Has a tech entrepreneur come up with a product to replace our meals? ... Rhinehart, who is twenty-five, studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, and he began to consider food as an engineering problem. “You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” he said. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they’re “mostly water.” He began to think that food was an inefficient way of getting what he needed to survive. “It just seemed like a system that’s too complex and too expensive and too fragile,” he told me. ... What if he went straight to the raw chemical components? He took a break from experimenting with software and studied textbooks on nutritional biochemistry and the Web sites of the F.D.A., the U.S.D.A., and the Institute of Medicine. Eventually, Rhinehart compiled a list of thirty-five nutrients required for survival. Then, instead of heading to the grocery store, he ordered them off the Internet—mostly in powder or pill form—and poured everything into a blender, with some water. The result, a slurry of chemicals, looked like gooey lemonade. Then, he told me, “I started living on it.” ... One of Silicon Valley’s cultural exports in the past ten years has been the concept of “lifehacking”: devising tricks to streamline the obligations of daily life, thereby freeing yourself up for whatever you’d rather be doing. Rhinehart’s “future food” seemed a clever work-around. Lifehackers everywhere began to test it out, and then to make their own versions. Soon commenters on Reddit were sparring about the appropriate dose of calcium-magnesium powder. After three months, Rhinehart said, he realized that his mixture had the makings of a company: “It provided more value to my life than any app.” He and his roommates put aside their software ideas, and got into the synthetic-food business.
They do not alter. They are still ten inches, more or less, across, still taste of apple, still cut thrice in six. The same words, hours, associations, even the same price, produce them still. Brakemen accustomed to consume them in Minneapolis order them in Piggott, Arkansas. And taste no change. Sad automobilists buy them from town to town the way a man buys postage. Or Ford cars. Sure of the product in advance. Millions are eaten. More than seventy-seven millions in a year. Nearly a thousand acres of brown pie. Some ten thousand miles of pie on racks. Tons on tons. There is no need for testimonials: "The Duchess of X-- eats apple pie." Chicago endorses pies with $35,000,000 each year; of this, three fourths is spent by housewives, eaten in the home. One Chicago bakery turns out 90,000 pies nightly. The Census Bureau picks a figure—$59,8I1,168—this means pies produced annually by bakers alone. Of all desserts eaten, perhaps two thirds are pies. Of all pies, two-fifths are apple. The statistician smiles with pleasure; he deals with exact units. No need for weighted charts, adjusted curves. This Laredo pie is the statistical brother of that Philadelphia pie. They can be added into bigger and better statistics, divided into pro ratas. Why should they alter? From the polished shelf Atlantic City looks like Galesburg. And pie's pie.
As a tech-obsessed child growing up in the nineties, Rob Rhinehart was always puzzled by food. Here he was, eagerly embracing the wonders of the information era, and he had to gnaw on seared chunks of meat and raw vegetables. “I remember when I was very young, eating lettuce and thinking it was very weird to be eating leaves, sitting in this nice house with all of these electronics around us,” he says now. … These days, Rhinehart doesn’t eat much lettuce or anything else recognizable as food. Instead, the 25-year-old gets most of his nutrition from a water bottle filled with a thick, light-brown slurry he invented. A cocktail of highly processed foodstuffs mixed with water—oat flour, tapioca maltodextrin, rice-protein powder, canola oil, and scores of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrient additives—it contains everything the human body needs, or so he claims. … After Rhinehart posted his recipe online in February, Soylent quickly became the first drinkable meme. … “For me cooking is like an art form,” says Zach Alexander, a 30-year-old software developer in San Francisco and DIY soylenter. “And it’s really frustrating how biology compels you to eat food three times a day even though you don’t want to.”
The epic begins 10,000 years ago in an Asian jungle and ends today in kitchens all over the world ... The chickens that saved Western civilization were discovered, according to legend, by the side of a road in Greece in the first decade of the fifth century B.C. The Athenian general Themistocles, on his way to confront the invading Persian forces, stopped to watch two cocks fighting and summoned his troops, saying: “Behold, these do not fight for their household gods, for the monuments of their ancestors, for glory, for liberty or the safety of their children, but only because one will not give way to the other.” The tale does not describe what happened to the loser, nor explain why the soldiers found this display of instinctive aggression inspirational rather than pointless and depressing. But history records that the Greeks, thus heartened, went on to repel the invaders, preserving the civilization that today honors those same creatures by breading, frying and dipping them into one’s choice of sauce. The descendants of those roosters might well think—if they were capable of such profound thought—that their ancient forebears have a lot to answer for.
