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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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reThink Farming ? Planet Enemy #1

Uploaded: Nov 14, 2014

"If farming were invented today, it wouldn't be allowed. Food production has had more impact on the planet than any other human activity."

So began reThinkFood, a conference of "innovation, technology, behavior and design," held at the Culinary Institute of America in Saint Helena, CA last weekend. Co-sponsored by MIT, it was an impressive gathering of food and tech professionals exploring ways to align different societal sectors and pick the best technologies to move global food production forward.




The stats are daunting. Jason Clay from World Wildlife Fund said by 2050, yield from 70 ? 90% of current food production areas will be dramatically reduced or eliminated, while there will be 25 ? 30% more people on the planet to feed. MARS Chief Agricultural Officer and ZZ Top look alike, Howard-Yana Shapiro, said 2,000 people die every day in Africa due to lack of food safety, and 37% of that population is "stunted," fueled by food which is calorie rich but nutrient poor (50% in India). One trillion gallons of good clean water are wasted each year, just from food we throw away.

What's a world to do?

MIT shared impressive results from its Massachusetts-based food lab, With ¾'s of the world's population expected to live in cities thirty years from now, CityFARM is researching hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic food production with the potential to reduce agricultural water consumption by 98%, eliminate chemical fertilizers and pesticides, double nutrient densities, and reduce the energy requirements to produce the food by a factor of ten. Only 10% of sun light is used when growing foods ? the rest is wasted energy in the form of unused (and problematic) heat. Solution? Think LED, but for sunlight. "In soil we can grow 3 heads of broccoli per year, vs. aeroponics (growing plants in air) where we grow 18 heads in the same space and time." MIT imagines a world where everyone will grow his or her own food up the walls of their city high rise. Please excuse me while I harvest tonight's salad from the dining room wall.

IBM was also in attendance, presenting novel ways to motivate and assist people to cook more. Remember Watson, that personable computer who beat Ken Jennings in Jeopardy? In the future we will all have our own Watson, donned in a white toque and living in our cell phone. Chef Watson will know us intimately, and what we like to eat. Tell him what you are in the mood for, or even just how you are feeling, and he'll create recipes and a shopping list based on what you have in your kitchen, what's on sale locally, and nutritionally what you need. (Oh, he knows that because your toilet will be able to read the microbes in your poop and report to your cell phone via blue tooth.)



Another impressive presentation was by Modern Meat. This is the new company of Andras Forgacs, co-founder of Organovo, pioneer of 3D human tissue bio-printing for medical applications. "The planet can not support the growing consumption of beef with the resources we have.



So if we could reproduce liver cells, we should be able to grow a cow in the lab." And indeed they did, both for leather and meat. We tasted the test version ? beef "chips" grown in a petri dish. Salty and strong flavored, the chips melt away in the mouth. Where's the beef? Not in factory farms for much longer.




Treasure8 was also on hand, a new company based on Treasure Island. There's not a lot of info about it online or in the news, but they are a food innovation and technology company on a mission to solve the nutritional challenges and environmental stresses of a growing global population. Co-founder Timothy Childs has been rethinking how to turn vegetable waste into snack chips. (40% of the food we bring home in the U.S. is never eaten ? it's simply thrown into the trash).

Serious problems. Interesting solutions. And certainly hope because reThinkFood also taught us that 52% of today's millennials would rather go to a food fest than a music fest.

I can dance to that.



Don't forget - all comments entered to win a trip to the Fancy Food Show. Eat your way thru this culinary extravaganza and get interviewed on your favorite new trends. Winner announced Nov 27th.

Some reThinkFood afternoon snacks







Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by nacho, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Nov 14, 2014 at 10:06 pm

hmmm, you got me at smoked yogurt...


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Nov 15, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Nacho - that got me too. Hi from Sea Ranch - lots of abalone harvest around here.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Ric, a resident of another community,
on Nov 15, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Mmmmmm, Soylent Green has arrived! $2,500 strawberry jam anyone?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by food for thought, a resident of another community,
on Nov 17, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Organovo is an interesting and promising company. Web Link As for their other ventures - I can see growing cells to avoid the waste of over utilization of leather resources. However, I will pass on the beef chips. How about this? Just stop eating so much meat -- is it really that necessary? Has anyone watched the movie Snowpiercer? It's on itunes. There's some food for thought.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by The Mod Eration, a resident of Bailey Park,
on Nov 17, 2014 at 1:21 pm

It is not like I'm against reducing my meat intake, in fact I have probably by 75% over the past 5 yrs or so. The thing is, as soon as someone chimes in to tell everyone they should eat less meat, I immediately think about how delicious bacon is. Then I can't stop thinking about it, then I buy bacon, cook it and eat it.

