Yes, heightened awareness of the carbon footprint of our food consumption may and hopefully drive more people to embrace a diet that has lesser environmental impact, making people realise that what we eat can make the world better or worse. As of today, out of the 7 billion world population, less than 9% ( about 600 million) chose the Vegetarian/Vegan diet, there is certainly more room for improvement. However a new trend however is gathering momenutm , up to a quarter of the younger generation in the age group of 25-35 in the US have declared to be Vegans. In Singapore, 9 out of 10 restaurants have Vegan options on their menu. During the Covid-19 lockdown, greater awareness are rising on the relationship between our diet and the emergence of Coronavirus.
Post-Covid 19; Would we see more people joining the movement towards a “kinder and greener” diet where people realise what they eat will change the world dramatically. While the change to new diet choices may be an individual, family or community one, in today’s modern economy, the key drivers of this change would need to come from the major food companies and the government policies that instruct the conduct of the food industry.
People are rational and have good intentions, most are willing to give the new diet a chance. The enabling factor is the availability and attractiveness of the new diet; people must be able to access this new diet. My optimistic hypotheses is if the major food companies worldwide are committed to this change, they have the power to fashion a new diet-style, especially among the young people. If the world’s culinary chefs can succeed in creating interesting and exciting taste profile with new ingredients, our chance of success will be higher.
For the billions of people who are used to animal protein, the answer is in the invention of a new meat, a plant-based meat. The success of this new plant-based diet-style will be determined by the extent culinary experts can create a new meat taste profile that will be acceptable or even welcome by a larger population of people. And food scientist and nutritionist add to the effort by ensuring the new formulation will be healthy and wholesome. This is the “new meat” we are all excited about now.
Taste profile are nurtured, not inborn.
A food marketing specialist in China observed, ” taste profile is decided very early in the life of an individual.. And for most of us growing up with home-cooked food, our taste is influenced by the pinch of salt that our mothers add to our food. So the word tasty is almost an oxymoron; because it is not universal, what is tasty to one may not be welcomed by another; a particular food is tasty the it is compatible to the taste that you are accustomed to. It is really not the intrinsic taste in a particular cuisine, but whether the taste in that dish matches the reference in the embedded memory of the eater.
So for the innovation for replacement meat to succeed, chefs have to begin with creating the taste of meat using plant based ingredients. Adding to this is the cultural preferences of taste, some regions reject chewiness for example, they cannot deal with tough fibrous texture where more work is needed; this is why in some regions only chicken breast meat is popular and the wings are discarded. Mimicking the taste profile of meat has gotten chefs, nutritionist and food scientists to work for over a decade now, we should be seeing more innovative breakthroughs in the market soon.
New Hero Ingredients
Food Scientists have worked for years to find new ingredients for plant-based proteins; and ingredients such as millet, oats and the jackfruit to be good ingredient for the new diet. In Asia and for the non Vegan, soya bean has been a hero for thousands of years. In the Chinese culture, soya bean has been consumed for thousands of years as a plant protein. The new ingredients need to be all plant based, and ideally the seasoning and flavouring too must be plant-based. Cooking style are also being reviewed, more baking will be preferred to less deep frying in oil.
All over the world, the millennia entrepreneurs are racing to launch the new meat, hopefully to capture the awareness heightened by Covid 19 to persuade more people to reduce or give up meat totally. While we have to formulate a plant-based meat for the majority of the adult population; we can start to work on the children early to help them onto new eating habit from young. This takes leadership from parents and community groups and governments; especially in school meals. A new set of values need to be promoted to make plant based diet fashionable
Time to let the cows retire?
For over 5000 ( and maybe even 10,000) years cows have been domesticated to provide protein for the world; in 2019, there are about 1 billion cows found in the major producing countries of the US, Brazil and the European Union. If cows are taken as an independent nation; it would be the third largest country in the world. Reducing cow population will reduce a lot of environmental stress.
The US alone produces nearly 20% of the world’s beef, followed by Brazil; and together with the European Union, they account for 47% of the world’s beef. Meat products have larger carbon footprints per calorie than grain or vegetable products because of the inefficient transformation of plant energy to animal energy. The methane released from manure of the livestocks adds to the carbon emission and pollutes the air, and discharge from the animals pollute the water systems. So fewer livestock population will certainly make the world cleaner and greener. And when humans don’t have to slaughter these living creatures for food, the world will also be kinder.
Leadership from Food Companies
If the world’s food companies are committed to get this going, and each vegetarian/vegan practitioner can get more people to reduce eating meat, without converting totally to vegetarian/Vegan, say out of the 600million people, each can persuade another one person to adopt this, we will have 1.2 billion people, creating less impact on the environment. And at least 30% of the world’s population reduce 50% meat consumption, then we will have another 1 billion helping to reduce the carbon emission. In total we can get 2 billion people, i.e. a quarter of the world embracing this lifestyle, let this become a virtuous cycle to a new world. And the vegetarian world keeps expanding, working on the children, in one generation, we can change the world to more plant-based diet.
There are many news circulating about non meat eaters have better immune system that can better withstand the Covid-19 attack, there is yet scientific proof to this claim. The American CDC has advised that Coronavirus iw zoonotic, and Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in the New York Times reporting that an astonishing six out of 10 counties that was identified as coronavirus hot spots are home to slaughterhouses. “In Sioux Falls, S.D., the Smithfield pork plant, which produces some 5 percent of the America’s pork, is one of the largest hot spots in the nation. A Tyson plant in Perry, Iowa, had 730 cases of the coronavirus — nearly 60 percent of its employees. At another Tyson plant, in Waterloo, Iowa, there were 1,031 reported casesamong about 2,800 workers.”
