Locust and chips

| May 9, 2022

We are constantly being told that CO2 is a major cause of climate change and that herbivores like cows, sheep, orangutans, etc are partly to blame for its abundance. Many of the people who tell us that fly around the world on their scientific expeditions producing more CO2 per kilo of body weight than any other animal. The science site of my choice has recently been informing me that decreasing the number of cattle and sheep by 50% will do much to save the planet and that I should eat less meat to help in this regard.

It suggests vegetables (mainly legumes) and certain insects. The food of choice appears to be Quorn, a microbial protein made from fungus, fed with sugar and fermented. Algae and bacteria are also being explored as possibilities. The reason investors and researchers are interested in microbial proteins is because they have a vastly smaller environmental footprint than eating beef, lamb and meat from other ruminants. Past life cycle analyses found they have 80 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions, and can require 90 per cent less land and water.

A recent analysis by Humpenöder in Nature in early May 2022 chose a middle-of-the-road scenario of how economies and populations will grow by 2050, and how rising affluence will increase meat demand as it has in the past. They then modelled a 2050 world where between 20 and 80 per cent of per capita ruminant meat consumption was swapped for microbial proteins. The area deforested and the amount of emissions released drop 56 per cent by mid-century when microbial protein replaced just a fifth of the meat.

This shows that pretty modest shifts in diet could deliver huge savings. Nutritional concerns however might give pause for thought. Some microbial protein products might not have as bioavailable forms of zinc, iron or protein as the ruminant meat it is modelled to replace.

Tim Lang at City, University of London, says while the new modelling suggests “significant environmental gains”, some caution is needed before “crying eureka”. He questions the assumption that the answer to meat consumption is more products like meat, rather than more plants. “Rather like artificial sweeteners as a substitute for sugar, the new products assume the culinary and cultural focus should be business as usual, i.e. to maintain a ‘meatification’ of culture,” he says.

Other issues include what happens to farmers’ livelihoods and the delicate politics of the switch Humpenöder’s scenarios envisage. “In practice, this approach means power slips further from the world’s farmers – who, at 0.9 billion people, are the biggest labour force on the planet – to manufacturers and investors,”

Plant-based meats are made from a variety of non-animal ingredients, depending on the brand. Common base components include soy, peas, beans, mushrooms, mung beans, wheat gluten, coconut oil, and rice. The newer, more meat-like products made by companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods tend to be more processed and have more ingredients, including oils to give them a juicy texture and starch or cellulose as thickening and binding agents.

To create the signature “bleed” of meat, Beyond Foods uses beet juice, and Impossible Foods uses a tiny genetically engineered molecule called “heme.” The nonprofit Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit challenging FDA approval of heme, saying more analysis was needed and the FDA should not have relied on testing conducted by Impossible Foods. However, an appeals court upheld the FDA’s decision, saying the FDA had “substantial evidence” to declare heme safe to eat.

Meatless meats are generally a healthier choice than beef because they tend to contain less saturated fat and are cholesterol-free, plus they’re a good source of vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber, says Samantha Heller, a registered dietician at NYU Langone Medical Center. Some plant-based meats, such as the Impossible Burger, also add vitamin B12, a nutrient only found in animals and one in which many vegetarians are deficient.

If meatless meat can help you stick to a plant-based diet, that, in itself can lead to better health. Not only has red meat been linked to cancer, but studies show that people who ditch meat have a lower body mass index, lower blood pressure, lower average blood sugar, and lower cholesterol levels, and need less medication to treat chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

However, just because it’s plant-based doesn’t meant it’s health food. Most imitation meats are highly processed and contain high amounts of sodium compared to traditional beef. The Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger, for example, contain 370 and 390 milligrams of sodium, respectively, or about 16 percent of your daily value.

Those brands also contain saturated fat, notes Lisa Harnack, a dietician at the University of Minnesota who analyzed the nutritional quality of 37 imitation meats, and saturated fat is a risk for those with heart disease or high blood pressure. The Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger contain as much saturated fat as 85% lean ground beef.

Coming soon to a store near you: whole “steaks” and “chicken breasts” made from mushroom meat. While current plant-based products mostly mimic ground beef and sausages, the new fungi-based meats have long, branching fibers that mimic the texture of whole cuts, so you can slice and serve them just like a steak. Mushroom meats also have fewer ingredients and require less processing than plant-based products. Although you can buy meatless meat products made from mushrooms (also called mycoprotein)—a company called Quorn makes nuggets, meatballs, grounds, cutlets, and more—several startups working on fungi-based meats hope to bring them to market in 2022.