That's how it is going down tonight: I can't stop thinking about thick sliced bacon brushed with a hint of maple syrup then sprinkled with brown sugar. Add a a tiny dash of cayenne and black pepper and bake in the oven for about 20 mins or so (No splatter!)

It's candied bacon and after tasting it, it will make you hug that neighbor you've always hated and generally rethink your place in this world. Enjoy and enjoy life's full palette of colors!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Nov 17, 2014 at 4:16 pm

So what time is dinner Mod Eration?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Foodie, a resident of Woodside: other,
on Nov 18, 2014 at 2:38 am

I'm hungry now too! But partially for verifiable facts. Did you know that 70% of stats are made up on the spot? Just because someone said it persuasively doesn't make it true.

In particular, I'd like to see the proof behind this whopper:
"yield from 70 ? 90% of current food production areas will be dramatically reduced or eliminated"


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Nov 18, 2014 at 6:26 am

Foodie, I know that one made me stop and question too. That's Jason Clay from World Wildlife. I HOPE he's wrong!


 +   2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 19, 2014 at 12:49 am

If people want to eat and raise animals, I have no problem, but I think it ought
to be regulated and done humanely.

The country is turning into a desert because of all we have taken from the land,
and one thing that has contributed to that is desertification. One thing that can
reverse desertification is to graze animals on the land. We could renew America's
lands and raise meat to eat humanely, reverse global warming, and eat more
healthily, and have richer soil to raise vegetables and fruits in - if we stopped
behaving as if we hated nature.

It has been shown many times now that a properly managed organic farm using
sustainable methods can be more productive than a factory monoculture farm,
and would employ more people and steward the land much better.

We have no way to recognize that in our current money-only driven society,
and to me that alone is a reason to break the primacy of the market ahead of
human and social values - people and the planet need to come first in my
opinion.

I remember realizing near 30 years ago when I used to step into a supermarket
that almost everything in there was fake, full of chemicals and basically dead.
It is scarcely any better today for most foods, and the coming reckoning with
water and population is going to push us to just let the factory farmers have
their way and destroy whatever we still have left.

Shortages will create war and strife that seems like it could all be avoidable
if we just decided to focus on the positive.

What is the point for the majority of people to exist if the world is just a
monopoly game for some top 16,000 people in the world that want to own
and control everything and don't give a damn about how it affects everything
else. Power needs to be wrested from these people. The problem is ... who
can make better decisions and how do they convince a majority that they are
right.

The visions of tends of billions of people living in a completely unnatural world
just does not appeal to me, and those people of the future will never know
there was any choice. Makes me wonder if we could go back to the ancient
hunter gatherers and let them know what their move to farming means if they
would really decide to take that step?



Maybe we are just doomed.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 19, 2014 at 1:46 pm

OR ... let's just work with the same fervor we work making money or prosecuting war at reducing the population.

9 billion people makes me want to vomit. There was just around 3 billion when I was born, and those 3 billion people could not get along so violently that they had two World Wars, burning up the resources that might have otherwise have been used to feed, clothe, house, transport, education and civilize most of the people of the planet ... instead we have 9 billion people that all want to continue the old way of life, and mostly outbreed each other.

Cultured steak chips .... smoked yogurt .... ugh, bleugchkkk!

Everything we need is in the knowledge of how to work the land sustainably with organic farming, more productive, healthier, better for the land, more sustainable, and employs more people too ... just what we need. Who decides these questions and why instead of subsidizing huge failing factory farms that pollute their areas they exist in, use tremendous amounts of water, and sink important nutrients into landfills or waste dumps, don't we subsidize something that might actually be good for everyone, and include getting rid of or at least incentivizing control over factory farms so they start to clean up their acts?


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 19, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Absolutely! World population and farming are two of the greatest issues of this century, it's going to take a lot of thinking to tackle these problems. However, I think the solution is not bioengineering and chemicals, it's sustained, organic farming. The idea of incorporating farms into cities is brilliant. We need to move unto sustainable, local farming, the system of mass agriculture with herbicides and chemicals is not going to work any longer.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 19, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Absolutely! World population and farming are two of the greatest issues of this century, it's going to take a lot of thinking to tackle these problems. However, I think the solution is not bioengineering and chemicals, it's sustained, organic farming. The idea of incorporating farms into cities is brilliant. We need to move unto sustainable, local farming, the system of mass agriculture with herbicides and chemicals is not going to work any longer.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Steve, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Nov 20, 2014 at 1:25 pm

"I think the solution is not bioengineering and chemicals, it's sustained, organic farming."

