When is a burger not a burger? Impossible Foods is the synthetic meat company producing what could be the most beef-like non-beef ever. The company claims that its burgers are healthier and better for the planet in terms of carbon emissions, deforestation, and water conservation. Digging into these claims is difficult, as the company seems to have grown large enough to provoke the meat industry into a public relations battle.
The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a PR firm started with money from Philip Morris to combat smoking bans, has been attacking synthetic meat through the website www.CleanFoodFacts.com. CCF isn’t open about its clients or funding, so it’d be conjecture to say that meat industry interests fund this campaign. The height of the campaign came in early 2020, when Clean Food Facts paid more than $5 million to run a Super Bowl ad. Since the ad, the Wikipedia pages for two chemicals found in synthetic meats (among other processed foods) became the site of information fights. On the flip side of this, Impossible Foods has its own PR arm, which was able to respond to the Super Bowl ad with a parody ad in under a week. Impossible offers many stats on carbon emission reductions for the consumer but has come under scrutiny for not being open about its own carbon emissions. And to combat anti-GMO activists, it ran a blog through www.Medium.com (now shifted to its own website) to promote its GMO ingredients.
The claims by Impossible Foods are murky, perhaps by design. At the bottom of Impossible’s footprint calculator web page, there’s a disclaimer: “Footprint calculations assume 1:1 displacement of the production of meat. … Individual purchases of Impossible products may vary in impact.” This might come with another disclaimer: “Not all production of meat is the same.”
The bottom line: Impossible Burgers are processed foods using chemical additives and soy protein, like a savory, crumbly protein bar. The company likely uses GMO ingredients, and it definitely uses a genetically modified yeast to manufacture its burger’s key ingredient, heme (the same molecule that carries oxygen in blood, also found in low concentrations in plants). In terms of carbon emissions, the evidence is clear that reducing beef production would lead to a reduction in emissions. For consumers wary of ultra-processed foods and weary of disinformation battles fought for market share, maybe a good old-fashioned bean burger is the best choice.
Damaged Leaves Produce Better Fruit
A group of researchers with Texas A&M believe they’ve settled a long-disputed claim by organic growers: Organic methods produce more nutrient-rich fruits. Specifically, the researchers found that strawberry plants whose leaves are damaged by insects produce more antioxidants before harvest.
The research scores another point for nurture, showing that the plants we eat are more than the genetic material of the seeds they start from. Plants, the researchers write, have “a very complex defensive system” to respond to herbivores and pathogens. And the chemicals produced in this defense system happen to offer health benefits to humans.
One implication of the research might be the importance of certain “pests” in agricultural processes, which likewise points to a need to protect insects for the sake of human food. Giving insects a bite to eat gives us a better bite to eat. However, in their conclusion, the university researchers point to a different implication: “The controlled mechanical wounding applied during preharvest in leaves could be used to increase phytochemicals in fruit.” In short, replace insects (or one aspect of them) with machines. Judging by photos from the study, the machines might look something like paper hole-punchers.
Mechanically wounding plant leaves could produce higher levels of phytochemicals in their fruits.
Home Buyers Still Flock to Flood Zones
There’s a clear scientific consensus that a changing climate is leading to increased flood risks for more and more people. But there’s an even bigger factor than climate change when it comes to flood risk: development. According to a study published in Nature, “Projected population change … could cause flood risk increases that outweigh the impact of climate change fourfold.” Even as coasts and rivers become riskier to live near, more and more people are moving there.
The researchers point out that the problem is systemic. From developers to lenders to home-seekers, there’s a lack of good risk assessment. They write that “academic efforts to model flooding under climate change are in their infancy and so are rarely used for commercial or regulatory applications.” They point to a need for better data, more accessible tools, and smarter government policy.
One accessible tool that already exists can be found at Flood Factor. The site makes it easy to check your specific address or even an entire city. Miami, Florida, for example, has a “severe” risk of flooding, and in every category, from residential to road flooding, risk is expected to increase over the next 30 years. Despite this, the city’s population is only increasing, and the median home price has nearly doubled in the past five years.
