Can Biden fix food?
What I talk about when I talk about nutrition (not ingredients), carbon ranking menus, and growing morels indoors.
President Joe Biden recently announced he would hold a conference this September on ending hunger and improving nutrition across the country. The last time a president held a gathering like this it was Nixon in 1969.
It seems possible that our government can and will set up systems to improve access and help end food insecurity, and also highly improbably that this President, or any president (hello Obama?), can compel Big Food to make substantive alterations to the suite of cheap food they manufacture 24/7.
Nutrition, which doesn’t mean a single ingredient on our plate but the sum total we eat in a day and how those calories come together to enhance and fuel our bodies is vitally important to food access. And our health. Said Biden: "Too many empty chairs around the kitchen table because a loved one was taken by heart disease, diabetes or other diet-oriented diseases, which are some of the leading causes of death in our country.”
If we don’t change the highly processed junk food we sell, for so cheap, nothing will change. Cultured meat won’t turn the tides, dairy proteins made from precision fermentation won’t suddenly banish the diseases we struggle with Only a fraction of the “New Foods” in my book will circumvent the woes of the Western diet.
I think a lot about our future, and what, or who will get us there. I don’t think it will be Biden or the mission-based food-tech startups because I don’t hear them talking about the corporations behind our poor health. Do we just wait them out? Hope hey eventually fail?
So who’s going to save us? I’ve talked to enough people older than me, enough folks my age, and those a little younger to know it will take future generations to alter our mindset. I’m looking at Gen Z and Gen Alpha here. From protesting cancelled chocolate milk to getting more plant-based options on cafeteria menus, it’s going to take a fight and new ways of thinking to vault us to a new place. The startups I write about look at the problems we have now, and how to re-create the foods we know. Until we abandon what we know, we won’t find a way to do it differently.
On Monday, I was interviewed by a 12-year old girl from the Bay Area. She connected to me on LinkedIn. She wrote: “I am creating a documentary about plant-based meat.” Jaw drop. 12-years old? Then: Would you be willing to be interviewed for my project? I was impressed, so I replied to her message. She wanted to know if these new plant-based foods were good for us, why there weren’t, and when would we see something better. She asked great questions, and even if it didn’t feel like she could completely synthesize what I was telling her, it gave me an immense feeling of hope.
Another reader of my newsletter (and my book!) is 16. She already knows she wants to do something good for the world in food. Both are girls I might add, both rock. Maybe, if anyone wants to send this newsletter to the President Biden, he can be sure to invite them to his conference in September? If not them, here’s a plea to make sure there are young, diverse voices there to represent the ideas we haven’t thought of yet.
If I’m invited to the conference, I’ll say this: We need to stop demanding that our food be cheap. Food needs to cost what it costs based on labor, land, and inputs. And I want everyone to have access to it at whatever socio-economic level they’re at--tiers of pricing if you will. (Eventually this too should go away.) Cheap food holds up a structure where every company uses the same lowest common denominator ingredients—corn, soy and sugar. Few strive for better because the standard is so cheap.
Below I share a link to collard greens, and a lush diversity our markets lack. If food no longer fights to be the cheapest, won’t it eventually more diverse? If we can all access food no matter how little or how much we have in the bank, then won’t we have a better chance at being equally healthy?
How do we make junk food less appealing, if its always the cheapest stuff out there? The big question I’ll leave you with is this: Why do we have to wait for another generation to radically change our diet? What can we do to make it happen sooner?
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UMass Amherst becomes the first university to grade food at its cafeterias by carbon footprint—menu items will get an A-E carbon rating. Why? Because Gen Z cares about this stuff. (Thank G someone does.) According to the university: 88% of students reported the climate crisis informs their decisions sometimes; 75% said they believe their food choices impact the environment; and 76% said reducing their carbon footprint is important.
I remember the first time I ate morels. I was 30 or 31, and it was at Chez Panisse. We walked inside and there near the door was a big bowl of morels to showcase what was in season. Dinner was cozy and wonderful. It felt like being in someone’s home, which is Waters’ goal. Morels aren’t easy to find, and their season is short. Now 64-year-old twins from Copenhagen have found a way to “reliably cultivate hefty amounts of morels indoors, year-round, in a climate-controlled environment.” They’ve been working on their project since 2005. Here’s to obsessive mushroom folk.
On April 11th, vegan ultra runner Robbie Balenger ran farther than a fully-charged Tesla. Balenger hoped to go further than the car (242 miles in all) in under 72 hours (it took him 100 hours) but the extreme heat set him back. In the end he went 100-feet further than the conked out Tesla. (I’m not really sure what this says for either the car or the runner—I love my electric car and it can’t go nearly 242 miles!)
Last week I gave a shout out to kohlrabi, this week let’s give praise to another favorite: collard greens. Read about the many varieties we don’t see at the market, but maybe will change one day soon.
Salmon made entirely from algae? I hope I’ll get to try this in the near future.
Where you can find me:
May 10th, I’ll be keynote at the Northern California Institute of Food Technologists (NCIFT) meeting. After the symposium there’s an expo to see new food-tech. (No food, only tech.) I’ll be there selling books. Come say hi!
May 12th, I’m moderating a fermentation panel at the Reducetarian conference in San Francisco. There’s a reduced price ticket for students.
Miss any of my podcast appearances? Find them all here.
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