‘Virus Spurs Chinese Interest in Vegan Eggs as Protein Source’

Deena Shanker for Bloomberg News:

“Some of the biggest companies, larger food manufacturers, including some that are backed by the state government, are proactively reaching out to me personally, our executive team, our board, and the team in China, about now wanting to partner,” he said in an interview. China’s producers are viewing the current climate as a time for more quality-controlled food, he said.

While Tetrick declined to name the companies, he said that authorities are trying to think about how to reduce the risk of future outbreaks by curbing China’s reliance on meat from confined animals. The country’s wet markets, where freshly slaughtered, unpackaged meat is sold, have been identified as a possible source of the deadly outbreak that’s claimed more than 3,100 lives and disrupted businesses amid its global spread.

I do wonder if outbreaks like this will end up being the largest driver of plant-based cuisine.

‘Can Vegans And Ranchers Work Together To Rebuild The World’s Soil?’

Brian Kateman for Forbes:

The agriculture sector is one of the biggest emitters of CO2. A 2018 study published in Nature concluded that Americans need to eat 90% less beef and 60% less milk to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius.

But as awareness spreads around the benefits of a plant-based diet on the environment, a growing regenerative agriculture (RA) movement says livestock is actually integral to shaping farming practices that will save the planet.

The world’s soil has been degraded by humans via their management of animals—ploughing, intense grazing and clear-cutting—and according to the United Nations, it will be completely degraded in the next 60 years. […]

While there is growing awareness of RA, it has some way to go before it becomes mainstream. But, beginning this year, food made from RA practices will have its own food label.

The Regenerative Organic certification will be applicable to foods made of organic agricultural ingredients, sourced from farms that practice pasture-based animal welfare and prioritize soil health, biodiversity, land management and carbon sequestration.

Clearer labeling and a better world. I like it.

‘Cooking human waste in the microwave could make it a safer fertilizer’

Since I went vegan, I’ve always had a question in my head. How does the world replace cow pies as we start eating less and less beef? I’d talked to people about the cow poop we use to grow crops all over the country, and I never heard a straight answer on what could replace it.

This article from Jessica Fu at New Food Economy touches on a possible option: the microwave.

Last year, the city of Montgomery, Alabama, agreed to pay $32,000 in penalties over sewage sludge—the leftovers that remain after wastewater gets treated—that it had applied as fertilizer on farms. At issue wasn’t the application itself; it was that the sludge was really high in nickel. Too high, in fact. Testing showed that the sludge exceeded limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the metal by as much as 25 percent, according to a consent decree. Overexposure to nickel can cause allergic reactions, stomach pain, and breathing issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maybe the city should have treated its sludge with more caution. Maybe it should have microwaved it.

As it turns out, electromagnetic radiation can be quite helpful in facilitating the removal of heavy metals from sewage sludge. Scientists recently made this discovery through a crude yet effective method: putting human waste in a kitchen microwave. A team of researchers at the Florida A&M University-Florida State University (FAMU-FSU) College of Engineering found that putting a sludge sample in a 1000-watt Emerson-brand microwave for 10 seconds greatly increased the percentage of metal that could be extracted from it.

But it seems to be complicated too:

“Even if you could theoretically remove all the heavy metals, what is remaining that we’re not focusing on?” asks Amanda Starbuck, senior food researcher and policy analyst at environmental advocacy group Food and Water Watch. The use of sludge as fertilizer has drawn vocal backlash because it can sometimes contain measurable amounts of pathogens—disease-causing microorganisms that include Salmonella, E. coli, and listeria. To market food as organic, farmers aren’t allowed to use biosolids on their fields. Last year, Whole Foods announced that it would not sell produce grown on land treated with sewage sludge.

That said, there’s no consensus about whether biosolids actually impact eater health. And, save for incinerating it, placing it in a landfill, or spraying it onto land—what can we do, practically speaking, about the enormous amounts of human waste that we generate?

I need to learn more about poo.