The writing is now on the wall, reduced consumption of animal protein is a must if humanity could have a future on earth. The impacts in land and water use, on air, soil and water quality; on the biodiversity of living creatures in an area and green house emissions that cause climate change. The leadership of food companies and restaurants of the world is to offer Vegan/Vegetarian choices on the menu, when they are available, you give access to the fence-sitters, and help to add momentum to this developing trend.
How about Milk and Cheese?
Yes, when the majority of the cows in the world retire, there will be less milk and cheese being consumed. Already on the supermarket shelves you can now find Almond, soya, corn milk as a milk substitute. Do we or should we rely on cow’s milk to bring up our children? We don’t have to make this an either or choice, there are multiple choices. Learn from our ancestors; many children of the bygone era grew up with plant-based proteins; rice and soya congee are examples. While the carbon footprint of dairy is second to beef production; more studies are needed to be conclusive to find the most sustainable milk, a substitute for dairy milk. Although in dairy products, humans do not kill to get the milk and cheese, but lesser stress will be created to the animal when global demand for the products are reduced. Switching the demand to plant -based will also cause pressure on the water system as agriculture consumes a huge quantity of water. My personal opinion is not to totally retire these products, but to reduce its consumption gradually for the overall good.
Reasons for the new diet-style:
Would the dramatic impact of the global lockdown of Covid 19 drive home the message of the urgent need to seek balance between Nature and Man? While most people were pleasantly shocked by the cleaner and calmer world arose out of months of the lockdown; the rivers and canals have become clearer, marine life has returned, you could see the magical Himalayan mountains from Punjab because of clearer air, and many amazing pictorial reports from around the world showing us the beauty of the world with reduced human activities. It is really an amazing wakening that our world can be so magical, and we humans through many of our wasteful activities have denied ourselves of its pristine beauty. Many people are now saying that we should be have once a quarter a total lockdown so we can let the earth breath? Can we change our work, study, play, and eat-style so that we can emulate life during the lockdown and give the earth a chance to survive too? The lockdowns are an aggressive approach to achieve that goal, but we can indeed do more in the following way to achieve the same results:
I. Reduce the consumption animal proteins, explore plant protein and put greater innovation to cooking plant-based protein; to make plant-based protein fashionable and chic. The slogan “kinder and greener” is today’s new value, it is the new politically correct position. I find this very attractive, as we can use this educate ourselves and our children about kindness; a rare value that is often not promoted in the mainstream. Take the first step, begin by taking more plant-based diet.
2. Buy local and seasonal; Yes food with shorter food miles, and maximum nutrients at their seasonal peak. Globalization has enable humans to satisfy their carvings any time and anywhere; it doesn’t matter which part of the world you are in, or what time of the year or day; you can eat food of your choice off season through the market economy. This is not green and not sustainable. Restrain is good; draw your food within 100 km of where you are; this is good for you and for the world.
3. Develop community based vegetable and fruit gardens — Local governments should rethink how community zones should be developed; housing developers should restyle their housing layouts to include food production zones where professional companies can be developed to offer expertise to run them, like franchised farms. Food is only fresh and valuable in its nutrients if the food miles is short; Spinach can lose 90% of its Vitamin C within 24 hours of harvest. We are very familiar with corn, they oxidise the moment they are plucked, the sugar becomes starch within 24 hours of harvest. Buying food and keep them in your fridge does not keep them fresh; prolong storage cause nutrients to be lost. Having food supply nearby is an important feature in urban and community design.
4. Encourage the farmers’ market to return, support community farming and small farmers so that we can get fresh food at only one tier price ( today with globalisation and multiple levels of distribution chain, food cost 3 to 4x more than their ex farm prices, in the end, farmers don’t make money and consumers get expensive food, the food chain must be designed.) We can encourage more specialist farms run by young people with more down to earth values of good living, instead of chasing those ego-inflated desire of owning big cars and big homes driving the need to make a lot of money. Ways to show the young generation to find fulfilment from producing good food and living in harmony with the beauty of nature.
5.Support Ready to Cook meals; Cooking at home is good for family cohesion and should return to the centre of our our lives, good to have a family meal together once a day to unite the family. How to have central kitchens who does first level processing and package ingredients in a ready to cook manner is one way to cut waste from the kitchen, at the same time mindful of the new waste from packaging. The” last mile” heat treatment on your stove will eliminate the risks of potential contamination of cooked food brought from outside. The global ready meal market is already valued at USD160b in 2019 and is expected to register exponential growth. Growing demand for minimally processed and additive-free meals with extended shelf life will also drive greater innovation on quick freeze technology.
6. Consume smaller portions. This is an obvious fact now; we consumer more than the body needs; and the extra nutrition has become burden and the cause of many chronic diseases and obesity. The excessive consumption of sugar, starch and meat; quick service restaurants promoting value meals; larger portions to attract customer. Without realising it, we are consuming more than we need. Restaurants have to take the lead, presenting less is more, better quality and more in-depth in terms of nutrition and how people should have the right relationship with food.
If the preference for a kinder and greener diet-styles can gain momentum, a lot of disruptions will result from the existing economic systems; companies involved in agriculture and the food chain will do well to develop new scenarios on how they may change and adapt to herald in a better and safer world. As Jonathan Safran Foer said, many thoughtful individuals are aware of this new door to plant based diet, while many in the world are still hesitating, the Coronavirus has kicked open the door. The rest is up to us.