You Will Feast on PlantMeat

And not even realize it.

By Kyle Chayka

Illustration by Ana Benaroya

Simply by existing, humans are destroying the environment. In 2014, this fact has become as inescapable as the drastically changing seasonal weather. But I’m hopeful that 2015 will see us opening up to consuming some very different food that doesn’t involve cows farting 100 kilograms of methane a piece into the atmosphere annually.

Some of this food is being built in labs rather than grown on farms. Biotech start-ups like Muufri and Real Vegan Cheese produce milk by cloning milk proteins instead of getting it from an udder. Beyond Meat, which makes vegetable-based protein replacements, uses organic biological processes to mass-manufacture food products that look and taste more like the real thing. The results are better for both human nutrition and the planet’s atmosphere.

“Livestock are responsible for about 15 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions,” says Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat. “We can’t keep using animals for protein.” We can’t live without it, but we’re going to need different ways to get protein, and Brown’s product is less wasteful than raising a cow. “Meat is not about the animal — it’s a quest for a nutrient-dense food,” Brown says. So if we shift to plant-based protein, then we can grow it directly, rather than the indirect, albeit delicious, ordeal of animal husbandry.

Another option for providing the world with clean protein is a less familiar one, at least to Western mouths. Insect farming is manufacturing cheap, nutritious food on a scale that will feed the world — that is, if we can stomach it. California’s Tiny Farm and Ohio’s Cricket Farm cultivate bugs to create foodstuffs like cricket flour. It’s just like the regular ingredient, and can be baked into chips or cookies, but with an added protein boost. The food is also more efficient to make. Cultivating a kilogram of beef takes 10 kilograms of feed, according to New Scientist, but the same amount of cricket takes only 1.7 kilograms.

In 2015, I’m looking forward to another vintage of California winemaker Matthew Rorick’s Forlorn Hope wines. On his small vineyard, Rorick is growing grape varietals that haven’t been seen in the state in a century, Rorick is fermenting his fruit with skin and stems still on, trying to remake how Americans drink wine in the process of experimentation. In the past, wine was “an agrarian product that people would make and then have to drink with their meals on a completely casual basis through the winter,” he says. “You should be able to have American consumers drink domestic wines that are honest, delicious, and affordable.”

The internet has changed how we communicate with each other digitally, but the potential exists for a much larger shift as technology changes how we live in the physical world. Food is likely to be the next step. “Technology, if it’s used properly, can offer a productive, healthy, and responsible way for the world to eat, while contributing to food equality,” says Craig Rouskey, the co-founder of Real Vegan Cheese. In a year of bad news, that’s a very positive trend indeed.

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