‘Bloomberg Data Dash: A Live Climate Scoreboard for the World’

These are the numbers that matter. A difficult global transition is happening right now, away from fossil fuels, deforestation, greenhouse-gas pollution and melting ice. It can be measured with precision and clarity. The processes described by this data dashboard are occurring on a planetary scale, and yet our progress can be measured this minute, in parts per million, in metric tons, in fractions of a degree. This is Bloomberg Green’s guide to the worldwide goal of slowing and stopping warming temperatures. This is a record of how far we have to go, and a tool to assess how much we can change.

An interesting guide to measuring what’s happening on earth and part of their new, more environmentally-focused side Bloomberg Green.

‘Farmers Got Billions From Taxpayers In 2019, And Hardly Anyone Objected’

Dan Charles for NPR:

In 2019, the federal government delivered an extraordinary financial aid package to America’s farmers. Farm subsidies jumped to their highest level in 14 years, most of them paid out without any action by Congress. […]

The announcement aroused little controversy. “I was surprised that it didn’t attract more attention,” says Joe Glauber, the USDA’s former chief economist, who’s now a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Glauber says it deserves more attention, for a whole collection of reasons.

For one thing, it’s an enormous amount of money, more than the final cost of bailing out the auto industry during the financial crisis of 2008. The auto industry bailout was fiercely debated in Congress. Yet the USDA created this new program out of thin air; it decided that an old law authorizing a USDA program called the Commodity Credit Corp. already gave it the authority to spend this money.

‘The Blue Whale’s Heart Beats at Extremes’

Ed Yong for The Atlantic:

For the first time, scientists recorded a cardiogram from the largest animal that has ever lived.

The heart of a blue whale, diving off the coast of California, has just contracted. The beat took about two seconds to finish, and pushed dozens of gallons of blood through the arteries of the largest animal that lives or has ever lived. According to Jeremy Goldbogen of Stanford University, the first person to attach a heart monitor to a blue whale at sea, the creature’s organ constantly swings between extremes of speed. During a dive, it can conserve oxygen by slowing down to just two beats a minute. If you’re reading this piece at an average speed, that’s roughly one beat at the end of every paragraph. (Ba-bum.)

That (Ba-bum) is a beautiful way to connect with the natural world through writing. I love this.

‘New study shows the EAT-Lancet diet is unaffordable for at least 1.6 billion people’

H. Claire Brown for the New Food Economy:

Earlier this year, a groundbreaking study from the EAT-Lancet Commission outlined a climate-friendly path to feeding 10 billion people “within planetary boundaries.” Its recommendations included limiting meat consumption to about an ounce per day, or roughly two chicken nuggets, and bulking up on low-impact foods like beans. […]

A new study from researchers at Tufts University and the International Food Policy Research Institute adds a wrinkle to the debate: the diet recommended by the EAT-Lancet commission is simply unaffordable for an estimated 1.58 billion people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

To get these numbers, the researchers cross-referenced local income data with the retail prices of 744 foods in 159 countries. They based their model on the lowest-cost diet that conformed to the recommendations made in the report and found that following the EAT-Lancet diet would cost a median of $2.84 per day globally. It was also about 60 percent more expensive than a diet that met minimum nutritional requirements, largely because it includes high-cost meat and dairy. 

Our future is largely tied to diet and the related agricultural effects. I have no idea what the answer is, but I’m glad the discussion is happening passionately. It needs to if we’re going to actually figure out how to eat our way out of this climate mess.

‘How conventional soy farming starves honey bees’

Jessica Fu writing for the New Food Economy:

A significant, multi-year study […] provides new evidence that commodity crop production can be detrimental to honey bees, putting colonies at risk by depleting their access to food. […]

Now, by examining the health of honey bees in Iowa soy fields, scientists have showed precisely how damaging that lack of variation can be. Soy is one of the U.S.’s most highly produced and exported foods.

In 2018, farmers harvested 4.54 billion bushels of the crop (for reference, a bushel of soy weighs 60 pounds), with the Midwest contributing to the vast majority of this output. The industry’s rise, however, has come at the cost of traditional habitat: In Iowa, the second-largest soy producing state, the expansion of farmland has driven a steep decline in native tallgrass prairie. That, in turn, has depleted both the quantity and variety of food sources available to honey bees, according to the new research[.] […]

Typically, bees are supposed to produce honey for their colony from spring through fall in order to have enough food to survive the winter. What the researchers found, however, was that colonies adjacent to soy farms were turning to food stores for sustenance as early as August, and that by mid-October, all of them had wiped out the gains that they had made in the spring and summer. That’s like clearing out your fridge and pantry right before a power outage—and it means those hives would be far less likely to survive.

