Tag: Food Technology

gut microbiome

Our Tribal Gut Bacteria Are Disappearing (And Why We’re Getting Fat)

It’s an old axe that you are what you eat, but a growing body of evidence suggests that, in terms of our gut bacteria, it’s really true. Recent research shows that the standard ‘Western’ diet high in animal fat, sugars, and refined carbohydrates fundamentally alters the bacterial ecosystem in our intestines. The bacteria that thrive in the house that McDonald’s built are not only associated with obesity, but may actually excrete waste compounds that cause obesity.

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Food Technology

Moments in Meat History Part IX – In-Vitro Meat

In 1995, the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved the use of in-vitro techniques for commercial meat production, paving the way for lab-grown meat products to make their way to the market. Dutch researcher Willem van Eelen received the first patent for in-vitro meat in 1999, embarking on an ambitious program a few years later with the Maastricht University that would result in the first lab-grown hamburger, presented and sampled by Mark Post summer 2013. In 2008 PETA threw their support behind the in-vitro cause, offering a yet-unclaimed $1 million prize to the first group to make a commercially viable lab-grown chicken substitute.

Image via baltimoresun.com

Food Technology

Moments in Meat History Part VIII- Fast Food

The very first restaurant to typify the modern fast food genre was White Castle, who opened their first location in 1916 in Witchita, USA. Ironically, at the time fast food was considered to be a more transparent type of restaurant service because customers could watch their food being prepared while they waited. In 1948, McDonald’s adopted the same model, and began their expansion as the restaurant that we know today. In 1958 they sold their 100 millionth hamburger; when, in 1994, McDonalds sold their 100 billionth hamburger they simply stopped counting. The importance of fast food to the history of meat is that much like industrial farms and long-distance shipping and trade it introduced yet another layer of separation between farm and food, further abstracting the final meat product from the animal that provided it.

Image via comtemplative imaging (Flickr)

Food Technology

Moments in Meat History Part VII – Factory Farming

In the 1950s, the transition towards what is now known as factory farming picked up speed with farmers beginning to keep their livestock indoors. Eventually animals were being kept in very close quarters, with the use of antibiotics and other interventions to counteract the natural effects of these living conditions. Factory farming has grown to become a major source of global meat production, and a major source of contention for environmental and animal rights activists. Major disease outbreaks in livestock populations have largely been confined to the factory farming era, as the cramped conditions facilitate the spread of diseases such as Foot-and-Mouth and BSE (Mad Cow Disease.) Concurrently, farming productivity has skyrocketed; the average US livestock farmer fed 25.8 people in 1960, while in 2005 the average farmer fed 155 people.

Image via aldf.org

Food Technology

Moments in Meat History Part VI – Meat the Future

By the turn of the century, some people began raising questions about our meat consumption habits. As early as 1894, French chemist Pierre-Eugene Marcellin Berthelot had actually predicted the advent of lab-grown meat. In a press interview, he predicted that by the year 2000 humans would no longer rely on farming to source their food. When asked about the complexity of growing meat, he insisted that it would be only a natural extension of human progress, in the same way that electricity had come to replace the open flame.

Of course, the most famous savant is Winston Churchill. In his 1931 essay for Strand Magazine, he claimed that “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.” Churchill wasn’t the only one, though. In 1930, the Earl of Birkenhead wrote in his book about the year 2030 that “It will no longer be necessary to go to the extravagant length of rearing a bullock in order to eat a its steak.” Predictions of synthetic foods and chemical kitchens would abound through the next few decades.

Image via harryneelam.com (Yousuf Karsh portrait of Churchill)

Food Technology

Moments in Meat History Part V- Industrialization of Farming

By the end of the 19th century, the meat industry had exploded in the United States. In 1876, the first cattle feedlot was established near Chicago; this marked the start of a sea change in the way animals were raised, and the end of the archetypal grazing pasture as demand for meat began to outstrip the capacity of older farming methods. While in 1860 the average US livestock farmer fed 5 people, by 1960 this number would increase to 25.8.

Image via wikipedia.org

Food Technology

Moments in Meat History Part IV- Substitutes

The story goes that in the 7th Century, Buddhist monks in China stumbled upon the product now known as “wheat gluten” while cooking. Noting that it looked, felt and tasted somewhat like meat, they christened it “Mein Ching,” or “Buddha’s food,” because their religion encouraged them not to eat meat. This is the first mention of a deliberate meat substitute.

Image via Jinjian Liang (Flickr)

Food Technology

Moments in Meat History Part III- Preservation

The oldest evidence of cold food storage dates back to 1700 BCE. Remains of an ice house were discovered in Assyria, modern-day Iraq. It would have been a simple structure, dome-shaped with a layer of snow recessed below ground level. This marks one of the very first human efforts to preserve cooked meat.

Image via miriadna.com

vegetarian replacement for eggs

Making Fake Eggs to Beat the Real Thing

Just as Sergey Brin bet on the success of in vitro meat, other tech entrepreneurs are betting that they can make vegetarian eggs that are more humane, healthy, sustainable, and affordable than the real thing. Hampton Creek Foods, based in San Francisco, has been hard at work inventing a better version of nature’s perfect pre-packaged food. Their pseudo-mayonnaise, for instance, went through 1,432 formulations – though it’s now indistinguishable from the real thing. Hampton Creek has bigger things on its mind than mere mayo:

“Over the next five years, Hampton Creek Foods… will first hawk its product to manufacturers of prepared foods like pasta, cookies, and dressings—the processed products that use about a third of all the eggs in the United States. Then it will aim directly for your omelet with an Egg Beaters-like packaged product. The goal, Tetrick explains, is to replace all factory-farmed eggs in the US market—more than 80 billion eggs, valued at $213.7 billion.”

Read more about the quest for the perfect vegetarian egg at Mother Jones. Photo via Kaley Ann.

ecological collapse of easter island

A More Interesting, More Depressing Theory of Easter Island’s Downfall

Easter Island has long been used as a parable for environmental destruction: a once-mighty civilization brought low by its wanton overuse of natural resources. The islanders cut down all their trees for farming and silly stone heads, so the story goes, and reduced the paradise of Rapa Nui to a windswept grassland. However, a new theory about the collapse of Easter Island challenges this traditional assumption. It takes the blame away from humans and puts it on rats.

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