“I don’t get vegans…why they need to copy the real thing? If they don’t want to eat meat why they need a vegan burger?”
I bet you heard this phrase, or something along these lines, many times by some critical carnivore friend, complaining about the (many) faux-meat veg product ranges that, for some time now, are occupying more and more space in mainstream retailers’ shelves.
The examples are plentiful and they quite convincing in reproducing the appearance, the smell and (to a point) the taste of “real” (real is in intentionally in quotation marks, keep reading to find out why) meat. This particular product category ranges from faux-mincemeat, ready to cook plant based burgers and sausages, up to the newest vegan boiled eggs, just recently developed by an all-female team of researchers at the University of Udine.
When I hear the aforementioned complaint I always find myself thinking “why not?” and became fixated on the notion of “real thing”: what is the real thing? what does it make it more real than the other? Especially in the case of a manufactured, ready to cook, product such as a hamburger or a frankfurter, which doesn’t resemble nothing of the cow(s), the pork(s) or the chicken(s) it’s made from anymore and it is as equally processed as its vegan counterpart.
The short answer? Nothing.
The only difference is that the pork one came first and we (or at least the majority of us) are used to it.
This bias is fundamental to connected to the concept of food familiarity, which pervades and dictate our behaviour toward food consumption. Familiarity in food research is defined, as:
“the number of product-related experiences that have been accumulated by the consumer.”Trying to clarify a bit more, this concept refers to the level of knowledge that a consumer about an envisioned product and its characteristics but also to the degree of confidence such consumer has in his/her ability to evaluate its quality . So, familiarity, as a consumer behaviour concept, is not as simple as it may appear at a first glance.
It is the result of the many inputs that the consumer absorbs while experiencing a product (or a brand). It’s the sum of the multitude of sensory stimuli (taste, smell, texture, etc…), the assorted chunks of knowledge that the food product elicits in the consumer mind (that goes form nutritional values, cooking methods, to happy memory linked to the product), and even just mere exposure to it.
The concept of familiarity is applied to many aspects of the food decision process: its influence starts even before the purchase in the form of the reassuring logo and colour code of a known brand. That is one of the reasons, for example, of why many off-brands resemble closely the most diffuse ones.
It is also the main mitigatory factor of food neophobia, which means the aversion toward trying new food, especially present in kids. That’s why many food products marketed toward children try to embed some familiar element or try to hide some traits diverting the child attention: see dinosaur chicken nuggets or the goldfish crackers.
Also, Familiarity has a moderating role toward trust, which in turn is attenuating factor of perceived risk (it another easy yet complex concept regarding consumer behaviour).
“Familiarity with a product has a critical role in aiding comparisons between products and the consequent choice of purchase”These are the reason why some degree of familiarity in novel products, as in the case of vegan meat substitutes (but also, for example, for edible insects), is fundamental to their success when they hit the market!Which perfectly explains why Beyond Meat and Impossible Food, producers of what is arguably the most successful novel food of the last few years, directed all of their research effort toward re-creating the same sensory experience of real meat burgers, in their plant-based products, to pass the so-called “carnivore test”. Mission accomplished so well that now they are even aiming to conquer the “burger temples” such as McDonald’s or Wendy’s.
If reaching a satisfactory degree of similarity puts an end to the carnivore complaining (around 70% of the beyond burger customers are meat eaters), it means that the arguing about meat alternatives it is purely ideological, between two opposite consumption tribes. Therefore, the argument we started with, can actually be turned upside down:
A hamburger is not a cow anymore, by far. Is much more akin to the dinosaur nugget, which “hides” the chicken from the kids. It helps to conceal its animal origin, it shields us to be exposed to its animal origin, or animal reminder (one of elicitor of disgust), from which the modern consumer is becoming more and more distant. So the strongly flavoured and shaped processed meat and it’s vegan alternative are both equidistant, and quite far, from the “real thing”, their original form.
And that’s’ probably why the faux-meat products are actually not appreciated by more hardcore vegan.
