OP-ED: The Future of Food

OP-ED: The Future of Food

Food. It’s a relatively simple four letter word that most of us don’t think much of. Yet, every aspect of our lives relies on that word we often disregard. From growing crops to raising livestock, we disassociate ourselves with the processes that supply our food. And it’s in that inattention that we find some of our world’s largest environmental problems today.

Agriculture is undeniably one of the world’s largest polluters, accounting for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, a number almost as large as the combined emissions from energy production. Cows alone are responsible for over 40% of all methane emissions, a greenhouse gas which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide (PBS). 

In other areas of agriculture like crop production, there may be less direct emissions, but there is just as much environmental degradation. For example, current crop farming relies on methods like monoculture (planting only a single variety of produce), which depletes soil nutrition over time to the point where land can become barren. To compensate for this, farmers often utilize heavy amounts of fertilizers and pesticides, both of which can result in even more pollutants as they runoff into rivers and streams, killing wildlife. And this doesn’t even account for the large swathes of land and water used in production. 

To sustain agriculture for the foreseeable future, there needs to be a shift in our food culture and how we get our sustenance. And luckily, there are already new alternatives that exist for farming more sustainably.


Photo by Owen Davis

Among these options are an expansion of something that already exists—aquaculture. Now aquaculture is the practice of farming fish, which already produces around 50 percent of all seafood consumed today according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But beyond its already large usage, aquaculture is simply more efficient than conventional agriculture. While beef takes around 8.7 pounds of feed for every pound of meat produced, fish have a near one to one ratio of feed to weight as they don’t need to fight against the force of gravity during growth. In terms of raw calories in, raw calories out, fish provide a sustainable source of protein that doesn’t impact the environment as heavily as current livestock agriculture.

But beyond seafood, there’s an even more efficient alternative, though it may be less appealing to many. It’s meat substitutes—specifically, plant-based meat substitutes. Companies like BeyondMeat or ImpossibleFoods are already producing meat replicants that are nearly indistinguishable from normal meats. Their calories, protein, and taste all match their animal counterparts, with the only big difference being in their ingredients and their environmental impact. 

Now, with all this in mind, conventional agriculture is still a necessity. But consuming less meat or supporting more sustainable food production is one massive step we can take to move forward in making environmentally conscious industries.