Major packaged-food companies lost $4 billion in market share alone last year, as shoppers swerved to fresh and organic alternatives. Can the supermarket giants win you back? ... While consumers have long associated the stuff on the labels they can’t pronounce with Big Food’s products—the endless strip of cans and boxes that primarily populate the center aisles of the grocery store—they now have somewhere else to turn (more on that in a bit). And that has brought the entire colossal, $1-trillion-a-year food retail business to a tipping point. ... Shoppers are still shopping, but they’re often turning to brands they believe can give them less of the ingredients they don’t want—and for the first time, they can find them in their local Safeway, Wegmans, or Wal-Mart. Rather than carry traditional products with stagnant sales, chains like Target are actively giving increasing space on their shelves to a slew of New Age players like yogurt-maker Chobani, Hampton Creek (which sells a popular plant-based mayo), Nature’s Path, Amy’s Kitchen, and Lifeway Foods, which makes a yogurt-like drink called kefir. Retailers are creating their own brands too.
Walk in the door of Hostess Brands’ flagship bakery in Emporia, Kansas and your first thought is: What a dump. The former front office for the bakery that pumps out classic American treats like golden Twinkies and swirl-topped Cup Cakes is a series of dank, near-empty rooms with scuffed, oatmeal-color linoleum floors, water-stained ceiling panels and a jumble of mismatched office furniture that looks like it was picked up off the curb. Three minutes in this place and you’re suddenly thankful for the wilted sign on the front door warning visitors that firearms are barred from the premises. ... This grim wing of the Hostess plant is a leftover from the old Hostess–the one that debt, pension costs and mismanagement shuttered in 2012. But throw on a hairnet and pass on to the newly rehabilitated factory floor ... The new factory is bright and clean. Tight rows of Twinkies m arch along the $20 million Auto Bake system with the precision of Soviet soldiers in a May Day parade. Yellow robotic arms, which look like they should be welding Teslas rather than boxing Twinkies, stack snacks with hypnotic rhythm. This 500-person plant produces more than 1 million Twinkies a day, 400 million a year. That’s 80% of Hostess’ total output–output that under the old regime required 14 plants and 9,000 employees. ... How they’d do it? Cherry–picking top assets, modernizing manufacturing and distribution, doubling the shelf life of products and capitalizing on the rare place in pop culture Hostess products still held.
I don’t think people go to a restaurant because of the food; I think people go because of the kind of attention that’s given to them. We pay a lot of attention to people; we give them whatever they want. There are a lot of people here that never see a menu. ... I remember many, many years ago, maybe twenty years ago, Mick Jagger came in for lunch, and he was not wearing a jacket. Everybody said, Are we going to let Mick Jagger in without a jacket? I mean, come on. Of course! What seems to be the problem? Well, everybody’s got a jacket on. So what? So what. So what. He came in, he wasn’t wearing a jacket, end of the story. We sat him.
Penny pinchers will be forgiven for skipping the shrimp scampi this season. … Prices for shrimp have jumped to a 14-year high in recent months, spurred by a disease that’s ravaging the crustacean’s population. At Noodles & Co., a chain with locations across the country, it costs 29 percent more to add the shellfish to pastas this year, and shrimp-heavy dishes at places like the Cheesecake Factory Inc. are going up as well. … Restaurant chains, already struggling with shaky U.S. consumer confidence, are taking a profit hit as prices climb. Even worse, the surge is happening during the season of Lent, when eateries rely on seafood to lure Christian diners who abstain from chicken, beef and pork on certain days. … At Noodles, it now costs $3.34 to add the shellfish to a meal of pasta or pad thai, compared with $2.59 last year.