I am just waiting for what my complaining friend will have to say about Lab-grown meator thenew lab grow tuna when they will hit the European market: is that going to be close enough to the real thing?
“Feeding the world”. This has been the main slogan of the Seeds & Chips 2017 and will be also the main challenge of the next few years.
By may account food security is still a major issue in many areas of the world: the latest estimate showed that 795 million people in the world – just over one in nine – were undernourished in 2014–16  and the increasing world population, which is expected to rise to more than 6 billion in urban areas by 2050[2,5] and by the same date the food demand is expected to more than double.
The solution to this issue is an entirely disruptive revolution (after the intensive, chemical-fueled one, which we experienced at the beginning of the last century) of the agricultural system that is sustaining the human race for 10.000 years.
Therefore one of the main focus of the Global Innovation Summit has been the Urban or Vertical Farming. In particular, with a dedicated conference: “Feeding the Cities – Urban and Vertical Farming“, which has been one of the main events of the fair.
Bring Farming to the Next Level…and the Next…and the Next…
Vertical farming is not a completely novel idea (the first mention I could find is a book from 1852, especially compelling is the chapter on the use of explosives in cultivation ), the use of terraces to gain yieldable soil in hill or mountain areas is a traditional practice in agriculture. But as the soil is one of the most precious and delicate systems on the Earth, we are getting rid of it.
New solutions combine the vertical element with the principles of Hydroponics, which is been around since the ’30s thanks to the work Of UC Davis prof. Wiliam Garicke, who published in 1940 the book “The complete guide to soilless gardening”.
Some of the asserted advantages over traditional farming are:
it produces no agricultural runoff;
it allows year round crop production;
it uses far less water (70–80%);
is not affected by most commonly occurring severe weather events (e.g., floods and droughts;)
it can be established anywhere in the world because it does not rely on soil for producing food crops.
So, as said, Vertical Farming was one of the main focus of the Seeds & Chips 2017 summit and a big portion of the floor was dedicated to stands of companies and startup related to this, showcasing all of their different solutions, along with a Vertical Farming Cafe Hub, for talk and presentation on the theme organised and moderated by the Vertical Farm Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes the sustainable growth and development of the vertical farming movement.
Let me describe the most interesting alternatives to traditional farming.
One size Does not fit all.
The Big Players
The first thing that struck me was the diversity of the solutions, in size more than the concept, shown at the summit.
Outstanding was the container in the middle of the Vertical Farming dedicated area. Big players in the production of industrial greenhouse systems, such as the Italian Lucchini Idromeccanica and the Dutch Certhon, are introducing hydroponic options in their portfolio. These are usually large systems that are designed to be implemented inside of big containers, and, usually, need a high supply of water and energy.
other companies that are very interested in vertical farming are the ones that produce LEDs, which are used to give the plants the necessary lights. Philips and Osram, for example, are sponsoring and collaborating with startups to implement hydroponic systems.
In the startup landscape, more manageable solutions have been presented, with a scope that varies from shopping centres and restaurant, which could offer truly fresh veggies, even in urban areas, small systems for private households.
Modularity is the key concept (that and hexagons, which are always cool) for this kind of products:
Robonica, designed an eye-pleasing stackable “Linfa” module, that in their intention could adapt supply anything from a household to a small restaurant, with a broad variety of vegetable, but also rare and delicate flowers.
Hexagro instead went for a more organic looking, that grows almost like a tree, scalable system.
Interesting is the approach of CellGarden. They realised a small (it would easily fit in most kitchen counters) appliance, with drawer compartments where you can insert their smart seed cartridges (20 different varieties are now available).
There are also people that thought of more “across the board” solutions, like Wallfarm, which focused on the control technology behind the needed for every VF solution. they developed a universal monitoring system that could be potentially applied to all the project we talked about, with the potential to provide simple automation and a central control platform to every consumer’s household, no matter the system used.
Their approach seems to be successful and they already have put in motion a pilot project in collaboration with Tower Garden (one of the most important reality in the indoor vertical farming player on the market).
