They were so inspired by Colin Kaepernick’s bold activism for racial justice that they did what they do best: Ben & Jerry’s whipped up what they’ve called “a euphoric flavor” to honor Kaepernick’s activism. Ben & Jerry’s “Colin Kaepernick’s Change The Whirled Non-Dairy” is made with sunflower butter and is 100% certified vegan, as is Kaepernick. The graham cracker, chocolate cookie swirl, and “cara-melt-in-your-mouth vegan dessert masterpiece” is an invitation for others to consider how they, too, can help change the
whirled world. It’s just one example of a whole slew of new tech in alternative foods that is reaching the consumer marketplace.
At a time when President Biden’s climate plan to rapidly replace the nation’s coal- and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar, and nuclear energy is under attack from Senator Joe Manchin III (D-WV), it’s great to see Ben & Jerry’s use their food platform to promote justice. And, while we might not be able to convince Senator Manchin to abandon them that brought him here*, we can look at what’s happening in the newest tech in alternative foods as way to disrupt and inspire transformational change. In doing so, we can embrace our ability to make sustainable choices, use resources honorably, influence corporations to deemphasize environmentally-damaging product lines, and build in more nutritional security around the world.
Reducing the Footprint of the Animal-Farmed Meat Industry
The way we order, cook, and eat is already transforming through the influences of the global pandemic, climate crisis, access to new technologies, and robust health focuses. Alon Chen, CEO of Tastewise, says that today’s consumers require food and beverage that responds to their needs and that provides solutions to problems — from the personal to the planetary. Tastewise uses AI to help brands create impactful contributions in what some in the industry are calling the “new meat” space — the plant-based, meat alternatives that are the talk of the industry.
Chen argues that one of the most significant changes afoot is the rise of alternatives to meat, a $14 billion opportunity. And companies are responding. Many are working to reduce the significant climate footprint of the animal-farmed meat industry by examining and innovating ways to move away from animal meat. This has resulted in more resources devoted to plant-based meat products, versatile solutions, and options to shift in the way we consume food.
Using tech to solve problems will open the door to lasting, sustainable change in the choices we have to eat, Chen forecasts.
Flavor Tech in Alternative Foods
The reasons humans are compelled to eat meat are complex but can be understood via the Maillard reaction, which says that many small, simultaneous chemical reactions occur when proteins and sugars in and on your food are transformed by heat, thus producing new flavors, aromas, and colors. Practically speaking, the Maillard reaction makes food more enticing to us humans, encouraging us to dig into a steak, drink a coffee, or chug a beer.
Plant-based meats are products designed to imitate meat. While earlier products like tofu and seitan were meant to replace meat, newer products are trying to mimic its taste, texture, smell, and appearance. Consumers want a greater variety of flavors that are innovative, bold, and globally-inspired in their plant protein products.
According to the T. Hasegawa group, BBQ, garlic, and spicy are the latest trio of expanding flavors among plant protein product developments with sweet, smoky, and pepper flavors multiplying in consumer appeal. Food Navigator reports that, as the US subsidiary of its global top 10 flavor & fragrance company, T. Hasegawa USA has developed many technologies that help deliver the familiar flavor that consumers crave in meat alternatives and other plant-based proteins.
They’re particularly focused on recreating the familiar texture and fatty, indulgent characteristics of these favorite foods. The company develops customized modifier formulations to enhance sweetness, reduce salt, enrich umami, augment mouthfeel, block bitterness, or mask off-notes. The process begins by analyzing a customer’s base formulation and performing a taste assessment of the matrix. Based on the knowledge of sensory scientists, complementary flavors are tested, and the formulation is balanced until optimal taste is achieved.
A Synergy of Technological Change Can Help Food Ecosystems
The largest impacts we have as citizens lie in voting and our purchasing power, as government and industry leaders adapt and implement changes based on constituent and consumer influences. That means each of us can help our countries to meet long- and short-term emissions goals. And we can start with what we eat: more than a third — 34% — of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions are generated by food systems.
Researchers at the University of Michigan and Tulane University have deconstructed this carbon footprint. 56% comes from meat, generally, and 45% from beef, specifically, and the remainder is a result of the fossil fuels used to transport the products, the land and water necessary to grow them, and the fossil fuels that comprise the basis for most pesticides. A subsequent June 2020 study by members of the research team found that reducing consumption of all animal-based foods by 50% would save 224 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent to emissions from 47.5 million cars annually.
Eliminating meat, fish, and dairy definitely benefits the environment, and even eating a flexitarian diet can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 52%, says research conducted by Nature. The study’s executive summary reminds us that the food system is a major driver of climate change, changes in land use, depletion of freshwater resources, and pollution of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through excessive nitrogen and phosphorus inputs. By 2050, expected changes in population and income levels could lead beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity.
Indeed, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50–90% in the absence of technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures. Then again, dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste can become “a synergistic combination of measures” to sufficiently mitigate the projected increase in environmental pressures.
Technological changes definitely increase the efficiency of production and reduce the environmental impact per unit of food produced. Staying within GHG boundaries requires a number of concessions to the way we eat and produce food:
- ambitious dietary change towards more plant-based, flexitarian diets;
- reductions in food loss and waste or technological improvements;
- staying within the mean values of the cropland and blue water boundaries;
- technological improvements in combination with reductions in food loss and waste;
- staying within the mean values of the nitrogen and phosphorus boundaries; and,
- a more optimistic socioeconomic development pathway that includes lower population and higher income growth.
Combining those measures synergistically results in adoption of different measures of technological change for each environmental domain. New tech in alternative foods is one piece in this larger puzzle.
*Manchin is writing our climate policy while he personally profits from coal.
Infographic provided by Tastewise