This past March Berlin was the home of Europe’s first professional animal protein alternatives conference organised by international food awareness organization ProVeg. The New Food Conference brought together scientists, researchers, food enthusiasts and entrepreneurs who are leading the slaughter-free, environmentally friendly and socially just food revolution. I was lucky to be present at the sold-out conference and this is part one of my two-part series on the future of food based on what I’ve learned (and tasted).
The first day of the conference was dedicated to plant-based animal protein alternatives or as food sustainability expert and one of the conference’s hosts Jeroen Willemsen called them: animal protein successors. It was a jam-packed day with 16 speakers (food scientists, marketing experts, ending animal farming advocates, impact investors, chefs and CEO’s) and 9 pitches from promising plant-based startups. Here are my five key takeaways from the first day on the future of plant-based animal protein successors.
Plant-based food is for the children
In news that’s shocking to no-one, the early adopters and current crusaders of the plant-based food movement are millennials, the generation I, too, am a part of. We are the generation who grew up in abundance when it came to meat and food choices. For us, born between 1981 and 1996, meat wasn’t a luxury but a very convenient option that got cheaper and cheaper. But abundance also means an abundance of choices which led to an abundance of questioning when it came to one’s diet. The food trends we’ve seen so far and the ones to come, like the ever-rising plant-based food trend, are not about products themselves but about answers to the questioning audience’s desires.
Eating habits of generations including and after millennials are much more intentional than the ones before them. We are aware of better options: better for our health, for the planet and for other human beings. The audience now wants food that is healthy, guilt-free, tasty and accessible. And plant-based food is the answer to this modern quadruple prayer.
Transparency is your friend
This is where transparency comes into the playing field. If plant-based food is indeed the answer to consumers’ responsibly hedonistic prayers, why not shout it out of rooftops? Plant-based meat successors are indeed better for one’s health, the planet, the animals, and other human beings; and they can be delicious in the right hands. So food producers, marketers, researchers, and anyone who’s in the business of ending animal farming should be clear about what they’re offering to people.
People do care but it’s not their priority
Speaking of transparency and talking about the social and environmental impact of your product, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re not enough on their own. What a lot of speakers mentioned during the first day of the conference was that while consumers say they care about certain things like sustainability and ethics when it comes to food choices, their purchasing habits don’t always match their statements. People often choose convenience over anything else. So it’s very important to make plant-based choices easy for the consumers. The accessibility of varied plant-based choices will also lead consumers to associate plant-based food with positive feelings because it will make it easy for them to do the thing they know deep down is right.
Food choices aren’t made in isolation
This means not only convincing consumers on how much better a plant-based diet is but also providing them with a plethora of alternatives. Alternatives that present them combinations of all the desires they have, whether it’s sustainable + delicious + affordable or healthy + ethical + hassle free. And while these might seem like unattainable desires at first blush they are actually fully possible. From protein-rich meat alternatives that have the same texture as ‘real’ meat, to healthy, vegan and tasty chocolate bars, the sample stands at the conference were testaments to this.
It also means we need to convince big conglomerates and governments that the switch to a plant-based diet is imperious for the future of our planet and to convince them that this is also what the people want.
It’s not all about the vegans
It’s natural to think that the plant-based food trend is happening because of the rising number of vegans and vegetarians and that the industry owes this speedy growth to years of tireless advocacy. This is partly true, but it is not the only nor the main reason. The plant-based industry owes a lot to the movement but there has been no drastic change in the number of vegetarians and vegans throughout the years. Plant-based animal protein alternatives are becoming more and more popular each year not because of vegans but because of casual meat eaters. People who are aware (woke if you will) but not willing to go the whole nine yard for whatever reason. Think about how oatmilk exploded in the past two years, its speedy rise even caused oat milk shortages all around the world. The people who were going on oat milk cappuccino quests, however, weren’t vegans with a specific thirst for oaty goodness, they were mostly omnivores who just prefer oat milk over dairy, be it because of its taste, its nutritional values, or just because it’s ‘hip’.
Vegans and vegetarians don’t need convincing, they are already making the effort to minimize their impact, it is the casual meat eater, the flexitarian, the plant-based food industry should be (and actually currently is) focusing on.
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Join us for the second of our Kinder Conversations - the Sky has a Limit.
Following our investigation into the Future of Meat in February, we've turned our attention to the sky. We'll be talking about whether air travel can be more sustainable, and how.
We're delighted to be hosting this event in collaboration with our friends at TQ, the Amsterdam tech hub where we're based.
📅 When Monday 17 June 18:30 - 20:30
📭 Where TQ, Singel 542, Amsterdam
🎯 Why should I fly Kinder? To hear about the latest research and technology making air travel more sustainable. To find out what you can do to reduce the impact your flights are having. To share a drink with like-minded travelers, and sample some of our vegan snacks (including beloved Professor Grunschnabel ice cream, as seen at the Future of Meat event)
Here at Kinder, we believe that greener travel is one of the key ways in which we can tackle the climate crisis. Travelling green can mean a lot of things, but right now we’re concerned about the aviation industry.
If aviation were a country, it’d be a top 10 polluter - and C02 emissions from air travel are growing many times faster than any other form. We’re already in a very dangerous position, and although there are many potential solutions, we sometimes feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do about it.
That’s where Kinder Conversations comes in.
Kinder Conversations is a series of events which delve into the biggest issues facing the world.
At the Sky has a Limit, we’ll be bringing together representatives from research and technology, the aviation industry and the not-for-profit sector to talk about sustainable air travel. We’ll hear more about the problem, and a lot more about the solutions.
Plus, there’ll be time to get a drink from TQ’s bar (buying a drink helps our friends from TQ support more events like this), try some vegan ice cream, and chat to fellow travellers about the steps you can take to travel greener.
