Attendees at the first Summit on Sustainable Food on March 31.
What’s for dinner in 2040? That was the question that dozens of Columbia Business School students and other interested locals piled into Uris 301 to hear answers to on the evening of March 31, marking the first Summit on Sustainable Food, jointly organized by the Green Business Club and Gourmet Club.
The summit drew roughly 75 attendees and featured keynoter Ethan Brown ’08, co-founder and CEO of Beyond Meat, and four panelists — representatives from Whole Foods Market, Chipotle, Six Foods (which makes sustainable products from insects), and Life Farms (which promotes sustainable farming). Krysia Zajonc ’12, co-founder and CEO of Local Foods Lab, an incubator for food startups, moderated the discussion. The event shone light on current problems brewing in the food industry and debated future outcomes.
“In the next 100 years we’re going to have some challenges as a population. Feeding ourselves is going to be difficult,” says Zajonc. “We’re depleting our resources at much too quickly a rate if we plan to keep feeding as many people as we are producing. There are going to have to be shifts in what we eat.”
The panel was moderated by Krysia Zajonc '12 (far right)
Humans are expected to put an additional 2 billion people on Earth by about 2050 — bringing the global population to more than 9 billion, which is up from 7 billion today and just 1 billion in 1800. There would be enough arable land in which to grow crops to feed this ever-expanding population, but the world’s escalating demand for red meat is preventing that, experts say. That’s because raising livestock monopolizes the Earth’s agricultural land, currently taking up 30 percent of available fields worldwide (according to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) and a whopping 80 percent of land in the United States alone. Further, a 2009 study by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang found that raising livestock already accounts for 51 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Trying to add even more animals to that equation could spell disaster for our planet and our other natural resources.
“The incredible pressures we’re exerting on our natural systems are giving rise to huge challenges for business, which also means huge opportunities,” says Lindsay Delevingne ’16, assistant vice president of the Green Business Club. “The Summit aimed to make sense of these opportunities and challenges. Companies that are figuring out how to meet rising consumer demand while using less water, land, carbon, and energy will be at a distinct advantage in the coming decades.”
The four panelists “each take a different approach to solving the same problem,” Delevingne says. Some recommended finding more sustainable sources of protein, such as insects. Others suggested finding ways to maximize space by growing crops vertically in specially designed environments.
Ethan Brown '08
Ultimately, “we have to reinvent agriculture to feed this population,” says Ethan Brown, whose startup, Beyond Meat, manufactures vegan chicken and beef alternatives designed to be nearly chemically identical to actual meat.
Echoing the enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit of the speakers and audience, Brown added: “The opportunity to make a significant difference in the world is so apparent to me within the food industry. I want to encourage people who are performing at the caliber that a Columbia Business School student would perform to come into this field. Because the table needs to be set, and we need very bright people to do that.”