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  • Transcriber: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Joanna Pietrulewicz

  • In the early months of the pandemic,

  • chef José Andrés circulated two photos

  • that have come to symbolize a modern American food crisis.

  • The first shows mountains of potatoes

  • that have been left to rot in a field in Idaho.

  • The restaurants and cafeterias and stadiums that had consumed them

  • were shuttered during the pandemic.

  • The second shows a devastating scene outside of the San Antonio food bank.

  • Thousands of carloads of people lined up,

  • waiting for food with not enough supply to go around.

  • "How is it possible these two photos exist at the same time,

  • in the most prosperous

  • and technologically advanced moment in our history," tweeted Andrés.

  • In the months after the photos were published,

  • the crisis got worse.

  • Billions of pounds of potatoes and other fresh produce

  • were chucked by American farmers.

  • At the same time,

  • food banks all over the country were reporting demand increases

  • and 40 percent were facing critical shortfalls.

  • Outside the US,

  • especially in the Middle East and throughout Southeastern Africa,

  • COVID-19 was paralyzing food systems that were already vulnerable.

  • Oxfam has predicted that by the end of 2020

  • 12,000 people per day could die of hunger related to COVID.

  • That's more than the highest daily mortality rate

  • recorded so far.

  • But what's worse

  • and what's much more concerning to all of us

  • is that COVID is just one of many major disruptions

  • that have been predicted

  • in the years and decades ahead.

  • More chronic and complex than the pressures of COVID

  • are the pressures of climate change.

  • And those of you who live in California have seen this on your farms.

  • You've seen withering heat and drought and fires

  • disrupt avocado and almond and citrus and strawberry farms.

  • This summer, we saw the devastating impacts of storms

  • on corn and soy farms.

  • I've seen the various pressures of drought,

  • heat, flooding, superstorms,

  • invasive insects, bacterial blight,

  • shifting seasons and weather volatility

  • from Washington to Florida,

  • and from Guatemala to Australia.

  • The upshot is this.

  • Climate change is becoming something we can taste.

  • This is a kitchen-table issue in the literal sense.

  • The International Panel on Climate Change

  • has predicted that by mid-century

  • the world may reach a threshold of global warming

  • beyond which current agricultural practices

  • can no longer support large human civilizations.

  • The USDA scientist Jerry Hatfield put it to me this way:

  • the single biggest threat of climate change

  • is the collapse of food systems.

  • The reality we face,

  • one that was exposed by those mountains of potatoes

  • and the cars lined up during the pandemic,

  • is that our supply chains are antiquated.

  • Our food systems have not been designed

  • to adapt to major disruptions or preempt them.

  • Addressing this challenge as much as any other

  • is going to define our progress in the coming century.

  • But there's good news.

  • And the good news is that farmers and entrepreneurs and academics

  • are radically rethinking national and global food systems.

  • They are marrying principles of old-world agroecology

  • and state-of-the-art technologies

  • to create what I call a third way to our food future.

  • We're going to see radical changes

  • in what we grow and how we eat in the coming decades,

  • as these environmental and population

  • and public health pressures intensify.

  • I studied these changes for my book "The Fate of Food:

  • What We'll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World."

  • I traveled for five years into the lands and the minds

  • and the machines that are shaping the future of food.

  • My travels took me through 15 countries and 18 states,

  • from apple orchards in Wisconsin to tiny cornfields in Kenya,

  • to massive Norwegian fish farms

  • and computerized foodscapes in Shanghai.

  • I investigated new ideas,

  • like robotics and CRISPR and vertical farms.

  • And old ideas, like edible insects and permaculture and ancient plants.

  • I began to see the emergence of this third way to food production.

  • A synthesis of the traditional and the radically new.

  • There's a growing controversy

  • about the best path to future food security in the US.

  • Food is ripe for reinvention, Bill Gates has proclaimed.

  • Huge flows of investment

  • are funding new methods of climate-smart and high-tech agriculture.

  • But many sustainable food advocates bristle at this idea of reinvention.

  • They want food deinvented.

  • They argue for a return to preindustrial

  • and pre-green revolution,

  • biodynamic and organic farming.

  • To which skeptics inevitably respond,

  • "Nice, but does it scale?

  • Sure, a return to traditional farming methods

  • could produce better food,

  • but can it produce enough food that's affordable?"

  • The rift between the reinvention camp and the deinvention camp

  • has existed for decades.

  • But now it's a raging battle.

  • One side covets the past,

  • the other side covets the future

  • and as someone observing this from the outside,

  • I began to wonder, why must it be so binary?

  • Can't there be a synthesis of the two approaches?

  • Our challenge is to borrow from the wisdom of the ages,

  • and from our most advanced science,

  • to forge this third way.

  • One that allows us to improve and scale our harvests,

  • while restoring rather than degrading

  • the underlying web of life.

  • I belong to neither camp.

  • I'm a failed vegan and a lapsed vegetarian,

  • and a terrible backyard farmer.

  • If I'm honest,

  • I will keep trying at this, but I may fail.

  • But I'm hell-bent on hope,

  • and if my travels have taught me anything,

  • it's that there's good reason for hope.

