Vegans and vegetarians are likely very familiar with alternative proteins like tofu, mushrooms, or beans, but alternative proteins could play a big role in the near future for everyone, no matter their diet. Global food security experts say plant-based proteins are a part of the solution to help feed a growing population.
High Time Foods is the creator of a plant-based protein made of wheat, pea and mung bean. It's not chicken, but it's intended to look and taste like it. It also has similar levels of protein to chicken.
“We're hoping that this can actually solve bigger problems like hunger and malnutrition,” said Aakash Shah, the founder and CEO of the product.
Shah says he was inspired to make it because of what he witnessed growing up in India.
“When I would see the contrasting image of one side of society splurging on food and meat and spending the amount of water and energy that they would," Shah said. "And then on the other side, there's just people struggling for basic drinking water. That is when something shifted in me.”
To make it accessible to everyone, Shah says he wanted his product to be shelf stable. Right now, he’s taking it to local restaurants in the Boston area like Boloco.
“It doesn't have that expiration date the Impossible needed that it has to be refrigerated always," said Paulina Gonzalez, the director of operations for Boloco. "This is a dry product that we just add the amount of water that we need to get the consistency that that we want.”
Shah says it's not to be confused with freeze-dried foods.
"When you look at freeze-dried products, the amount of energy it requires to freeze dry foods, to store them or transport them, and then again, be able to store it at the restaurant or at your home, all of that energy is not required for a product like ours, which can just be kept outside at room temperature," Shah said.
By the end of this year, Shah says his goal is to ramp up production to help people in need.
“We've been speaking with food banks and with disaster relief organizations," Shah said. "For them, this is of extreme interest because this product doesn't require any amount of refrigeration.”
Battling global food insecurity is what Shah says drives him. He's not alone in his work. The Global Food Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington is currently researching the role alternative proteins can play down the road.
“Global demand for meat is projected to rise by 50% between 2013 and 2050," said program director Caitlin Welsh. "The way that we produce protein right now is simply not sustainable, and that's where alternative sources of proteins come into play.”
Welsh says CSIS is launching a policy brief on the topic this spring.
“One quarter of all land area in the world is dedicated to animal protein production, which has enormous implications for carbon sequestration, for biodiversity," Welsh said. "And also, one-third of all water used for global agriculture is used for animal protein production. So, I think it's important as we look to a future with a greater population to find other ways to meet their needs for proteins.”
According to Welsh, climate change is worsening food insecurity all over the world and it will take creative solutions like alternative plant-based protein to get more people the nutrition that they need.