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March 2018 Issue

The Future of Protein

Protein in our food supply was the hot topic at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit in Kansas City in November 2017. In our ancient past, animal protein sources came from wild roaming animals, game, and seafood. With the dawn of agriculture, domesticated farm animals, such as cows, goats, pigs, and chickens, started forming our primary source of animal protein. The mixed family farm arose, with animals feeding on pasture, wild forage, and unusable foods from the farm, and in return providing manure to increase soil fertility for crops. But the 1850s brought the age of industrialization to our animal protein sources. Today our model is to concentrate animals in larger farms, feed them cultivated grains, and allow manures to accumulate on the land. This poses sustainability concerns related to increased carbon footprint for growing grains to feed animals, as well as pollution related to manure runoff.

So, what do today’s sustainable protein sources look like? The plate has been switched from an animal-centric menu to one that is more plant-focused. A sustainable plate might have very small amounts (1 ounce) of animal protein (in particular red meat) with more plant proteins, such as pulses, grains, and vegetables. New, more sustainable protein sources are coming too, such as insects and sea plants. Be prepared to think differently about the protein on your plate.