Bill Gates: Food Is Ripe for Innovation
Bill Gates is the co-founder and Chairman of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He also posts updated information and videos about the future of food on Gates Notes.
The global population is on track to reach 9 billion by 2050. What are all those people going to eat? With billions of people adding more animal protein to their diets — meat consumption is expected to double by 2050 — it seems clear that arable land for raising livestock won’t be able to keep up.
That’s one reason why I’m excited about innovations taking place now in food production, which especially interests me as someone who worries about the poor getting enough to eat.
There’s quite a lot of interesting physics, chemistry and biology involved in how food tastes, how cooking changes its taste, and why we like some tastes and not others.
My friend Nathan Myrhvold took a deep dive into the science and technology of cooking with his huge book, Modernist Cuisine. Nathan is great at explaining things like why we like meat so much, and why cream-based sauces are so good. Which leads to interesting questions, like could we create those tastes in ways that are less expensive, less fattening and less work?
I’ve gotten to learn about several new food companies that are creating plant-based alternatives to meat through some monetary investments I’ve made with Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins. Their products are at least as healthy as meat and are produced more sustainably.
But what makes them really interesting is their taste. Food scientists are now creating meat alternatives that truly taste like — and have the same “mouth feel” — as their nature-made counterparts (see two recipes below, for example).
Flavor and texture have been the biggest hurdles for most people in adopting meat alternatives. But companies like Beyond Meat, Hampton Creek Foods and Lyrical are doing some amazing things. Their actual recipes are secret, but the science is straightforward. By using pressure and precisely heating and cooling oils and plant proteins (like powdered soybeans and vegetable fiber), you can achieve the perfect flavor and texture of meat or eggs.
I tasted Beyond Meat’s chicken alternative, for example, and honestly couldn’t tell it from real chicken. Beyond Eggs, an egg alternative from Hampton Creek Foods, does away with the high cholesterol content of real eggs. Lyrical has drastically reduced fat in its non-dairy cheeses. Even things like salt are getting a makeover: Nu-Tek has found a way to make potassium chloride taste like salt (and nothing but salt) with only a fraction of the sodium.
All this innovation could be great news for people concerned about health problems related to overconsumption of fat, salt and cholesterol. It’s important too in light of the environmental impacts of large-scale meat and dairy production, with livestock estimated to produce nearly51% of the world’s greenhouse gases.
But the new, future food is crucial for the developing world, where people often do not get enough protein. This is partly due to heavy reliance on animals as the primary source. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. There’s plenty of protein and necessary amino acids in plants, including the world’s four major commodity crops — rice, maize, wheat and soy.
The problem is that instead of feeding these crops to people, we’re feeding most of them to livestock. And so we’re caught in an inefficient protein-delivery system. For every 10 kilograms of grain we feed cattle, we get 1 kilogram of beef in return. The calorie kick-back is just too low to feed a growing world population.
So we need to find new ways to deliver protein and calories to everyone.
Our approach to food hasn’t changed much over the last 100 years. It’s ripe for reinvention. We need to look for new ways to raise nutrition in the poor world while shifting some of our choices in the wealthy world.
Fortunately, there are thousands of plant proteins in the world, and many of them have yet to be explored for use in the production of meat alternatives. Current investigations of the world’s vast array of plant proteins could fundamentally reshape our food supply for the better.
I’m hopeful that we can begin to meet the demand for a protein-rich diet in a new way. We’re just at the beginning of enormous innovation in this space.