Israeli startup Redefine Meat is producing the first-ever category of 100 percent plant-based whole cuts—think steak and brisket—using AI technology and 3D printing. Made from proprietary blends of vegetarian ingredients including soy, coconut, barley-gluten, nuts, eggs, and more, the so-called New-Meat is already available in select restaurants in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Israel, and the company hopes to reach thousands more by year-end.

Another frontier is lab-grown meat, also called “cultured” or “cell-based” meat. Grown from the stem cells of animals, they are animal-based products that start in a test tube, so they don’t require the breeding, raising, and slaughtering of animals. More than 70 companies are working on developing cell-cultured meat. Among them: Upside Foods, which is working on cultured chicken, and Eat Just, which is developing cultured beef using cells from prized wagyu cows.

These new generations of alternate meat and meat substitutes get all the attention, but don’t forget about tofu, tempeh, portabella mushrooms, or just making your own patties out of whole grains and vegetables. Beans and lentils are an especially excellent protein substitute, says Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of food and agriculture at Friends of the Earth, a nonprofit environmental organization: “They’re nutritious, inexpensive, and far more sustainable than any of the processed meatless substitutes on the market today.”

To increase consumer interest in Western markets such as Europe and North America, insects have been processed into a non‐recognizable form, such as powders or flour. Policymakers, academics,[as well as large-scale insect food producers such as Entomofarms in Canada, Aspire Food Group in the United States, Protifarm and Protix in the Netherlands, and Bühler Group in Switzerland, focus on seven insects species suitable for human consumption as well as industrialized mass production:

Insects are nutrient-efficient compared to other meat sources. Insects such as crickets are a complete protein and contain a useful amount of protein, comparable with that from soybeans, though less than in casein (found in foods such as cheese). They have dietary fiber and include mostly unsaturated fat and contain some vitamins, such as vitamin B12, riboflavin and vitamin A, and essential minerals.

Locusts contain between 8 and 20 milligrams of iron for every 100 grams of raw locust, whereas Beef contains roughly 6 milligrams of iron in the same amount of meat. Crickets are also very efficient in terms of nutrients. For every 100 grams of substance crickets contain 12.9 grams of protein, 121 calories, and 5.5 grams of fat. Beef contains more protein containing 23.5 grams in 100 grams of substance, but also has roughly triple the calories and four times the amount of fat as crickets do in 100 grams.

Edible insects are raised as livestock in specialized insect farms. In North American as well as European countries such as the Netherlands or Belgium, insects are produced under strict food law and hygiene standard for human consumption.

Several variables apply, such as temperature, humidity, feed, water sources, housing, depending on the insect species. The insects are raised from eggs to larvae status (mealworms, lesser mealworms) or to their mature form (crickets, locusts), and then killed, in industrialized insect farms by lowering the temperature. After that the insects are freeze-dried and packed whole, or pulverized to insect powder (insect flour), to be processed in other food products such as bakery products, or snacks.

Aside from nutritional composition and digestibility, insects are also selected for ease of rearing by the producer. This includes susceptibility to disease, efficiency of feed conversion, developmental rate and generational turnover.

Insect food products

The following processed food products are produced by several producers in North America, Canada, and the EU:

  • Insect flour: Pulverized, freeze-dried insects (e.g., cricket flour).
  • Insect burger: Hamburger patties made from insect powder / insect flour (mainly from mealworms or from house cricket) and further ingredients.
  • Insect fitness bars: Protein bars containing insect powder (mostly house crickets).
  • Insect pasta: Pasta made of wheat flour, fortified with insect flour (house crickets or mealworms).
  • Insect bread (Finnish Sirkkaleipä): Bread baked with insect flour (mostly house crickets).
  • Insect snacks: Crisps, flips or small snacks (bites) made with insect powder and other ingredients.

Food and drink companies such as the Australian brewery Bentspoke Brewing Co and the South-African startup Gourmet Grubb even introduced insect-based beer, a milk alternative, as well a  insect ice cream.

It appears that the nutrition is available – we just need to adjust our attitude in order to accept that we have to change our eating habits in order to help solve the climate change brought about by our own egotism. By nature I am a carnivore and this interest is because I have been told recently to cut down on meat by a black-hearted doctor.