The Taste of Tomorrow
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  • March11th

    Great piece from Mark Bittman in the NYT today on progress in the quest for better plant-derived mock-meat….

    Bittman raises a number of important points, such as:  why the hell does fake meat cost 4 or 5 times as more than real meat?  He also links to a place in The Hague called The Vegetarian Butcher, that only offers plant and mycoprotein “meats.”

    The highlight of this post though is the video— Bittman introduces us to Ethan Brown, a young entrepreneur (and friend of New Harvest’s Jason Matheny) whose Savage River Farms plans to introduce a soy-based chicken analog that is CHEAPER than real chicken, and, Brown claims, just as good.

    Bittman takes us inside Brown’s pilot plant, and shows us how mock chicken is made.

    Take a peek at “Real Fake Chicken.”

    Here’s another NPR story on Ethan Brown “Can Fake Chicken Feed the World?”

  • March9th

    We hereby offer the First Annual John Bitter Award for the greatest, most valuable web site in the Green Food Techie Universe to… Seedstock.com

    Why Seedstock?

    If you’re hunting for examples of smart urban farming, if you have a weakness for solar and wind-powered agriculture, if you want more/better/deeper coverage of ecologically-minded aquaculture, Seedstock is peerless. Seriously.

    Two examples:

    Basil growing in Omega Garden's rotary system.

    Hydroponics Coverage – non-pareil. So, as you all know, we at the ToT are very curious about the incipient hydroponics revolution (and not for growing killer indica!). Last month, we did a routine drive-by of Seedstock (we were away for far too long — apologies).

    Seedstock, the same site that introduced us to Windowfarms (see earlier post)  had two excellent profiles – one featured the brainchild of a U of Wyoming agronomy student called the ZipGrow Tower. It’s a 5’ foot tower, that cleverly uses a PVC frame and a matrix media —made up of a recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) blend — to hold seeds and seedlings in a vertical system.  It’s patent-pending, and will start at $50 — looks like a perfect solution for apartment dwellers seeking to make smart use of unused vertical space.   We also spotted on this same Seedstock visit an interesting story about the Omega Garden— a Canadian company that makes the Volksgarden, a rotating hydroponic system that can pack 80 plants into 20 square feet, and can yield harvest three to five times as productive as conventional gardens — using only a fraction of the water and space.

    Bell Aquaculture, America's larger producer of yellow perch.

    Seedstock is also a steady source of inspiring tales of smart aquaculture — they’ve profiled VCs focused on fostering enviro-friendly aquaculture, and fish farmers experimenting with ways of lowering feed conversion ratio, companies focused on improving quality and traceability for consumers.

    Here are two examples — two great profiles of US-based farmers using recirculating aquaculture systems — one looks at SweetSpring Salmon, a producer of coho salmon, and the other focuses on Norman McCowan, a fish farmer who raises 2 million perch a year in the middle of the Indiana cornfields. (McCowan’s Bell Aquaculture, North America’s leading producer of yellow perch, reuses 99.8 percent of its water and converts leftover fish waste into a saleable product, organic liquid plant fertilizer.)

    Check out Seedstock if you’re interested in becoming involved in sustainable food production.  Their resource page includes a bunch of helpful links — aimed at entrepreneurs, students, job-seekers interested in aspects of  sustainable agriculture.  In brief, Seedstock bills itself as the resource on sustainable ag, we agree.

    The Must-See Documentary

    Think back to the Sound of Music.  Think Salzburg—pine forests, Edelweiss, beer halls. Then head up a few thousand feet in elevation to an area called the Krameterhof. This is where Sepp Holzer farms. It’s one of the coldest parts of Tyrol, at an elevation that nears 5,000 feet.

    Amid annual temperatures that average less than 40 degrees, on land that most deem fit only for grazing sheep and cows, Holzer is growing apricots, figs, kiwi fruit, and peaches.  And he has even tried to grow bananas.

    WTF?

    Holzer does not use bioengineering or nanotechnology, fertilizer, pesticides, no geothermally heated greenhouses.

    Sepp Holzer, permaculture wunder.

    The little Garden of Eden is all the result of “Holzer Permaculture.”  The Austrian is an organic farming legend, a pioneer of permaculture before it was even called permaculture.

    Holzer has a hyper-diverse combination of crops on his 45 –hectare Tyrolean plot — timber, fruit trees, vegetables, shrubs, and grasses.  In addition to crop diversity, Holzer also demonstrates the virtues of a well-placed stone. The man called the “rebel farmer,”  has placed giant stone slabs throughout his land, the stones serve as incubators,  absorbing sunlight and giving off warmth, helping create (along with some other techniques) one of the wonders of organic farming: a Mediterranean microclimate in the Alps relying exclusively on natural methods.

    There’s a fascinating documentary called “Farming with Nature: A Case Study of Successful Temperate Permaculture,” where you can learn about Holzer’s accomplishments in the Alps (agro-forestry, self-produced electricity, pig raising, fish-farming) and his methods (free-range pigs play an important role in the Holzer ecosystem)..

    *Many thanks to Katie, a kindly bookseller from Boise, and her fiancée, a gifted web sleuth, for alerting us to this documentary.

    And bonus…. A Must-Read Article 

    A belated post of a very important opinion piece from the New York Times in late February…

    Unfounded, irrational, evidence-less fears.  It’s an age-old problem thwarting human progress. This site has focused on irrational fears as it relates to agricultural technologies.