Beyond Meat closes in on the perfect fake chicken, turns heads, tastebuds … Most people consume protein in what vegetarians call "the secondhand form," that is, after it has been digested and converted into meat by chickens, cows, and pigs. This is inefficient, as Winston Churchill noted In "Fifty Years Hence," an essay published in 1931. Churchill wrote: "We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium. Synthetic food will ... from the outset be practically indistinguishable from natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation." … Then again, predictions are hard -- especially about the future. Food scientists and entrepreneurs have tried to reinvent meat for decades, with little to show for it. … Beyond Meat makes vegan "chicken-free" strips that it says are better for people's health (low-fat, no cholesterol), better for the environment (requiring less land and water), and better for animals (obviously) than real chicken; most important, if all goes according to plan, they will cost less to produce than chicken. … "We are obsessed," Brown says. "We call it OCD. Obsessive Chicken Disorder. It has to be exactly like chicken."
Driven to despair by a plague that has laid to waste young shrimps across east Asia, Suraphol Pratuangtham, a seafood farmer in southern Thailand, suspended operations at his ponds for more than three months over the summer. … “This year is the worst for our shrimp production in the past 30 years,” laments Mr Pratuangtham, who is also president of the Thai Marine Shrimp Farmers Association and expects Thailand’s 2013 exports to halve from its peak levels. … The disease, known as early mortality syndrome (EMS), has for more than two years savaged Asia’s shrimp industry, including Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and China. But this year’s plunge in supplies from the region, which accounts for 80 per cent of global production, is the worst yet and led to a sharp rise in global shrimp prices to a 12-year high. … Shrimp is the most traded fish in the international market ahead of salmon and tuna
It’s difficult to understand the way the Classic Roll supercharges multiple senses at once—unless you have eaten one. The plastic knife cuts through an outside that’s mildly crusty before giving way to a softer middle. Frosting melts into the ridges of the bun, which sits in a brown puddle of excess. Take a bite and the buttery flavor bathes the edges of the tongue as the gritty sweetness of sugar and cinnamon washes over the tip. The texture is lighter than expected. The sensation of pure sugar can be overwhelming. It coats the mouth and clogs the back of the throat. Halfway through the roll, the body cries out for water or, even better, Diet Coke, which has a way of cutting through the varnish laid by the fats and sugars. Deep inside the roll, the bun’s core is hot and yet just barely cooked. Once gone, the bottom of the clamshell box is left smeared like a crime scene with a mash of syrup and cream cheese. Each one is 3 inches high and 4 inches in diameter and costs $3.69. ... The company is not run by Satan. It’s run by Kat Cole, 35, whose last job was at Hooters.
In 2013, Atlantic Canada was responsible for 68,000 tonnes, or just over half, of the 131,500 tonnes of lobster landed on the east coast of North America last year. And for the 160 fishermen in Lobster Fishing Area 32 off the coast near Dartmouth, N.S., this year’s annual nine-week lobster season (April 19 to June 20) has been breathtaking. So much lobster had been landed in Nova Scotia by the second week of June that the shore price dropped to $3.50 a pound, which was why everyone was so cranky. I’d been calling it a glut until a couple of local exporters begged me to refer to a “bountiful harvest” instead. They didn’t want their customers to think lobster was cheap. ... To a lobster enthusiast, of course, cheap lobster sounds like a good, i.e. delicious, thing. But it never materializes. There is a voodoo to lobster economics. What used to be poor man’s fare, the fallback meal of people too impoverished to afford anything else, is now a billion dollar business and a universal mark of luxury – with the result that a lobster that sells for $3.50 on the wharf can cost $60 and more on a restaurant plate in New York or Toronto or Shanghai, regardless of how many lobsters are pulled from the sea. How this happens is the life story of Larry the Lobster.