✈️ Are you ready to #flykinder? Then secure your boarding pass here.
I don't have a driving license and when pressed about getting one by friends tired of chauffeuring me around I usually say I will only get one if I can drive something cool, like the Batmobile or a flying car. Unfortunately, I might have to honour that promise as it seems that flying cars are finally taking off (alas, no commercial Batmobiles in sight).
Indeed, several promising startups around the world are working to deliver the "car of the future" over the next few years. Like the Dutch company PAL-V that showed off a limited edition of its flying car at the Geneva Auto Show in Switzerland.
The PAL-V is a hybrid between a car and a helicopter (or more precisely, a gyrocopter), able to reach a top speed of 160 km/h on the tarmac but also get airborne in just 5 minutes, hitting airspeeds of 180 km/h over a range of up to 500 km. But since buying a PAL-V will set you back around € 350,000 I might have to pass on this one. Moreover, flying this beauty requires not just a driving license but also (understandably) a license to fly, and that's just too much for me.
Thankfully, other companies are developing vehicles that need no driver at all. Aerospace manufacturer Bell Helicopter, for example, is working on Nexus, an air taxi capable of taking off and landing in the middle of a city (whereas the PAL-V still needs a runway, albeit short, to get airborne).
Called VTOLs (short for Vertical Take Off and Landing), these aircraft aim to become sort of an Uber of urban air travel, bringing customers to the opposite part of the city or even to a nearby city in a matter of few minutes.
If you're at JFK airport in New York, for example, and have a meeting in Manhattan, instead of embarking on a 1-hour, Cosmopolis-style taxi ride, you could just hail a flying car and be downtown in 5 minutes.
Futuristic as it may sound, concrete plans to make it come true are underway. Earlier this month, German startup Lilium successfully completed the first test of its new five-seater Lilium Jet, an electric vehicle that, according to the company, will have a range of 300 km and a top speed of 300 km/h.
The reason electric flight is such an exciting area of research is not just because flying taxis will allow a handful of high rollers to drastically cut on their commuting time. Electric flying cars might be really good for the environment too.
A recent study published by Nature highlighted that, in some cases, flying cars could eventually be greener than even electric road cars, cutting emissions while reducing traffic on increasingly busy roads.
Moreover, developments in the field of flying cars could also boost the research on electric flight at large, including long haul electric flights, sort of the Holy Grail of aviation. And, as known, the civil aviation industry needs to find effective ways to lower its carbon emissions as soon as possible.
However, as explained by Hugh Hunt in an article on The Conversation that we republished here on Kinder World, "gaps in necessary technology and practical uncertainties beyond the cars’ promising physics mean that they may not arrive in time to be a large-scale solution to the energy crisis and congestion."
Let's get this one thing straight: most people prefer flying to other modes of transport, and we seem to do it more and more often. The airline industry is booming and 4.1 billion passengers have been transported last year. Almost every figure one looks at shows the impressive increase in flights over the last two decades.
Alexandre de Juniac, head of the International Association for Flight Transport proclaims: “In 2000, the average citizen flew just once every 43 months. In 2017, the figure was once every 22 months. Flying has never been more accessible. And this is liberating people to explore more of our planet for work, leisure, and education. Aviation is the business of freedom."
However, this ‘business of freedom’ runs on fossil energy carriers as planes still almost exclusively fly on kerosene. Kerosene is a fuel produced by oil refining and carbon dioxide (CO2) is the major product of burning kerosene. The 2-5% of all global CO2 emissions the aviation industry emits is caused by its fuel consumption (and choice). And unlike other fuels like diesel or gasoline, airlines don't pay taxes on kerosene in most countries — making cheap air travel possible.
In 2018 Europe’s biggest airline Ryanair became number 9 in the list of Europe’s biggest CO2 emitters and still claims to be the ‘greenest and cleanest airline’. Andrew Murphy – the aviation manager at the European Federation for Transport and Environment — argues that Ryanair the new coal when it comes to climate pollution. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, on the other hand, dismisses such claims by saying the claims are ‘’complete and utter rubbish’’.
Other airlines, like KLM who partly uses renewable jet-fuel, are acknowledging the problem but they aren't too far behind Ryanair on the list of emitters.
The growth of the industry is not expected to slow down. India and China are the biggest growth markets, the latter alone is building 200 new commercial airports in the next ten years. Moreover, industry forecasts suggest that emissions will rise by 700% until 2050 which amounts to more than 4% of the world’s remaining carbon budget.
If we want to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, every the average earthling has a quota of two tons of CO2 per annum but just a return trip between New York and Amsterdam generates three tons already.
Compared to other modes of transport planes are the biggest CO2 emitters per travelled kilometre followed by cars, buses and finally trains which are the least polluting. The CO2 emissions, however, are only one half of the medal. The impact of flying on global warming is different than most other transport as it happens in the air high above the ground where the processes that cause or reduce global warming happen. These include CO2 and nitrogen oxide emission but also cloud formation, ozone and soot as well as methane reduction.
The climate impact of the emitted greenhouse gases in the stratosphere are three times higher than on the ground. Flying also causes condensation trails and fog clouds in certain weather conditions. Such clouds can have a warming or a cooling effect on the climate. One way to improve the climate effect of flying would be planning better routes where warming clouds are avoided and the formation of cooling clouds is favoured — our current routes have an overall warming effect.
So, hypothetically, some flights with clever flight-route planning might even reduce global warming. However, as we don't have time to hypothesise, we need to find and urgently implement other ways to bring down the impact of flying, like using better fuels or even better planes.
This article was written by Eric Schuler for Kinder World. Schuler is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam and works on new industrial sustainable chemistries to turn captured CO2 into useful things such as plastics or fuel. He's also a photojournalist with an interest in climate and land-use change.