    In an NYT op/ed piece, David Ropeik, a risk assessment consultant, discusses  “why our fears don’t match the facts” and “the real dangers that arise when we get risk wrong.”  It applies broadly to risk assessment, and we strongly encourage you to give it a look. (In fact, it’s even more important than the Holzer documentary and Seedstock.

    Check out “The Wages of Eco-Angst” .

  • March5th

    “What a great week for cultured meat.”’

    That’s according to New Harvest, the organization that’s been pushing cultured meat— aka in vitro meat, lab grown meat, or test tube meat  — for the past decade. New Harvest hosted a symposium at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver and reporters came en masse – stories about lab  meat appeared in The Economist, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Guardian, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Live Science, etc etc.

    In part, the media interest was greater than ever before because there was, at last, an answer to the “Where is the beef?” question.

    Mark Post, a Dutch scientist, prominently featured in The Taste of Tomorrow, promised a burger, ready for consumption WITHIN SIX MONTHS.

    As previously noted on this unabashedly pro-in vitro meat web site, Post has an anonymous, angel investor who is devoting $330,000-plus to support the project.  Post also has a high profile ally . Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck fame will prepare the petri-dish raised burger.  (The alliance with a culinary master is a very good thing, as the lab-burger will likely have a consistency  more akin to tofu than T-bone)

    Now, all the media coverage about the burger-to-come is only a small part of the general giddiness at New Harvest.  Momentum is building.  Check out the activity on the New Harvest web site.  For years, New Harvest was a largely one man shop (Jason Matheny, see profile), now they’re hiring a director.

    Also, fyi, must-see video.  A  TEDMED talk entitled “In Vitro Meat – It’s What’s For Dinner!” Gabor Foracs, a Hungarian biophysicist at the University of Missouri and Organovo, cooks up and eats meat engineered using a 3D bioprinting process.

    And even though last week’s media coverage focused on culture meat, the Vancouver symposium also spotlighted some other alt-meat ideas.

    Building Better Alt-Meats 

    For instance, Patrick Brown,  a biochemist at the Stanford’s School of Medicine, talked about his efforts to put together meat substitutes from plant materials. According to a report on the AAAS meeting, Brown is starting with meat but could advance to plant-based dairy, imbuing the food with a taste that he said will win over “the hardcore meat- and cheese-lovers who can’t imagine giving all this up.”

    Brown uses plant materials because he believes plants will be a cheaper and more environmentally more beneficial pathway to a better meat. He said yields from the world’s four major food plant crops—corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans—already provide more than enough protein and amino acids for the world population. But only 4% of the world’s land surface is devoted to growing these crops, Brown said, compared to 30% for grazing and raising the crops for livestock feed.

    “Animal farming is by far the biggest ongoing environmental catastrophe,” Brown told the AAAS.

    According to Nicholas Genovese, the University of Missouri geneticist, even traditional meat producers are interested in meat analogue technologies. Genovese said large producers Tyson Foods and JBS have inquired about the possibilities of new meat substitutes.

    For a look at how plant-based meat facsimiles are produced, check out this fascinating video from Time “Turning Powder into Poultry.”

     

  • March1st

    One of the unique challenges in writing a book —  for a short and middle-distance journalist like myself — is time.

    Everything takes exponentially longer — the reporting stage, the drafting stage, the revising stage, the editor feedback stage, the legal review stage.   And then, when The Book is done, you enter this next-production stage that operates at a seemingly 19th Century pace.

    Meanwhile…. while The Book slouches towards completion, the book’s characters do things  — they’re opening new restaurants,  finding new species of fish, experimenting with new herbs, using anaerobic digesters to increase the efficiency of waste, trying new growth media to spawn pork stem cells.

    One of the missions of the ToT: The Zine is to provide updates on some of the book’s star characters and issues  (of course, since only about 30 people have read the advance copy of the book, these updates are not that meaningful to many as of March 2012…)

    BUT, we’ll start keeping track now.

    Open Blue's cobia

    Not to totally blow the suspense of the book…. but two men named Dan Benetti and Brian O’Hanlon, a fish called called cobia, and a method of fish farming called open ocean aquaculture figure prominently in the story.  Benetti is, you might say, Patient Zero — he piqued my fascination in the world of marine aquaculture, and, ultimately, in the world of food innovation.

    The big news is that his protege,  Brian O’Hanlon, one of the first cobia farmers in North America, and one of the first to try open ocean aquaculture,  has been doing very well since I last met him.  He’s now the leading supplier of cobia in North America.  And he’s going to the International Boston Seafood Show next week.

    (Teaser for book:  the fact that O’Hanlon’s Open Blue Sea Farms has a booth, and is selling fish, at Boston is a big deal. )

    We’ll keep you posted on the progress of cobia, and ecologically-sensitive methods of aquaculture,  on this site.

    Meantime, here’s some background — a link to the Open Blue site,  and a Miami New Times story “A Fish Farmer’s Tale” from five years ago.

    One other update on people, places, food in the book (for the 32 people who have read the book so far)

    Remember Jacky’s, the bistro-like restaurant featured in chapter 10, p175? It’s the site of a fateful moment where the mano-a-mano taste test of cobia and barramundi occurs. Jacky’s, beloved by the author, has changed names. It’s now called Hota.  We’ll have more on the new Jacky’s in a follow-up post.