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The first time I realised sustainable food had made it to the mainstream, it absolutely blew my mind. I remember walking through the supermarket and seeing shelves stocked from top to bottom with an endless selection of plant-based milks. The days when you could choose between cow’s and — if you were lucky — goat’s milk are long gone. In their place now is milk made from oats, almonds, peas, soy, and just about anything else you can dream of.

Combining the sheer variety with the appeal of environmentally and ethically friendly options, they promised so much excitement. As lab-grown nuggets and burgers become more mainstream, it seemed only a matter of time before these sustainable alternatives would displace the status quo and change the way we eat forever.

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Issues with sustainable food

Despite this, the revolution has yet to arrive, and — for all its incredible potential — sustainable food has not yet made that leap from a culinary niche to an everyday staple. Prices aside, consumers are pointing to issues with taste, form, and sentiment for the lack of adoption. Plant-based substitutes don’t taste or look like the real thing, while cell-based alternatives are still being developed. In the pursuit of sustainability, sustainable food has ironically neglected everything that makes eating a universal delight.

To pave the way to a new landscape of food, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the world’s sustainable food producers will have to go back to the heart of what makes food great. While it is important to tackle the cruelty and waste associated with modern factory farming, conscience alone cannot secure lasting change. And although an environmental call-to-arms might convert the most fervent of eco-advocates, guilt trips and reminders of what needs to be done usually leave a bad taste in the mouths of the majority.

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Shifting to a more holistic view of sustainability

Co-founder of TurtleTree, Fengru Lin.
Co-founder of TurtleTree, Fengru Lin.

A better solution might be to find a carrot to match the stick. By all means, let’s keep having conversations about how 99 per cent of animals in the US are raised on cramped factory farms rife with antibiotic abuse, and how animal agriculture accounts for up to 33 per cent of all fresh water consumption worldwide.

At the same time, let’s also indulge in sight and smell, passion and colour, savour the sizzle of a juicy steak on the grill, and enjoy the myriad delicacies that bring joy to people everywhere every single day. By shifting the focus from sustainability to a more holistic point of view, the champions of sustainable food can bring their message to a wider audience and finally sell a food future everyone can buy into.

An all-encompassing take on sustainable food

The broad strokes of this strategy seem clear, but there is little doubt that the finer details will vary. An example is the work we’ve been doing at TurtleTree, where we have developed a unique concept called Food Intelligence. Designed to deliver a more all-encompassing take on sustainable food, Food Intelligence is a blueprint that re-envisions food across five key attributes: delicious, ethical, culturally conscious, functionally nutritious, and transparently sourced.

As we expand what sustainable food should and can be, we are creating a new generation of nutrition that’s kinder to the animals and the environment, while maintaining the excitement that should always accompany a good meal.

In time, I have no doubt that the rest of the industry will find its own path forward, and we will discover a better, healthier, kinder way to eat.

About the writer: Fengru Lin is the co-founder of TurtleTree, a biotech company dedicated to producing a new generation of nutrition. She envisions a new generation of sustainable, healthier, kinder, and tastier food that uses modern cellular technology. It is the first company in the world to produce raw milk from cells.

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