The company is determined to breed the perfect strawberry ... Strawberries grow almost everywhere in the world, though nowhere as bounteously as they do along this particular stretch of the California coast, about 95 miles south of San Francisco, where the Pajaro River empties into Monterey Bay. The Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno, anchoring nearby in 1602, found wild strawberries in December, which was unheard of in Europe. Explorers to other parts of the New World also discovered strawberries with marvelous advantages in color, size, and flavor, and took botanical specimens home. Two of these crossed to yield the modern strawberry, Fragaria x ananassa, in the 18th century. ... Today, California produces almost 29 percent of the world’s strawberries—$2.6 billion worth—a lot of that from the 14,200 acres of fields that surround Watsonville and neighboring Salinas. ... Yield per acre in California has increased almost fivefold since the 1950s. ... The state’s strawberry acreage has dropped about 4,000 acres in the past two years, a decrease of 11 percent, as some growers have abandoned the fruit. ... Driscoll’s breeding program predates the company itself. In 1944 a group of strawberry farmers founded the Strawberry Institute of California, dedicated to the development of new and better varieties. Driscoll Strawberry Associates, formed as a grower’s cooperative in 1953, merged with the institute in 1966, and got out of physical farming. Since then, the company has focused on the two ends of the supply chain. ... Driscoll’s has a staff of 30 scientists devoted solely to strawberries, manipulating evolution at nine research stations in Watsonville, Southern California, Florida, Spain, Mexico, and the U.K. The company provides seedling plants to contracted growers. Then, when the growers harvest the berries, Driscoll’s packs, ships, and markets them to retailers. The growers get 85 percent of the revenue; Driscoll’s keeps the rest.
The last decade has seen an extraordinary rise in the importance of a unique class of investor. Generally referred to as “price-insensitive buyers,” these are asset owners for whom the expected returns of the assets they buy are not a primary consideration in their purchase decisions. Such buyers have been the explanation behind a whole series of market price movements that otherwise have not seemed to make sense in a historical context. In today’s world, where prices of all sorts of assets are trading far above historical norms, it is worth recognizing that investors prepared to buy assets without regard to the price of those assets may also find themselves in a position to sell those assets without regard to price as well. This potential is compounded by the reduction in liquidity in markets around the world, which has been driven by tighter regulation of financial institutions, and, paradoxically, a greater desire for liquidity on the part of market participants. Making matters worse, in order to see massive changes in the price of a security, you don’t need the price-insensitive buyer to become a seller. You merely need him to cease being the marginal buyer. If price-insensitive buyers actually become price-insensitive sellers, it becomes possible that price falls could take asset prices significantly below historical norms. This is not to suggest that such an event is inevitable, still less is it an attempt to predict in which assets and when it will occur, but anyone conditioned to think that these investors provide a permanent support for the markets should be aware that the support may at some point be taken away.
I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust. ... Second, the central argument of the anti-GMO movement—that prudence and caution are reasons to avoid genetically engineered, or GE, food—is a sham. Activists who tell you to play it safe around GMOs take no such care in evaluating the alternatives. They denounce proteins in GE crops as toxic, even as they defend drugs, pesticides, and non-GMO crops that are loaded with the same proteins. They portray genetic engineering as chaotic and unpredictable, even when studies indicate that other crop improvement methods, including those favored by the same activists, are more disruptive to plant genomes. ... Third, there are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture, such as herbicides, monocultures, and patents. But none of these concerns is fundamentally about genetic engineering. Genetic engineering isn’t a thing. It’s a process that can be used in different ways to create different things. To think clearly about GMOs, you have to distinguish among the applications and focus on the substance of each case. If you’re concerned about pesticides and transparency, you need to know about the toxins to which your food has been exposed. A GMO label won’t tell you that. And it can lull you into buying a non-GMO product even when the GE alternative is safer.
The farm-by-farm fight between China and the United States to dominate the global food supply. ... If China hopes to feed (and pacify) its growing population while also loosening the very real stranglehold that America has on its national food supply, its farmers have to start producing a lot more corn—not just enough to meet their domestic demand in good years but enough to maintain a stockpile to offset their global market impact during bad ones. For decades, China has increased corn yields by putting more acres into production, but they’re running out of arable land, and the USDA now estimates that Chinese corn consumption will rise by 41 percent by 2023, far outpacing production increases. The only tenable way for China to meet its own demand, then, is by planting high-performance hybrids, which can single-handedly double or potentially even triple per-acre corn production. Chinese scientists haven’t developed a significant corn hybrid in years. But Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, the two American seed giants, have produced so many successful hybrids that they now control 45 percent of all the seed sold in the world. ... The Department of Justice maintains that China is quietly permitting and even encouraging companies to steal American agricultural secrets right out of the ground. Acquiring the technology behind these next-generation hybrids could save companies like DBN Group—and the country—as much as a decade, and many millions of dollars, in research.
