Meat without animals. Coffee without beans. Milk without cows.
OK, the last one we have had for a while. Farmers have been ranching almonds, oats, soybeans, rice, hemp, peas, cashews and coconuts for years. Those little milking machines are so cute. There are farmers making base products for those milk-like substances, just like milk, most-times sustainably, sometimes not.
The lab-harvested coffee is new this year. Atomo’s Molecular Coffee is based on building coffee from the atoms up. It is designed to taste and caffeinate the same way that coffee does.
Generally coffee producers are some of the least well-paid producers of an export product anywhere in the world.
The Impossible Foods burger still requires some farmed building blocks for microbial providers, such as yeast, to sink their little single-celled sugar suckers into, as well as others to transform farmed-plant proteins into something similar to meat, with the same molecule supplying the bloody hemoglobin. Still, it’s not meat as we typically know it.
Newest are the true dairy-less dairy products. Like meatless-meat’s process, microbes create something new. This one has a twist though. Microbes are creating actual dairy proteins: casein and whey. That is the stuff missing from vegan cheese, if you’ve ever tried it, which I hope you haven’t — it’s not good.
Casein and whey are what make ice cream and mozzarella and, besides milk, butter and cream, are the backbone of the dairy business. Rather than producing alternatives or taste-alikes, these are the real things and will openly compete with cow-produced products.
American dairy producers, like their coffee-growing equatorial cousins, have been suffering from a lack of net margins. New, lab-based products that might have a lower carbon footprint and stack up well economically in the food processing chain would be unwanted competition, potentially lowering prices.
These next-generation animal-less foods will create new challenges for agricultural economies and government policies surrounding rural land management, development and employment.
Sustainable farming begins with farmers earning enough money to live on. That is when they can invest in technology and people, and do their best work for the world as a whole.