Discover more from The Elysian
We'll have to eat less meat in the future
Thoughts on the future of food.
There is more livestock on Earth than there are wild mammals.
There are also double the number of birds raised for poultry than there are wild birds.
As the tally goes: humans make up about 1/3rd of the earth’s biomass, livestock makes up the other 2/3rds, and wild mammals only make up a small silver of that—about 4% of the earth’s biomass.
Because we eat so many animals, there is no reasonable way to grow them all on farms, so we grow 99% of farmed animals in factories (called CAFOs)—that’s 70.4% of cows, 99% of chickens, 98.3% of pigs, and 99.8% of turkeys.
Similarly, 49% of the fish we eat is farmed. And that’s on its way up.
To meet demand increasing demand for pork, the Chinese are even building a 26-story skyscraper that will raise and kill 1.2 million pigs annually. When it’s up and running it will be the largest factory farm in the world. In a skyscraper, no less.
It’s more productive to grow meat this way. Still, almost half of our habitable land is used for producing food with 77% of that used for producing livestock.
Not only does livestock use a large share of our land and water resources, but globally livestock accounts for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Theoretically, meat can be grown in a lab without all the land use, water use, gas emissions, and factory farming. And maybe that’s one solution.
In the US, Believer Meats is building the biggest cultivated meat factory in the world—it will produce 22 million pounds of cultivated meat each year—all muscles that are grown in a lab, not on an animal. One lab in Japan has even 3D-printed lab-grown wagyu beef.
Similarly, Wildtype Foods can grow sushi-grade salmon without the fish. In Europe, Bluu Biosciences is doing the same. In 2021, BlueNalu raised $60 million to grow Bluefin Tuna—the most expensive sushi-grade fish on the market. Singapore’s UmamiMeats is even cultivating Japanese eel—an endangered species that can no longer be fished.
But our quest to make more meat fails to take into account that meat consumption isn’t necessarily the best thing for us. It has been linked to increased mortality rates of all causes.
It’s not that eating meat is particularly unhealthy—as you can see from that chart, eating up to 20 grams per day decreases the risk of mortality of all causes—but the richer countries get, the more meat they eat. And that increases our risk of mortality exponentially. Now, many people on earth are eating far more meat than they should be—most of the world eats more than 165 grams of meat every day.
Maybe a better solution would be to eat plants instead. If the whole world switched to a plant-based diet, we would reduce the land used for agriculture by 75% and we would decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 28%—“the equivalent of India going carbon neutral.” And 8 million fewer people would die each year from all the things that eating meat causes.
And we could still get enough protein by making plants that are more protein-rich—like Mycorena does. The company’s Promyc product is a vegan mycoprotein produced through fermentation. Solar Foods also makes Solein—it’s not a plant or an animal, but a protein grown from the air we breathe. It can be dissolved into any food.
Even growing vegetables has become increasingly problematic. Some places can’t grow food at all, others have labor shortages that make it difficult, and the supply chains that transport vegetables from one destination to another have become increasingly fraught and span thousands of miles.
In the US, 90% of our avocados come from Mexico which is problematic because Mexican avocado farms are taxed by cartels. We tried to cancel avocados when one of our inspectors was threatened, but then we smoothed things over so we could keep on getting them. Meanwhile, 95% of our lettuce comes from Salines or Yuma, which puts us one e-coli outbreak away from not having lettuce at all. And that’s to say nothing of food deserts and islands, as well as the freight charges and fertilizer increases that have made food so expensive.
One solution would be to supplement the supply chain with growing produce locally. Freight Farms sells hydroponic smart gardens that can grow food anywhere in the world, whether it’s minus 40 degrees or up to 120 degrees. One climate-controlled container uses only five gallons of water a day and grows about 2.5 acres worth of produce—that’s 2 to 6 tons of food a year or about 1,300 heads of lettuce a week. One $150,000 box plopped in my backyard could feed my entire neighborhood.
Enable 3rd party cookies or use another browser
And because we need to feed a lot of people on this planet, maybe we could put a container garden on every block and our food supply would be immune to bad weather and labor shortages and long supply chains and expensive shipping costs.
Maybe in the future animals will be wild and humans will eat plants and our plants will be locally grown, and humans and animals and the earth will all be healthier. And maybe that will be the future of food.
But I’m curious what you think:
Thank you so much for reading,
P.S. This is a one-off post I was interested in researching about the food industry. Next week I’ll be digging into my government vs. capitalism series. Can’t wait to think through that with you!