Humanity is faced with one of its greatest challenges to date. The reality is this: we need to make a lot more food and we’re running out of planet to do it. According to the World Resources Institute, there is a 56% food gap between what we make today and what we will need by 2050.
Agrifood is a US$7.8T global market that employs 40% of the working population, which is impossible to scale using current methods. The ‘inconvenient truth’ is that humans have run out of planet. As our population grows, the resources we need are shrinking. Sweeping changes to farming and how we produce food is required, and technology and science hold the key to helping us find new solutions to feed us all.
Science is unlocking new ways to make more with less and harness nature to create the abundance we need in a sustainable way. One of the ways Australia is already doing this is by making plant-based meat for meat-lovers with a fraction of the impact on the planet. While there are still a lot of consumer misunderstandings and hesitations to overcome when it comes to plant-based alternatives, the research and predictions show it’s our best bet.
Taste, texture, experience
Let’s face it, real meat is extraordinary and it’s a massive challenge to reproduce that experience through a plant-based product. Companies have made leaps and bounds over the last few years, and continue to do so at an accelerated rate. Locally, v2food and Nourish Ingredients have both taken incredible science out of CSIRO and used it to unpack the building blocks of beef and animal fat in order to mimic the exact experience of the real deal. The simple truth is that if your product doesn’t stack up on taste and experience, consumers won’t eat it.
We’re now at the point where people can buy something at the supermarket and use it interchangeably with meat. A lot of work has gone into making the taste and experience as close to the real thing as possible, and this will only get better with time.
Plant-based is here to stay
While there might be some belief that plant-based eating just a fad, we’re actually in it for the long term — and as a human race, we have to be. According to a new report by BCG and Blue Horizon, alternative proteins could make up around 22% of the overall protein market by 2035, with Asia-Pacific growing the fastest. Based on the report’s analysis, by 2035, every tenth portion of meat, eggs, and dairy eaten around the globe is very likely to be alternative. That’s a lot.
The option to make twice as much food in the way we do now is simply impossible. We need alternatives that consumers can afford, and those alternatives need to fit into the recipes that consumers understand and want to use. It’s much easier to give consumers a plant-based alternative that allows them to continue as they have been, then to force them to completely change their diet.
It’s all a process
Plant-based alternatives have a bad rap as being “over-processed” when compared to animal products. However, in almost all instances when humans eat food, it’s been processed in some way. Processed foods often get vilified in today’s food environment, but that shouldn’t necessarily be the case. The bottom line is, with animal meat, all the magic of combining protein, amino acids, water and fat to make some tasty meat happens inside the cow. For plant-based meat, you have to look outside the cow for your ingredients, and develop new processes for combining these ingredients for the same outcome.
The control we have over plant-based products means that we can design them to be nutritionally superior. For example, during the development of v2food, the team broke down the nutritional makeup of beef and found that it contained a lot of cholesterol and not a lot of fibre. Using this knowledge and innovative technology, v2food could create an alternative that reduced the cholesterol and increased the fibre in its product, making it better for us.
A plant-based balancing act
Plant-based meat and other plant-based products won’t replace real meat. We’d be foolish to pretend it would. They will work alongside traditional agriculture.
But we have to consider our options for the future.
Research shows that the alternative protein market is the foundation of a more sustainable food system. We’re seeing a phenomenal amount of pull from the investment market in these kinds of solutions, as more people recognise the importance of making food more sustainably.
There are three options for us in the future. The first is that we change nothing in food production and run headfirst into climate change and mass starvation. The second is that we’re reduced to eating a tiny portion of meat every week. Neither of these seem appealing.
So what’s the third alternative? We find other ways of eating the meat that we love and change the balance of our diets through plant-based alternatives. As a human race, we can make our food in different ways and therefore live more sustainably. Over time that experience will get better — this is only the beginning.