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Food for Good

Our planet is changing. More specifically, it’s getting hotter. We (well, most of us, anyway) know this. Global warming is a serious and sobering reality that requires immediate action. But in a world where we have established seemingly irreversible dependencies on imported and factory-farmed food, along with the associated reliance on oil-sucking and exhaust-spewing transportation of all modes, what’s to be done? What if we were to tell you that one small part of that answer could lie in what’s on your dinner plate? Say, crickets, for example. Yes crickets, as in Jiminy—we’ll come back to this.

As the world’s population continues to increase, so do demands on food productivity. By 2050, it is estimated Mother Earth will have two billion more mouths to feed. Many of these hungry humans will join the ranks of the already ballooning number of unapologetic carnivores. Take the United States, we are a country enthralled by burgers, pork belly, and barbeque chicken. Gobbling down meat is so ingrained in our culture that we refer to summer as grilling season and think nothing of wolfing down a “Quarter-pounder.” To support humankind’s hunger for flesh, half of the planet’s ice-free land surface is devoted to livestock or growing feed for livestock. When food production accounts for 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s time we put away our steak knives—or at least pull them from the drawer less often. We must either change our ways or prepare ourselves to experience the severe effects of climate impact: think ocean dead zones and carbon sinks.

Adjusting our habits is an important first step to righting the climate ship. But as we learned in school, it’s not just demand that plays a fundamental role in solving this Herculean problem—there is a countervailing dynamic: supply.

By shifting production to farms that are currently underutilized, and by growing more crops on existing farmland, the supply of food can increase without necessarily needing to always clear new land—a practice that can create greenhouse gas emissions, raise soil salinity, destroy natural habitats for animals, and threaten indigenous flora and fauna. In addition to where we grow our food, how we grow it is equally impactful. Progressive land management can yield extraordinary results. Take Brazil for example, which has some of the best-managed grazing lands in the world. The vast South American country has employed enlightened techniques which have proven to produce four times as much beef per acre as poorly managed lands.

Looking at the problem from another angle, the movement to repurpose what would otherwise be food waste has opened the door for creative social entrepreneurs. Using the cheeky slogan “eat beer,” ReGrained tackles food waste by taking spent grains from the brewing process and making granola bars. Another innovative company has focused on a protein alternative that is less taxing on resources: crickets. Insects—to some—are rumored to be the future of food. Orchestra Provisions makes cricket-based, protein-packed seasonings to help people meet their dietary requirements. On the other hoof, companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are shaking up the veggie burger scene by going mainstream with plant-based burgers and meat substitutes.

Up to this point, we’ve discussed food production and consumption at scale. It’s also possible to start a food revolution from the comfort of your own kitchen table. All of us can—and should—put more plant-based foods in heavy rotation on our plates. You won’t be alone! A growing number of open-minded eaters consider themselves “plant-forward,” meaning they prefer approximately 70 percent of their meals to contain plant-based ingredients. If that sounds like too much commitment for you, try going meatless just one or two days per week. Not only will you help combat soil, air, and water pollution, but you will also enjoy substantial health benefits.

Enlightened producers are doing their part to put more food on our tables with less environmental impacts. Enlighted consumers are doing their part by seeking out alternatives to meat and incorporating more plant-based foods into their diets. Together, these efforts show that when it comes to good food, there’s no shortage of good ideas.