A major article published in The Guardian last week by George Monbiot, producer of the film Apocalypse Cow, reports that very soon we won’t need farmers any more. I know, the tendency for us reasonable people is to just laugh this off and dismiss it as idiocy, but believe me, this is the serious narrative driving food policy around the planet right now.
The article is about a Helsinki, Finlind company named Solar Foods that uses modified bacteria and supercharged hydrogen from water to brew proteins in giant vats. Supposedly the energy comes from water an sun. The plant-based fake meat movement, of course, uses either soybeans or field peas as a protein base.
In this Finnish process, the feedstock is simply water and manipulated microbes. According to Monbiot, the yellow froth created by this process can be arranged into meat, milk, eggs, fish–virtually anything. Leftover carbohydrates can of course be made into crackers and pasta. With complete faith and obvious enthusiasm, he claims that “all farming except fruit and veg production is likely to be replaced by ferming: brewing microbes through precision fermentation.”
A huge sector of the planet now believes we are all going to die by 2040. I’m more than 60 years old and I’ve been hearing this all my life. Paul Ehrlich said we’d be out of oil by the early 1980s and he was quoted like a god in the 1970s. I well remember watching documentaries in grade school that said by the 1990s we’d be in an ice age due to atmospheric carbon dioxide buildup. Or we’d be bombed by the Russians first, or we’d all be crispy critters in a nuclear holocaust.
May I go on record today as saying we will have farmers in 2040? Monbiot, quoting a group called RethinkX predicts that by 1935 we’ll see a 90 percent collapse in the beef industry and the dairy industry will be all but nonexistent. And I suppose we’re all going to eat the same thing planet-wide: fermented proteins.
Oh, and get this, because of the efficiency of these vats, all this microbial slurry will be produced in the desert since that’s where the best solar energy is, and it’ll be so cheap we’ll all eat “handsomely” (his word). No hunger. Everybody eating only what’s good for them, on pennies a day.
And the snow only falls in the fields and not on the roads; the leaves fall into neat little piles, and it only rains at night. Camelot here we come. And all of us on the planet will be grateful to dine out of a microbial slurry that surely will be democratically arranged socially so big companies and governments will not be able to control the new food supply.
Monbiot’s anger at current orthodox farm policy, animal treatment, ecological destruction, nutrient deficiency and all the other dysfunctions of the food and farming system are real and correct. I say “amen.” But the answer is not hydrogen-infused microbes in slurry vats; the answer is correct food and farming. We know how to do it.
Just imagine if Monbiot’s exultant vision of this vat-froth future came into reality. Every single food morsel would be identical. No terroir. No breed differences. No cultural heterosis.
That anybody thinks we can distill soil intricacies, plant and animal intricacies, the human micro-biome intricacies into a single manufactured microbial hydrogen-infused froth is simply living in la-la land. This whole message would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. I can tell you that some scientists and politicians actually believe this kind of stuff and make policies accordingly, like taxing beef as if it is a hazardous substance. Whenever I read this kind of stuff, I sit back, take a deep breath, and remember that 500 years ago the planet produced far more food than it does today–with no waste. People didn’t eat it all, but the pounds of animals on the planet was far higher 500 years ago than it is today.
Do you think we’re all going to be dead by 2040 unless we eat microbial froth and eliminate livestock?