The Fate of Food – Book Review

What’s for dinner?

The Fate of Food will give you a good overview of how tradition and technology might come together to feed the world in the future.

I guess you could say that my purchase of The Fate of Food was an impulse buy (a good one).

In early November last year, I went into a Barnes & Noble store in San Luis Obispo, CA to buy a 2020 mini wall calendar to put up on the tack board next to my desk. My plan had been to quickly find a calendar, buy it, and then move on to the next errand on my list.

The calendar with the words “Serenity quotes for a peaceful mind” superimposed over a photo of a lovely calm looking lake appealed to me. I took it off the rack and turned around intending to walk back to the checkout counter. On the way, I decided I would just pop over to the environment/nature section to scout for new books that I might want to read in the future.

Standing there clutching my calendar I avidly scanned the titles. The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World by Amanda Little caught my eye. I pulled the book off the shelf and flipped through it reading the book jacket and table of contents.

It looked interesting so I bought the book along with the calendar.

Book Review

The Fate of Food opens with Amanda Little recounting her tour of the Wise Company, a survival food maker in Salt Lake City, UT. This visit occurred after she had traveled to thirteen states in the U.S. and eleven countries pursuing an answer to the question “What will be for dinner in the future?”

I knew I was going to like the book when I read the following paragraph at the top of page 8.

“After my visit to the Wise factory, I whip up a bowl of rehydrated pot pie. In truth, I ask my kids to do it. They fire up the electric kettle, pour, stir, wait for the pebbly chunks to soften. To them, it’s a simple science experiment. To me, it’s confronting a future I don’t want to meet.”

It was heartening to discover that along with delivering facts, information, and stories about other people, Little was willing to share herself with me and you.

The Fate of Food Book Cover

Reading The Fate of Food you will learn a lot of things, sometimes fascinating things, about apple farming, robots, aeroponics and aquaculture, animal-free meat, food waste, water, cloud seeding, moringa trees, and 3-D printed food.

You will also have an opportunity to ponder ways that small-scale and industrial-scale farming could be transformed to feed the world in a way that is healthy for people and the planet.

Here are a few snapshots of what you will be reading.

Chapter 3 – Seeds of Drought

In this section, you will meet Kenyan Ruth Oniang’o the founder of Rural Outreach Program of Africa that focuses on improving agricultural productivity while protecting small farmers. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and bioengineered food are covered here as well as the dilemma faced by countries who are struggling to grow their own food.

“I am talking about using technology—modern seeds, modern methods—to benefit humanity, to produce food that’s clean, abundant, and climate-smart, in a way that frees small-scale farmers from drudgery. We shall industrialize our food production while maintaining the core of who we are.”

Ruth Oniang’o
Chapter 7 – Tipping the Scales

Chances are you have heard the term aquaculture (think farm-raised salmon). This chapter explores the potential benefits and challenges associated with farming aquatic animals and plants in oceans, specialized ponds, and tanks. If you are not currently familiar with algal blooms, sea lice, or the resource efficiency of fish farming, you will be.

Chapter 10 – Pipe Dreams

Without water there is no food and agriculture is a thirsty business. This chapter provides a look at how Israel, a country with very little freshwater, handles its water supply. Other topics discussed here include desalination, closed-loop water recycling, and using cloud-based applications to detect leaks.

The book closes with Little’s visit to the farm of Chris and Annie Newman who are reimagining farming.

“I was taught early on that we live within the ecosystem, not on top of it.”

Chris Newman

The Bottom Line

Amanda Little is a journalist and a professor teaching investigative journalism and science writing at Vanderbilt University. She is also the author of Power Trip: The Story of America’s Love Affair with Energy.

The Fate of Food is a readable book that packs in a lot of material about many different food-related subjects. I think Little’s writing style and the way she conveys information in a story-like manner will appeal to a wide audience. What makes this book special to me is that Little relates to us, her readers, as fellow human beings.

After reading The Fate of Food, I hope you will feel optimistic and motivated to learn more about one or more of the topics covered in the book.

Featured Image at Top

A place setting sits on top of a green place mat – photo iStock/kyoshino.

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If You Have Not Tried Plant-Based Meat, You Should

Plants. It’s what’s for dinner.

Eating less animal meat is good for the environment. Luckily, you can switch to plant-based meat for some or all of your meals without compromising on taste.

There are many reasons to consider eating less or no animal meat. This includes the massive amount of land, water, and food crops required to raise livestock animals, the enormous volume of greenhouse gas emissions and waste they produce, and the ever-growing quantities of animal hormones and antibiotics in our food. Adding to this is the horrendous treatment of people and animals throughout the industrialized meat system from factory farms to slaughterhouses.

Beyond Burger Life Cycle Assessment Infographic Sep 2018
Click here for the infographic – source Beyond Meat.

Plant-based meat is not new. Veggie burgers, tempeh, and tofu meat substitutes have been around for years. But now there are plant-based meat products on the market that look and taste a lot like their animal-based counterparts such as burgers, sausages, and nuggets.

About two months ago, I was wrapping up a trip to Oregon where I had been visiting with two wonderful longtime friends. On the way to the Amtrak train station, we stopped to eat a late lunch at the Red Robin restaurant. The Impossible Burger was featured on the menu so I decided to give it a whirl.

That experience got me thinking about revisiting the topic of meat.

It has been six years since I researched and wrote the two posts entitled Environmental Impact of Eating Meat and Vat Meat, Cultured Meat, In Vitro Meat – Would You Eat It?

