soylent for well over a year with no ill effects. What’s so powerful about this idea is that they’re not simply selling a product, but actually giving away the formula for free. There’s a huge online database of new and interesting variations designed by the public and tested. The aim? To have a world without a need for food, a world in which cheap nutrients can be produced with little environmental and monetary cost before being made available to those most in need. We’re only on the cusp of this brave new world, and it may never come to be, but watch this space. Soylent: it’s most definitely not people.