  • Plenty of solutions are merging

  • that can help build sustainable, resilient food systems.

  • Even if we can't rely on a critical mass

  • of backyard-farming vegetarians to do this on their own,

  • from the ground up.

  • Let's start with artificial intelligence and robotics.

  • Jorge Heraud is a Peruvian-born engineer

  • who now lives in Silicon Valley,

  • and his company developed a robotic weeder named See and Spray,

  • and I went to Arkansas to see the maiden voyage of See and Spray.

  • And I was half expecting a battalion of C3PO-style robots

  • to march into the fields with pincer hands to pluck the weeds.

  • And instead, I found this.

  • A tractor with a big, white hoop skirt off the back of it.

  • And inside that hoop skirt are 24 cameras

  • that use computer vision to see the ground beneath

  • and to distinguish between the plants and the weeds.

  • And to deploy with sniper-like precision

  • these tiny jets of concentrated fertilizer,

  • or herbicide,

  • that incinerate the baby weeds.

  • I learned how robotics can end the practice

  • of broadcast spraying chemicals across millions of acres of land

  • and how we can reduce the use of herbicides

  • by up to 90 percent.

  • But the bigger picture is even more exciting.

  • Intelligent machines can treat plants individually,

  • applying not just herbicides

  • but fungicides and insecticides

  • and fertilizers on a plant-by-plant, rather than field-by-field basis.

  • So that eventually,

  • this kind of hyperspecific farming

  • can allow for more diversity and intercropping on fields.

  • And big farms can begin to mimic natural systems

  • and improve soil health.

  • Heraud is the embodiment of third-way thinking, right?

  • Robots, he told me,

  • don't have to remove us from nature,

  • they can bring us closer to it, they can restore it.

  • Increasing crop diversity will be crucial

  • to building resilient food systems.

  • And so will decentralizing agriculture

  • so that when farmers in one region are disrupted,

  • the others around, they can keep growing.

  • The rise of vertical farms,

  • like this farm, built inside a former steel mill in Newark, New Jersey,

  • can play a key role in decentralizing agriculture.

  • Aeroponic farms use a tiny fraction

  • of the water that is used in in-ground farms.

  • And they can grow food much faster, about 40 percent faster.

  • And when located in and near cities,

  • where the food is consumed,

  • they eliminate a huge amount of trucking and food waste.

  • It struck me at first as creepy

  • in kind of a "Silent Running" way

  • that we'd be growing our future fruits and vegetables

  • inside, without soil or sun.

  • And after weeks of spending time in these plant factories,

  • I began to see it as oddly, almost perfectly natural

  • to deliver the plants only and exactly what they need,

  • with zero herbicides and radical efficiency.

  • Here again, we see innovators borrowing from,

  • and perhaps even elevating the wisdom of natural ecosystems.

  • Developments in plant-based and alternative meats

  • are also profoundly hopeful.

  • And they follow a similar trend

  • toward local, resilient, low-carbon protein production.

  • Consumers are excited about this,

  • and during the pandemic,

  • we've seen a 250 percent increase

  • in demand for alternative meats.

  • A study by the Journal of Clinical Nutrition

  • found that the participants who were eating the plant-based proteins

  • saw a drop in their cholesterol levels,

  • in their weight

  • and eventually, a drop in their risk of heart disease.

  • The potential environmental benefits of plant-based meats are astounding.

  • And there's even potential in lab-grown or cell-based meats.

  • Uma Valeti fed me my first plate of lab-grown duck breast,

  • harvested fresh from a bioreactor.

  • It had been grown from a small sampling of cells

  • taken from muscle tissue and fat and connective tissues,

  • which is exactly what we eat when we eat meat.

  • This lab-grown or cell-based duck meat

  • has very little threat of bacterial contamination,

  • it's about 85 percent lower CO2 emissions associated with it.

  • Eventually it can be grown

  • like those crops inside vertical farms in decentralized facilities

  • that aren't vulnerable to supply-chain disruptions.

  • Valeti started out as a cardiologist,

  • who understood that doctors have been developing

  • human and animal tissues in laboratories for decades.

  • He was inspired as much by that

  • as he was by a 1931 quote from Winston Churchill that says,

  • "We shall escape the absurdity of growing the whole chicken

  • in order to eat the breast or the wing,

  • by growing them separately in suitable mediums."

  • Like Heraud, Valeti is a quintessential third-way thinker.

  • He's reimagined an old idea using new technology,

  • to usher in a solution whose time has come.

  • I've met with dozens of farmers and entrepreneurs and engineers

  • who emulate third-way thinking, all over the world.

  • They're using modern breeding tools like CRISPR

  • to develop nutritious heirloom crops that can withstand drought and heat.

  • They're using AI to make aquaculture sustainable.

  • They're finding ways to eliminate food waste.

  • They are scaling up

  • conservation agriculture and managed grazing.

  • And they're reviving ancient plants,

  • and they're recycling sewage and gray water

  • to develop a drought-proof water supply.

  • The upshot is this:

  • Human innovation that marries old and new approaches to food production

  • can, and I believe, will usher in this third way

  • and redefine sustainable food on a grand scale.

Transcriber: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Joanna Pietrulewicz

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/11/17
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