Over the next few decades, the fate of the world’s food supply will largely be shaped by a number: 9.3 billion. That’s the projected global population for 2050. Where will those extra calories come from? The answer will likely require new approaches to food production.
As for new food production techniques, the future is wide open. Vertical farmers are growing crops indoors, using computers to monitor plant health and efficiently administer food, water, and light. Cell-cultured meat producers are growing real animal meat in labs, all without killing animals. And aquafarmers are growing nutrient-rich kelp and microalgaes, both in natural ecosystems and in bioreactors.
While there remain questions about the nutritional value of cell-cultured meat, it’s definitely got the upper hand on the ethics side. The fact that it doesn’t require slaughtering animals also means that the industry could offer some exotic foods, such as lab-grown tiger meat, which one startup may soon start selling.
Kelp, which is a macroalgae, is not only rich in antioxidants and elements like iodine but also one of the most sustainable crops. After all, seaweeds like kelp require no feed, and because they grow through photosynthesis, they capture carbon that enters the oceans from greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
People have been eating edible seaweed for centuries, particularly in Japan, where it was once such a common crop that the government allowed people to pay taxes with it. In recent years, aquafarmers in the U.S. have been ramping up seaweed production, with some startups now selling kelp-based burgers, jerky, chips, and pasta.
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