Rereading those posts reminded me that my children have significantly influenced what I eat, now. In some cases, I changed what I eat because of our discussions about things like the environmental and ethical issues associated with eating meat or that over 80% of food in the U.S. contains corn. Sometimes I was persuaded by their personal food choices.

For instance, one night at dinner during a visit from college several years ago, my younger son announced that he was no longer eating pork as he pushed the baked beans with bacon to the side of his plate.

When I asked him why he told me that pigs are intelligent animals that take care of each other and he did not want to eat them (or something like that). He did not ask or demand that my spouse and I stop eating pork but we chose to follow his lead.

Pork chops and roasts were easy to stop eating. Baby back ribs not so much. Giving up bacon was hard. The local Cookie Crock Market cures and sells the most delicious bacon I have ever tasted, thick but not too thick, with just the right amount of smoke and salt. Even years later, I still miss bacon. If some company comes up with pig-free bacon that looks and tastes like the bacon I remember, I am in.

In the meantime, there are plenty of plant-based meats to try.

Plant-Based Meat Taste Tests

I do not remember when more plants and less meat began appearing for dinner but it has been at least five years, maybe longer. In the past year or so, my spouse who is our family cook has ratcheted it up so our consumption of beef and chicken has continued to decline.

After I returned from Oregon, I announced at dinner one night that I wanted to try different plant-based meats and then write a post. My spouse gamely agreed to participate. There was a decided lack of enthusiasm from our sons but they did say that they would try whatever was put on the table in front of them.

Plant-Based Meat and Meat Substitute Section at Soto's True Earth Market - December 2019

Soto’s True Earth Market one of our two small-town grocery markets carries a decent variety of plant-based meats and meat substitutes like tempeh and tofu look-a-likes. The Cookie Crock Market only carries tofu.

Whenever my spouse was ready to make a plant-based meat test dish, I photographed the product and read up a bit about the company. Sometimes I remembered to photograph the actual dish but not always.

The companies varied from well-established organizations to startups. Ingredients included GMO and non-GMO soybeans, peas, beets, wheat gluten, chickpeas and a wide variety of additives. Most products contained a sizable percentage of the recommended dietary allowance for protein and contained a lot of salt. Prices varied but were consistently higher than factory-farmed ground beef.

Below are my findings from the five plant-based types of meat that I have tried; one at a restaurant and four in meals prepared by my spouse. I suggest you do your own taste test.

Impossible Burger
My Impossible Burger with Sweet Potato Fries at Red Robin
This is the Impossible Burger and sweet potato fries I ate at a Red Robin – photo credit Carrie Ciak.

So far the only plant-based burger I have tried is the Impossible Burger I mentioned earlier. The burger looked and tasted like a basic McDonald’s beef hamburger. It ate like a hamburger but was not juicy. To me, the main drawback of this product is that it is made from soybeans that are grown from herbicide-resistant GMO seeds thus contributing to the proliferation of pesticide use in the United States.

Beyond Beef
Beyond Beef Plant-Based Ground Package

My spouse made a casserole dish with Beyond Beef. It looked and tasted similar to ground beef. Beyond Beef does not contain GMOs. I can see myself eating this product on a regular basis.

Edward & Sons Jackfruit

The photo on the front of the Edward & Sons Trading Company Jackfruit Meatless Alternative looked good. My spouse included it in a pasta and cheese dish. The product looked okay but it had kind of a bitter aftertaste. Chewing it reminded me of artichoke hearts. I like that the product is USDA Organic but not that it comes from far away in India.

No Evil
No Evil Pit Boss Pulled 'Pork' BBQ Package and Pouch

We tried No Evil in a skillet dish. The tiny meat bits were chewy but did not resemble meat. The taste was so-so. I like that the company pays its employees a living wage and is involved in worthwhile programs in their community.

Lifelight

The Lifelight Smart Ground Meatless Original Crumbles were used to make a taco salad. I thought the plant-based meat looked, chewed, and tasted a lot like a crumbled ground beef. Lifelight has been around for many years and their products do not contain GMOs. I would eat this again.

The Bottom Line

All in all the taste tests were a success and there are a lot of other plant-based meat products we are interested in trying.

One of the most exciting things about the newer plant-based meats is that they make a surprisingly burger-like burger. Tens of millions of Americans eat beef hamburgers every day so a tasty plant-based burger could seriously disrupt the animal meat industry and I think this is a good thing for the planet, people, and even the animals that we raise for food.

I do worry that these companies are using the current environmentally harmful and inhumane industrial food system to scale up their operations.

I want to learn more about the companies making plant-based meats in hopes of finding at least one that is making a delicious product and working to transform the food system. If and when I do, I will buy that product thus making a minuscule contribution to building a better food system. Imagine what we could accomplish if everyone did the same thing.

Homemade Beef Hamburger with Hand Cut French Fries

I will admit that if I am craving a hamburger I am either going to In-N-Out (there is one in our county about 30 miles away that we rarely go to) or more likely eating one of my spouse’s yummy juicy homemade beef hamburgers accompanied by hand-cut French fries.

Eating less meat and more plants is a journey. I am glad I tried the Impossible Burger because it sparked my interest in plant-based meats. During the taste tests, I discovered that plant-based meats can be tasty. My spouse and sons think so, too which means plant-based meat dishes will frequently find their way to our dinner table.

Now it is your turn. Consider ordering a plant-based meat burger at a restaurant (they are widely available) or making one yourself from plant-based meat you select at your grocery market.

Featured Image at Top: Vegetable peeler and meat cleaver – photo credit iStock/Studio_Serge_Aubert.

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