Will Vertical Farming Feed the World? 🤔
Things are looking good! Quite literally…all these systems, as you can see from the photo above, will please the eye!
But also from the point of view of creating a sustainable food system, vertical farming yields great potential to tackle some of biggest issues that are we now facing in terms of food security and sustainability.
There is still some work to do. the main barrier this technology face is the lingering scepticism toward its widespread adoption, in particular from the part of the end consumer (which could perceive a product made with this technique as natural or genuine). Then there is the issue of improving, even more, the resource efficiency of these systems (especially in terms of water and energy consumption), so that they could be set up and implemented in underdeveloped part of the world, where food is scarce, to improve food security and living condition in a sustainable way
…and remember if you want to develop a vertical farming solution…hexagons!!
 FAO, IFAD, WFP (2015). The state of food insecurity in the world 2015.”
 U.N. (2013). World population prospects: The 2012 revision.
 Green, R. E., Cornell, S. J., Scharlemann, J. P., & Balmford, A. (2005). Farming and the fate of wild nature. science, 307(5709), 550-555.
 Despommier, D. (2013). Farming up the city: the rise of urban vertical farms. Trends in biotechnology, 31(7), 388.
 Banerjee, C., & Adenaeuer, L. (2014). Up, up and away! The economics of vertical farming. Journal of Agricultural Studies, 2(1), 40-60.
If you are like me what drives you to get up in the morning is the thought of the cold breakfast pizza, wisely saved from the previous dinner. Only to discover that your sister’s boyfriend finished it when they come home the night before.
Then if you are again like me or like one of the billions of coffee consumer around the world (an estimate of 151.3 million 60 kg bags of coffee was consumed from Oct. 2015 to Sep. 2016, and the figures are increasing ) you turn, disappointed, but not yet defeated, to the espresso machine to get an energizing cup of creamy coffee, with a drop of cold milk (that’s how I like it and I don’t care if it’s not the best way to taste it) to start the day.
Most people would say that they wake up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee (which has apparently some truth to it), but the first smell I personally notice is the earthy smell of exhausted coffee grind of the previous brews from the handle. It is still appealing with its warm smell and appereance.
So every morning it felt a little bit bad throwing it away. therefore I searched for alternative ways of using this that are technically called “Spent Coffee Grounds” or SCG, so I found some useful tips around the web, like, for example, this recipe for a coffee body scrubs.
But even if I want a sexy smooth skin for the summer, with an average of 4 cups of espresso a day (here is my math if you are interested), a reserve of ~1.5kg of scrubs per month seems a little too much. I will arrive at the beach as just a sexy shiny skeleton!
So I turned to the scientific community to discover what are the latest news on the matter.
Coffee production and waste.
I focused this article on product-specific waste, generated in the process of creating this black stuff that allows us to wake in the morning and more specifically on SGC. There are different kinds of waste created in the production of roasted coffee, all of them with some valuable properties for a profitable reuse:
Coffee Pulp & Coffee Husk:
The by-product generated to obtaining the green (unroasted) coffee bean represents around 45-50% of the whole coffee fruit dry matter, most of which is produced during post-harvesting operations. The results of these operations are called Pulp or Husk, depending on the method used to retrieve the green beans, respectively wet(which involve various phase including fermentation. It is used mainly for the arabica cultivar and is deemed a more refined process and influence taste and price) and dry(a simpler and cheaper method).
This Coffee pulp is essentially rich in carbohydrates, proteins and minerals (especially potassium) and it also contains appreciable amounts of tannins, polyphenols and caffeine, which can be extracted and then purified using superficial CO2 fluid extraction or superheated water extraction.
It is the layer that covers the actual coffee bean and it is collected during the roasting process [27,3] and, even if it is a smaller portion of the waste produced (the ratio between the mass of silverskin produced and the mass of the saleable substance goes from 0.02 to 0.04) this could still present a hazard to environment and a missed opportunity if not recovered, because silverskin could find a similar useful industrial application as SGC, which are analysed below.