Abalone are technically snails. They are also one of the most pursued, regulated, and expensive foods on the planet. ... When threatened, the abalone pulls its armor down tight and grips the sand with its muscular foot. Their shells, which form an asymmetrical spiral, are an engineering marvel, with terraces of tiny hexagonal calcium-carbonate tiles that slide and bend to distribute pressure in a way that maximizes the absolute mathematical limits of their strength and gives them a beautiful iridescence. Abalone need elaborate defenses, because almost everything that eats them finds them incredibly delicious. ... For 100 million years, abalone blanketed the oceans’ floors as their predators evolved from tube-shaped critters to sea stars, fish, octopus, and eventually sea otters and other mammals. When humans moved into North America, abalone became a crucial food source for coastal dwellers. ... Studies of middens (ancient piles of discarded shells) that date back almost three thousand years on San Clemente Island, in Southern California, reveal unimaginable amounts of abalone consumed by native peoples. In fact, islanders cleared the entire island of black abalone before they decided to look for other sources of protein. ... Today, there is no commercial abalone fishing allowed in the United States, which means buying farmed or imported abalone are the only legal options. Only one variety—the red abalone (Haliotis rufescens)—can still be fished recreationally.
The American honeybee is in peril, you might have heard, if you are the sort of person who likes a ghost story. In the last year, beekeepers lost 42 percent of their colonies, another peak in a string of mass die-offs on the scale of plagues: In the last five years, die-offs have hit 34 percent, 46 percent, 29 percent, and 36 percent. That’s more than one in every three colonies each year — whole impeccably networked societies, as big as small cities. In many areas, the figures were worse, and it was hard not to wonder how a species in crisis could possibly sustain annual regional losses as high as 60 percent without fast approaching extinction. ... We’ve been panicking about them nonstop since 2006, when beekeeper Dave Hackenberg inspected 2,400 hives wintering in Florida and found 400 of them abandoned — totally empty. American beekeepers had experienced dramatic die-offs before, as recently as the previous winter in California and in regular bouts with a deadly bug called the varroa mite since the 1980s. But those die-offs would at least produce bodies pathologists could study. Here, the bees had just disappeared. ... Pollination sounds sweet, but the process is not natural in the way we might like to think: bees happily flitting about the countryside from one plant to the next. Honeybees are not even native to North America. They were brought here to work, then bred to work more; first to make honey, then, beginning about 50 years ago, to pollinate our crops. They live, almost exclusively, in what are called managed colonies, in hives we’ve built for them so that we might transport them around the country to industrial farms that need them for pollination. Really, they are livestock. ... We also know that colony-collapse disorder, the thing that kicked off bee panic in the first place, isn’t actually even happening anymore.
To help feed billions of people, scientists braved the snake-infested and croc-filled swamps of northern Australia in search of rice. ... Musgrave is one of a few pit stops along the rutted, mostly dirt road that traverses Cape York, Australia, and ends at the northeasternmost tip of the continent, just 100 miles from Papua New Guinea. The peninsula is part of the world’s greatest concentration of free-flowing rivers and its most extensive network of intact tropical savannas, which stretches across the country’s north for hundreds of miles. Even in a country where open spaces rule the landscape, this place looms in the national mind as an uncharted, prehistoric mystery. This year alone, scientists discovered 13 new spider species on the peninsula. Cape York is roughly the size of Nebraska but with only 17,000 residents, most of whom are indigenous and clustered in a few towns along the coast. ... Grown on six continents and in 117 countries, rice is the world’s most important food. There are 144 million farms that grow rice, more than for any other crop. The vast majority of these are in developing countries, and virtually all of them are small, averaging just over 2 acres apiece. Simply put, the crop is the daily sustenance of the world’s poor. The primary reason is its remarkable biology. Rice is naturally prolific, each plant generating perhaps 25 times as many grains as a single wheat plant. When grown in water, its microbiome regenerates the soil’s nutrition, making fertilizer unnecessary. ... In recent decades, an increasing number of geneticists and plant breeders have realized that crops’ wild relatives hold immense value because they have not been domesticated. Instead of being narrowed and homogenized by humans, these crops have produced immeasurable genetic diversity as a result of their natural adaptation to pests, diseases, and climatic fluctuation. Their genes have already begun to help agriculture tackle the enormous challenges it faces today.
