It seems as though everyone is talking about sustainability, but what does it really mean when it comes to creating a better food system? Our founder, Shen Tong, discussed sustainability on the Solving for Sustainability panel produced by Seeds & Chips at the Summer Fancy Food Show. Moderated by Ayesha Vera-Yu of Advancement for Rural Kids, other panelists included Mary Cleaver of The Green Table | Cleaver Co, Steffen Schneider of Hawthorne Valley Farm, and Liz Vaknin of Our Name is Farm.
Medicinal mushrooms like reishi, chaga, and cordyceps are taking the U.S. market by storm. While these fungi have long been central components of Chinese medicine and eastern traditions, the growing interest in wellness and preventative care among U.S. consumers is opening up opportunities for entrepreneurs to introduce these ancient ingredients to a new generation of health enthusiasts.
This month, as we celebrate the graduation of Jewels of the Forest, Metabrew and Zoni Foods from our accelerator program, we asked our founders what social impact and culinary tradition mean to their work.
If a weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered, then seaweed is ready for rebranding. This food source, underutilized in the Western world, is rich in vitamins and minerals such as iron and iodine. To cultivate, it requires no fresh water, no land, no chemical inputs, and no fertilizers, and it creates no nitrogen runoff. Furthermore, sea vegetables sequester carbon as they grow, helping to combat the effects of global warming and mitigate ocean acidification. When it comes to feeding a global population of 9.7 billion people in 2050, seaweed could play a large role in finding sustainable solutions.
Food from the “industrialized” food system is less nutritionally dense than organic, sustainably-grown food. Low-nutrient foods grown with synthetic chemicals have spread across the world, often targeted to the poor segment of the population in developed and emerging nations alike. This food and agriculture problem is too big to fix solely with philanthropic donations or government policy—even assuming a fully favorable policy environment and the effective deployment of philanthropic dollars. Here’s the good news: after decades of effective storytelling, public education, and advocacy by activists, we have a generation of Millennials embracing a broad-based behavioral shift toward healthy, sustainable food options.
In the era of biohacking, big data, and a worsening health crisis, startups are clamoring to personalize nutrition plans according to individual genetic profiles. It seems a perfect solution to the conflicting nutrition advice provided by today’s diet zeitgeist: mediterranean vs. ketogenic, paleo vs. plant-based, DASH Diet vs. Whole30. Which macronutrient is most evil? Which of these dietary equations will solve our personal and public health problems? The new answer, according to cutting edge companies like Habit, Nutrigenomix and DNAFit, is that there is no one-size-fits-all diet. Our metabolic responses differ according to our genes.
Fertile topsoil is a lively ecosystem, teeming with microorganisms and worm life. It has robust soil structure that retains water well and allows plant roots to penetrate, to breathe, and to forage for nutrients.
But there’s a problem. We’re running through our supply of fecund soil in the U.S. at an alarming rate, with an estimated 996 metric tons of soil erosion over the past century. Conventional agriculture enables—and the tight margins of the farming industry incentivize—short-term bounty to the detriment of sustainable practices. Annual tilling, monocropping and chemical inputs promote an abundant harvest in the near term but ultimately catalyze soil erosion, cause the atmospheric release of stored nitrogen and carbon, compromise the soil structure, decrease water retention capacity, destroy the delicate microbial ecosystem, and make minced meat of the worms. Fostering healthy soil requires playing the long game.
Whether you have resolved to get healthier in 2018 or to lead a more earth-friendly lifestyle, choosing plant-based foods is a great place to start. It’s becoming increasingly easy to do so as the plant-based market shifts from niche to mainstream. Citing everything from personal wellness and public health to ethical concerns and environmental responsibility, a growing number of consumers are opting for plant-based products. Investors like Bill Gates and even Tyson Foods are betting on the plant-based businesses. According to recent Nielsen data commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute, plant-based food and beverage retail sales in the U.S. grew by 8.1 percent from August 2016 to August 2017. In contrast with the 0.2 percent decline of total food sales through the same channels, this growth is especially noteworthy.
Nobody panic, but honey bees are lousy pollinators.
They get a lot of credit for keeping our crops afloat, and an entire industry has evolved around trucking hives across the country to pollinate plums and almonds in California and tangerines in Florida, but it’s the 4,000 species of native bees who are the heroes of our produce aisles. From teddy bear bees and tickle bees to mud bees and squash bees, the diverse world of wild pollinators is critically important to our farms. In many cases, native pollinators do the heavy lifting while the honey bees get the glory.
America’s farm-to-table food movement and the ever-growing emphasis on local food are good news for both the environment and our economy. From haute cuisine to small food businesses, owners are increasingly sourcing local, seasonal, and sustainable products. These ingredients that make for fresher, tastier dishes not support the local economy and promote sustainability, but they cater to a growing audience of conscientious consumers and offer array of marketing opportunities.This movement towards fresh and local produce, however, lacks focus in one very important area, one that will determine the future of local food and American agriculture: affordability and accessibility.