Spent ground Coffee:
It is quite complex to quantify the actual volume of the SCG actually wasted between homemade coffee, coffee shops and bars daily consumption, thus is difficult collecting and retrieving data about the actual amount that goes wasted every day. It is estimated, however, that around 50% of the entire coffee production is used by the dried coffee industry, which in turn generates 6 million tonnes of SGC annually!, thus making this specific sector the focus of most research. This is relevant also because the SGC made available could remain inside the industrial process without being dispersed
Spent Ground Coffee
The reuse of a such widely accessible resources has sparked an increasing interest in researchers to find viable ways to reinsert the SCG in the production cycle with added value.
Without going into too much detail SCG chemical composition yields great potential for various application. SCG are composed mainly of carbohydrates (mostly sugars)[2, 22,30]. Other significant components present are protein and minerals [2, 22]. SCG are also an important source of insoluble dietary fibre,antioxidants and essential amino acids
In the relevant literature, several applications have been described for SCG, specifically:
1. As Biofuels
This is the main field of research when we talk about SCG reprocess.
The chemical composition of SCG reveals that they are a viable candidate for the production of bioethanol and biodiesel.
Extraction of oil from SCG, used in the production of biodiesel (100% conversion of oil to biodiesel),yields 10-15% oil depending on the coffee species (Arabica or Robusta).[16,8]
The presence of high concentrations ofpalmiticand stearic acids in the lipophilic extracts would justify further investigation on biodiesel production based on coffee wastes.
2. As Composts
The feasibility of using SGC to provide some nutrients to the soil is well documented and also recommended as an effective ingredient in composting. SCG directly composted in the soil, increasing the plant chlorophylls and carotenoids levels, and increasing the presence of nutritional minerals, specifically potassium, phosphorous and sodium. [2,3]
Another agricultural application of SCG is being a prolific cultivation media for various mushrooms species[11, 14,32].
3. As Animal Feed
SGC can be a rich source of nutrient and bioactive compound and can be used to enhance the performance of animal feed. However, the presence of caffeine and tannins (2-4.5%) limits their use to small quantities as larger concentration could affect the health of the livestock and also making it less palatable to the animals. So it should be incorporated in a certain proportion (different from animal to animal) or otherwise through some process (chemical extraction, microbial treatment, or fermentation) apt to decrease the amount of these compounds, but thus increasing the cost of such resource.[3,20,32,16]
4. As Biosorbents
this is where things get more interesting. SCG have a good absorption potential. experiments have been carried out revealing that spent coffee grounds are suitable candidates for use as adsorbents in the removal of dyes from water, such as Methylene Blue, and others xenobiotics, when magnetically charged by magnetic fluid treatment
Other researchers have highlighted the suitability of SGC of removing potentially harmful metal, such as lead and mercury ions, especially when combined with silicon and sugars to create an absorbent foam.
5. As Food Ingredient
Using the SCG in the formulation of innovative food product, focusing on healthy products formulation, is personally the most interesting development.
Aromatic compounds and flavours extracted from SCG can be reused as natural ingredientsin the formulation of health and functional products. An attempt to evaluate the possibility of directly reuse this by-products as food ingredient in innovative bakery products, showed the potential added functional value, for a low cost, of incorporating SCG, in small quantity, as natural source of antioxidant insoluble dietary fibre, proteins, essential amino acids, carotenoids, and low glycaemic sugars, satisfying the consumers’ wish for low-cal snacks. [19,6]
A Spent Coffee Ground, to go, please!
The feeling of guilt that I have been experiencing in the morning for a while now, deciding between throwing away the SCG or keeping it to make a bucketload of skin scrubs, it is, in fact, well-grounded. Some plans are already been devised to reduce and reuse the dried coffee industry waste, which is collected by specialised agencies. For example, Nestlè has launched an internal program to significantly reduce and reuse coffee waste in its factory in Europe by 2020.
What is still unclear is the economic fitness of some of these solutions and which actions can be put in motion to intercept all the waste that is produced in household and venues (cafes and bars) that still are not organised in this field.
Think about it nex time you are enjoying your Barista Coffee!
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