Ninety-eight percent of soy that is grown in the US is used for animal feed. One percent is grown for human consumption.

‘Why are people malnourished in the richest country on earth?’

Tracie McMillan writes a thoughtful and difficult piece for National Geographic:

Chances are good that if you picture what hunger looks like, you don’t summon an image of someone like Christina Dreier: white, married, clothed, and housed, even a bit overweight. The image of hunger in America today differs markedly from Depression-era images of the gaunt-faced unemployed scavenging for food on urban streets. […]

In the United States more than half of hungry households are white, and two-thirds of those with children have at least one working adult—typically in a full-time job. With this new image comes a new lexicon: In 2006 the U.S. government replaced “hunger” with the term “food insecure” to describe any household where, sometime during the previous year, people didn’t have enough food to eat. By whatever name, the number of people going hungry has grown dramatically in the U.S., increasing to 48 million by 2012—a fivefold jump since the late 1960s, including an increase of 57 percent since the late 1990s.

And these numbers will keep growing as the divide between the poor and the wealthy grows wider.

It can be tempting to ask families receiving food assistance, If you’re really hungry, then how can you be—as many of them are—overweight? The answer is “this paradox that hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin,” says Melissa Boteach, vice president of the Poverty and Prosperity Program of the Center for American Progress, “people making trade-offs between food that’s filling but not nutritious and may actually contribute to obesity.”

It’s terrible that obesity would be an indicator of hunger or malnourishment. It could be a different picture if the government would subsidize the right things. This part, with emphasis mine, speaks to that:

These are the very crops that end up on Christina Dreier’s kitchen table in the form of hot dogs made of corn-raised beef, Mountain Dew sweetened with corn syrup, and chicken nuggets fried in soybean oil. They’re also the foods that the U.S. government supports the most. In 2012 it spent roughly $11 billion to subsidize and insure commodity crops like corn and soy, with Iowa among the states receiving the highest subsidies. The government spends much less to bolster the production of the fruits and vegetables its own nutrition guidelines say should make up half the food on our plates. In 2011 it spent only $1.6 billion to subsidize and insure “specialty crops”—the bureaucratic term for fruits and vegetables.

The USA needs to subsidize produce with a focus on health. Every dollar that goes against that is a dollar squandered, and it’s easy to see this in our population. The government is the reason fast food is cheaper than vegetables. The general health of the people should be considered our government’s problem, because it starts with what crops they subsidize.

‘A startup just announced the world’s first fake-meat “steaks” made from fungi. Are we ready?’

Joe Fassler for the New Food Economy:

A Boulder, Colorado-based startup has opened a new frontier in the world of vegan meat replacements. The company, Emergy Foods, announced on Tuesday morning the imminent launch of a brand called Meati Foods—the world’s first line of fungi-based steaks.

The whole piece and photos are interesting, but this bit about language and description follows after he gets to try the product:

That allowed doubt to creep in. The more I thought about it, the more I struggled to classify my experience, scribbling phrases in my notebook, reaching for descriptions that made sense. That strangely unsettled feeling helps explain why Emergy used the term “plant-based” in its press release, even knowing the label doesn’t quite fit. It wants to provide customers with a comforting reference point, a way to make its product not feel quite so unfamiliar and new. 

In our email interview, Nicole Civita explained further. 

“Unfortunately, such foods are notoriously hard to market—‘fungal foods’ doesn’t sound terribly appetizing! And it’s not accurate to describe the protein rich foods made from mycelium as ‘mushroom-based’ either, because they are made from the precursor to mushrooms, not mushrooms themselves,” she wrote. “So, companies in this space have struggled to describe their products in ways that are both accurate and appealing.  And sustainable food advocates have favored the less accurate and insufficiently encompassing “plant-based” vernacular. While this drives biologists crazy and could run afoul of food labeling regulations, lumping myco-foods in with the plant-based alts is a reasonable shorthand.”

Time will iron these things out, but for now we’re all enveloped by slang, jargon, and an evolving language.