But does anyone need a tool built on robust datasets to know that Miami is a flood risk? Writer Sarah Miller, in a 2019 essay on the Miami real estate market, finds many people willfully ignoring the visibly rising water. Miller writes, “How do we think this is all going to end? With the election of a better candidate? With the passing of a law?” Though no place will be untouched by climate change, accepting the risks we’re already facing is the first step toward adapting. Check your area’s flood risk at www.FloodFactor.com.
Per Flood Factor, Miami Beach has an extreme risk of flooding over the next 30 years.
Nonprofit wants to clone the worlds oldest tree
Archangel Ancient Tree Archive propagates the oldest, biggest trees left standing on the West Coast, the “champion trees” of the redwoods and sequoias. Archangel believes these trees, with more than 1,000 years of experience sequestering carbon – some more than 2,000 – will prove key to fighting climate change. In a promotional video, co-founder Leslie Lee says, “They have a memory for surviving calamity, and that’s what we’re trying to capture.”
So far, it’s unclear if cloning an old tree would create a tree that’s better able to grow old. Much recent research on plants has emphasized how they change in response to environmental factors. But through this research, a new understanding of forests has emerged: The strength of forest trees comes from lives spent in a diverse forest with ongoing cycles of life and death.
“Can we prove this or that or whatever,” Lee says in that same video, “I don’t know. … In 500 years, you might have the answer to that.” Until then, Archangel hopes to go on preserving the genetics of the biggest trees on the planet. Learn more about Archangel’s work at www.AncientTreeArchive.org.
Some champion redwoods and sequoias have been around for more than 1,000 years.
Cover Crops Useful on the High Plains
Cover crops are a reemerging farm practice because of their ability to help prevent erosion and build soil health, but they’ve been slow to catch on in semi-arid climates, such as the western Great Plains region. A new analysis published in Soil Science Society of America Journal could change that.
Previous research seemed to show that cover crops left too little water in the soil for subsequent cash crops. A 2013 study from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, didn’t dispute other soil benefits of cover crops, but cautioned growers, because, in researchers’ findings, crop yields suffered across the board. This new analysis refutes that claim, finding that crop yields decreased in only 38 percent of the cases researchers looked at. The conclusion is that farmers of the High Plains should still be selective when considering cover crops, but in most cases, the benefits outweigh the costs.
New Resource Helps Farmers Survive Wildfires
Last year, wildfire season started early in California – January. With historic drought and a particularly strong Santa Ana wind, 297 fires spread across more than 1,000 acres in that month alone. Victims of the previous year’s fires weren’t spared further devastation.
In part because of climate change, fire is an increasing threat to farm owners and workers in California. Avoidance is off the table, which is why Farmer Campus is offering a new program, “Farming through Wildfire Season.” The program is robust and practical, with “solutions developed in collaboration with top fire experts, organizations, and impacted farmers,” according to its website. It covers everything from the financial to the human risks of fires.
While some industry analysts see wildfires driving investment into more controlled environments, such as vertical farms, nothing can change the reality on the ground: We all have to learn to live with fire. Programs like Farmer Campus’ offer hope, not escape. To learn more, go to www.FarmerCampus.com/Fires.
Helping Veterans Become Farmers
Armed to Farm is helping veterans transition into civilian life, teaching the ins and outs of farm business and building a network of veteran farmers to support each other. For many veteran farmers, producing food is a way to continue serving their country and communities. And for some, it’s a literal lifesaver, providing a viable future for people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Encouraging vets to farm is nothing new. The G.I. Bill after World War II helped more than 700,000 vets receive farm training, but in the latter half of the century, as farming turned into big business, federal vet spending shifted toward other kinds of education. Now, the pendulum has swung back, with federal dollars backing programs like Armed to Farm.
One thing that sets Armed to Farm apart is its emphasis on sustainable agriculture through the National Center for Appropriate Technology. The Center defines sustainable agriculture as an “agriculture of social values, one whose success is indistinguishable from vibrant rural communities.”