We're about six billion people past that.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Nov 20, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Steve, When we were writing Cool Cuisine - Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming, Will Horwath, soil god from UC Davis said exactly that. "Organic is a nice idea but we simply don't have enough compost to make it work." More interesting when we remember that 40% of the food in the U.S is just throw away. reThink Food was thinking a multitude of sources for future food. Dinner will grow in soil, water and air. From the country and the city. Everything. All of it.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 20, 2014 at 6:30 pm

There is no other solution but organic, and if you look past the BS marketing numbers and don't skip over the shortages in water, fuel packaging, antibiotics, etc ... and there unsustainability of our current way to do business and the need to restore the environment - oprganic ( which is not really a good work for this ) is the answer. All problems converge on that solution.

Google "Polyphase Farms". It is not a corner that can be turned quickly, but to a well run organic farm is more productive than an equivalent factory farm. Not saying all large scale processes need to end, but most of the ones raising animals especially do.

The other thing is that the varieties of foods we eat are not what we would eat if we had a choice, or what tastes best, it is what travels the best, what is least damaged by travel, heat or atmosphere. Thinking we know the answer and have a technological solution to everything is what got us here, and also, if we continue to go large scale, the popultion will just get larger as well, and the rest of nature will be killed off.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Travelingman, a resident of Mountain View,
on Nov 20, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Sustainability is almost possible, if the small farmers make a comeback.
Large agriculture is very wastefull and polluting. Small farms learn innovation, such as aerophonics, vertical gardening, drip irrigation,
using nature to fight pests (good bug/bad bug method) and many other
methods being tested now. I have done this myself on a small scale and achieved pretty good results. The only problem was marketing.
We need to think outside the box, not copy what farmer John is doing
with his huge 4,000 acre GMO poisonous methods of turning a big profit
and the hell with the environment!( Monsanto philosophy)
A wise farmer uses methods to achieve results while enhancing the environment, so futrue generations will have that environment.
A fool uses up the land and ravages it to a non fertile state.
USA is still the most wasteful nation on earth and our attitude is
just that; use products and then trash those products. Recycling
actually wastes more energy than using raw materials. Electric cars
are the most poluuting form of transportation, because the coal being
burned to create the power pollutes more than fossil fuels do.
Yet most Americans do not know that fact.
Farming can be done differently and be about 85% sustainable.

Composting is not a problem, so Steve is wrong!Earth worms are the answer!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Nov 21, 2014 at 12:57 am

Population perspective within my lifetime --
1960 - Three billion
1974 - Four billion
1987 - Five billion
1999 - Six billion
2011 - Seven billion
Fifty years of evidence clearly shows sustainability of linear increase.
No indication of discontinuity anytime soon.
Conservative food management could support several centuries more of this.
Local politics seem divided on whether to continue such growth.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 21, 2014 at 11:39 am

Population growth is by nature exponential, and has not really been linear within anyone's lifetime.

1960 - Three billion
+14 years
1974 - Four billion
+ 13 years
1987 - Five billion
+ 12 years
1999 - Six billion
+ 12 years
2011 - Seven billion

It may be seeming to approach a point where we add 1 billion people every 12 years, but those people now use increasing resources as well, and that is hardly a stable steady state, at least for very long.

This was all done in a world where resources were essentially unlimited. There is no more topsoil being created, and the Amazon is mostly deforested. When there are resource conflicts even more resources are used and destroyed in war.

Most fisheries are in danger or collapsing as well. Most fish and especially larger fish are no unsafe to eat.

There is limited land. If we want to utilize the rest of the land of the planet, and then spread out over the oceans there is a price in biological diversity and the destruction of nature.

Same with water, if we use all the water there is not water for the wildlife in rivers.

If we want more energy, we have to either use more oil and run up against global warming, or use nuclear. Assuming that global warming will not happen, or shift the planet into a different weather mode is just wishing. If we want more water we must convert seawater to freshwater and transport it to where it is needed - even more energy.

Those who ignore the evidence of problems piling up and only count a major failure as a problem may think the status quo is great, but you are just getting there by ignoring the breakdown of some systems and the loss of habitats and genetic diversity.



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