I am an omnivore who is sympathetic towards vegans and realizes that we need more fruits and vegetables in our diet, but who also loves hanging around a Texas barbecue pit. The Specialty Food Association just held their summer Fancy Food Show in New York City where great changes are evidently happening in the food industry for both vegetarians and carnivores. And the news looks bright, thanks to recent innovations and concerns about the planet. We will not have to stop eating meat and the diet of vegans is greatly expanding. No matter how you feel about meat, there is one overarching problem that the meat industry causes to the environment. Global scientists have reported that if we eliminated all livestock, particularly beef and dairy cattle tomorrow, global warming could be reversed. The situation is complex, but basically “cow burps and farts” along with the anaerobic decomposition of their manure, produces methane, a greenhouse gas with roughly 28 times the warming potential of CO2.
It is not even imaginable how we could ever completely eliminate the production of livestock worldwide, but a path is opening for greatly reducing their population. In regards to milk, there are already a number of non-dairy substitutes, including soy, almond, coconut, oat, rice, cashew, macadamia, hemp, and quinoa. While none make a perfect milk substitute, improvements have been made so that now there are some quite respectable non-dairy cheeses coming on the market.
I was quite skeptical that there would ever be vegan cheese comparable to cow, sheep, or goat cheese. The Uncreamery, a San Francisco-based vegan creamery, changed my opinion when I sampled their products at the Fancy Food Show, including smoked gouda, ghost pepper jack, and black truffle brie. Not only do they taste delicious, but they slice, shred, and melt like their dairy counterparts and are rich in protein. The company’s motto is, “The future of dairy is nuts,” a play on words since their cheeses come from almond and cashew. Another plant based cheese that impressed me very much is “Gran Vegiano” by Nature & Moi, a French based company. Barrett’s Garden makes dairy-free, vegan cheeses, including Farmesan, a cashew-based alternative to parmesan cheese, and Fauxcotta that is tofu-based and can be used in Italian dishes such as lasagna. All predictions are that this will become a major very fast growth industry.
Snow Monkey is a company launched in 2017 by two millennial women who are reinventing ice cream as a nutritious and flavorful treat that is vegan, created from plant-based ingredients of fruits and nuts, that has already gained wide acclaim. They first created it for themselves in college when they realized there were no healthy ice creams on the market. They already have five flavors, including my favorite, matcha green tea.
Peekaboo Ice Cream takes a different tack. They make traditional ice creams, but load them up with vegetables so that kids don’t what healthy spoonfuls they are indulging in. I didn’t get past the sampling of the vanilla with hidden zucchini because it was so delicious. But there is also chocolate with hidden cauliflower, strawberry with hidden carrot, mint chip with hidden spinach, and cotton candy with hidden beets.
Inventing a substitute for meat is even more challenging. There have been mocked meat products based on soybean for years, but the taste just hasn’t been comparable to actual meat. That is about to change with the invention of lab-grown cultured meat. A small sample of actual meat from adult stem cells are cultured in a nutrient medium to produce actual muscle fiber in vitro. One cell could theoretically produce vast ranches equivalence of clean muscle tissue. There is no genetic engineering involved in this process. While this is not yet available on the market, optimistic predictions are it will become available and affordable by the end of 2018. The potential for improving the environment by having an alternate source of animal products and no longer needing to produce the actual grazing animal are enormous. We will have to wait and see whether the public will accept this and what future research will bring to this nascent, but highly potential industry. Do not hold your breath for a laboratory-grown porterhouse steak, although in ten years this too may be possible.
Rather than trying to grow whole organs or cuts of meat, other food laboratories have gone in the other direction, down to a protein powdered cellular level. Cellular Seasonings, for example, now has meat salts available in three flavors: chicken, beef, and pork, with turkey and lamb coming soon, and possibly milk and eggs in the future. All are made from 100% USDA cellular cultured meat, with no artificial meat flavoring. Sprinkle this condiment on tofu and you may think you are eating the actual meat.
The situation of overfishing is also an enormous growing problem. Some of our most prized fish, like tuna, are at the top of the food chain and thus highly susceptible to mercury and other pollutants. Even with fish there are some promising non-animal substitutes.
I am a fan of sushi, but I do not like raw tomato. It was with trepidation that I tried what is called Ahimi, a plant-based alternative to raw tuna sushi that uses tomato. To my great surprise it is not only delicious, but has a clean tuna taste and texture. Ahimi is of course, free of mercury, PCBs, and other toxic chemicals. It’s also vegan, safe for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and people with compromised immune systems. Ocean Hugger Foods developed this product using a proprietary method, and are working on additional plant-based seafood alternatives, including Sakimi, a carrot-based salmon alternative, and Unami, an eggplant-based eel alternative for release later this year. (sushi.jpg)
This is just a small sample of innovative food companies who are making a difference. It is a very good sign that food companies are paying more attention to being sustainable citizens of the planet and lowering our impact on the environment by, for example, helping lower food waste and the use of plastic. Public research institutes and venture capitalists are also helping by increasing the support for future breakthroughs in food technology, and thus make this a better world.