The stuff of ancient legend and high-end cuisine, matsutake mushrooms bloom briefly in the forests of Oregon. Subsistence harvesters flock there, hoping to find buttons that can earn a fortune in Tokyo’s bustling wholesale markets, halfway across the world. ... With a firm texture and notes of cinnamon and saffron, this fungus tastes like no other. It’s especially prized in Japan, where the name means “pine mushroom”: The flavor lends a subtle accent to rice and seasonal dishes such as dobin mushi, a seafood broth steamed in a clay teapot. Formerly abundant in the island country’s red pine forests, modern wilderness management and disease have made the mushroom scarce. As much as 90 percent of the matsutake harvested in Oregon is now exported to Japan. Before that country’s economic bubble burst, the highest-grade buttons, dressed up in a gift box with ferns and orange blossoms, could fetch upward of $100 each at auction in Tokyo’s Ota Market. No wonder pickers in the U.S. referred to the mushrooms as “white gold.” ... These days foragers are fortunate to get $15 a pound.
Industrial production destroyed both the taste and the nutritional value of wheat. One scientist believes he can undo the damage. ... Commodity wheats are defined in just three ways: hard (high in protein, which is good for bread) or soft (better for pastries); red (dark color and strong flavor) or white (pale and more delicate-tasting); and winter or spring, depending on when they are planted. ‘‘Hard red spring,’’ for example, is often used for bread; ‘‘soft white winter’’ is better for pastries. A vast majority of America’s 56 million acres of wheat grow in a belt stretching more than 1,000 miles from the Canadian border to Central Texas. Around half of the crop is exported, and most of what remains is funneled to feedlots for cattle or to giant mills and bread factories, which churn out all those bags of generic white flour and limp sandwich bread sleeved twice in plastic. This industrial system forces plant breeders to prioritize wheat kernels of highly specific sizes, colors and hardness. ... What would happen, Jones wondered, if he developed unique varieties of wheat adapted to the Skagit’s cool, wet climate and extremely fertile soil? What if he could interest local millers and bakers in dealing primarily with Washington wheat? What if wheat, like wine, had terroir? After all, it used to. ... A grain of wheat has three main components: a fibrous and nutrient-rich outer coating called the bran; the flavorful and aromatic germ, a living embryo that eventually develops into the adult plant; and a pouch of starch known as the endosperm, which makes up the bulk of the grain. Before roller mills, all three parts were mashed together when processed. As a result, flour was not the inert white powder most of us are familiar with today ... Roller mills solved this problem. Their immense spinning cylinders denuded the endosperm and discarded the germ and bran, producing virtually unspoilable alabaster flour composed entirely of endosperm. It was a boon for the growing flour industry: Mills could now source wheat from all over, blend it to achieve consistency and transport it across the nation without worrying about shelf life. That newfound durability came at a huge cost, however, sacrificing much of the grain’s flavor and nutrition.
This apple had been carefully grown somewhere in Washington state, the result of millions of dollars and two decades of labor. Break apart its unremarkable surface to reveal its flesh, wait long enough, and you’ll see what’s different: It remains pure white. It doesn’t start to brown right after you take a bite and leave it on the kitchen counter. In fact, it doesn’t start to brown until it molds or rots. It doesn’t bruise, either. Through a feat of genetic engineering, Carter’s apples hold on indefinitely to the pearly-white insides that inspired their name — the Arctic. ... The Arctic was conceived by Carter’s company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which he runs with his wife, Louisa, and four other full-time employees, newly under the umbrella of a large biotech company that bought it this year. It’s an intended solution to what Carter sees as two interrelated problems: First, millions of pounds of perfectly good apples get dumped every year because they look a little too bruised or brown, the victims of an instinctive human aversion to fruits and vegetables that aren’t smooth, shiny, and symmetrical. And at the same time, North American consumers, accustomed to 100-calorie packs and grab-and-go everything, have developed an impatience for food that can’t be quickly eaten. ... Taken together, these two trends mean that while apple consumption has flatlined in the United States for decades, a staggering amount of apples go wasted. ... Apples in particular have been transformed dramatically by commercial cultivation and serendipitous acts of nature over the last two millennia. The apples grocery store shoppers pluck off shelves in 2015 are vastly different from the ones first discovered in Kazakhstan, or even the ones grown by Johnny Appleseed in the 19th century. ... A study in the Journal of Consumer Affairs estimated that $15 billion in fresh and processed fruit was lost from the U.S. food supply in 2008 — about $9 billion at the consumer level and the rest at the retail level.
The race is on to breed better birds as chicken emerges as the protein of the masses ... Unlike the roughly 60 billion chickens world-wide now slaughtered for meat each year, these birds are raised for their DNA. Paul Siegel, professor emeritus of animal and poultry sciences, studies how their genes influence the way they pack on pounds and fight off disease. The research helps companies seeking to breed chickens that will grow faster on less feed and require fewer drugs to stay healthy. ... Food producers face a monumental task. At current consumption rates, the world would need to generate 455 million metric tons of meat annually by 2050, when the global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion, from 7.3 billion today. Given today’s agricultural productivity, growing the crops to feed all of that poultry, beef and other livestock would require every acre of the planet’s cropland, according to research firm FarmEcon LLC—leaving no room for raising the grains, fruits and vegetables that humans also need. ... Chicken’s rise already is changing time-honored habits. In Argentina, where grass-fed beef has long been central to daily life, per-capita poultry consumption is projected to climb 7.5% this year to a record level, while beef consumption is expected to decline 6.3%. Even in pork-loving China, the government has subsidized large-scale poultry farms and breeding operations over the past decade to increase output.
Burgers and fries have nearly killed our ancestral microbiome. ... A group of Italian microbiologists had compared the intestinal microbes of young villagers in Burkina Faso with those of children in Florence, Italy. The villagers, who subsisted on a diet of mostly millet and sorghum, harbored far more microbial diversity than the Florentines, who ate a variant of the refined, Western diet. Where the Florentine microbial community was adapted to protein, fats, and simple sugars, the Burkina Faso microbiome was oriented toward degrading the complex plant carbohydrates we call fiber. ... Scientists suspect our intestinal community of microbes, the human microbiota, calibrates our immune and metabolic function, and that its corruption or depletion can increase the risk of chronic diseases, ranging from asthma to obesity. ... Numerous factors are implicated in these disappearances. Antibiotics, available after World War II, can work like napalm, indiscriminately flattening our internal ecosystems. Modern sanitary amenities, which began in the late 19th century, may limit sharing of disease- and health-promoting microbes alike. Today’s houses in today’s cities seal us away from many of the soil, plant, and animal microbes that rained down on us during our evolution, possibly limiting an important source of novelty. ... But what the Sonnenburgs’ experiment suggests is that by failing to adequately nourish key microbes, the Western diet may also be starving them out of existence.
It is often said that saffron is worth its weight in gold because it is so difficult and labor-intensive to cultivate and harvest. For several weeks every fall, the crocus sativus flower blooms. ... At that moment, saffron producers throw themselves into the harvest. They pick the flowers early in the morning, and on the same day gently tease the bright red, three-filament stigma from each flower and dry them. It takes about 150,000 flowers to produce a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of saffron. ... Little wonder, then, that the precious powder has spawned a trade rife with the kind of deceptions and distortions typical of traffic in gems or illicit drugs: cheap substitutes, diluted shipments, false labeling. ... The turbulence in the saffron market has intensified. The much-anticipated lifting of international financial sanctions against Iran after the nuclear accord last spring has led to brisk saffron speculation inside Iran. (Saffron is several times cheaper here than in Europe, where the retail price can soar to 20,000 euros a kilogram, or about $10,000 a pound).