Crunchfuls at the Sustainable Food Summit 2012 in San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, CA – January 18, 2012

Dr. Deepa Shenoy, Founder and CEO of Crunchfuls, Inc. was invited as a speaker at the Sustainable Foods Summit in San Francisco, CA. Dr. Shenoy presented a comparison of animal proteins and plant proteins, highlighting the historic and current importance of legumes as a sustainable and efficient source of proteins.

The fifth edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit drew to a successful close on 18th January, with about 180 executives convening in San Francisco to discuss key sustainability issues. The Sustainable Foods Summit (http://www.sustainablefoodssummit.com) is a series of international summits that focuses on the leading issues the food industry faces concerning sustainability and eco-labels, such as Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified, etc.

Summary of Dr. Shenoy’s presentation:

Food security is a challenge: We live in a world that is rapidly changing. For the food sector particularly, the challenges are immense. As the world population grows and globalization brings more prosperity to developing economies in Asia and Africa, the demand for food and better nutrition is rising.  Globally, food producers and consumers are now competing for precious natural resources such as arable land, energy and water. These competing demands and the immediate effects on our ecosystem are now threatening our food security.

The cost of animal proteins: Livestock consumption is growing. The increasing per capita demand for meat in the world is expected to double to approx 45 kgs or 100lbs per year by 2030. Cost of meat from cradle to gate is expensive for the producer and the environment- consider production and transportation of  feed,  transport and refrigeration of perishables like meat, dairy and eggs , waste management, contamination of potable water with animal pollutants and animal-borne diseases, loss of arable land due to overgrazing. Livestock contributes 18% of green house gas emissions, 70% of all land used for agriculture and 8% of water usage. The FAO calls this phenomenon the long shadow impact on the environment. The US leads the world in meat production and consumption and averages 30 livestock to every human being. Moreover, livestock consumes 7 times as much grain as humans do. Daily per capita consumption of meat is 77 grams which exceeds the daily recommended allowance of 56 grams of total protein. 

Demand for protein is increasing: Protein is accepted as a functional dietary requirement for every age category and for multiple benefits such as weight-loss, low glycemic and high-performance food segments. Protein is considered the lesser evil and also in many cases the Fountain of Youth. It is critical to find alternative good resources of protein that are also sustainable. Without sound food policy and adaptation, protein availability will be difficult. Data suggests animal proteins are far less efficient in feeding the planet compared to plant protein e.g. an animal eats about 10x more protein than it can provide as meat. And meat requires about 100 times more water over its lifecycle from cradle to gate.

Legumes are an important protein source: A great alternative in the quest for sustainable proteins are legumes.  Legumes are grown across the world from cold climate countries like Canada to the hot tropics of India and form the basis of ancient food traditions.  Because of their soil-building capabilities, farmers have used crop rotation with legumes to maintain the quality of soil and their yield.  Densely populated India which forms 1/6th of the world population is the largest producer and consumer of legumes as a major protein source. Legumes unlike grains such as wheat grow in very large varieties that are used in multiple ways from direct consumption as forage crops and grain to use in industrial applications. Value addition and demand for derived products encourage farmers to grow more legumes.

Legumes can reduce our dependence on fossil fuel based fertilizers: Field peas for instance can absorb 80% of nitrogen from the atmosphere and require 20% nitrogen from the soil during the initial growth phase. The nitrogen fixed by field peas is measured at 178lbs per acre during a study. The nitrogen derived from the atmosphere and fixed by the legume crop is then available to subsequent crops, typically wheat, increasing yield and protein content by 30%.

Plant proteins lead animal proteins in efficiency metrics: A study published in Food Policy in 2011 was conducted in Sweden to analyze the efficiency metrics for various types of foods by analyzing the energy use and green house emissions associated with the production and transportation of 84 common food items of animal and vegetable origin. The study confirmed the higher energy and GHG emission cost of animal proteins.  The contrast between the lead meat and vegetable protein sources – beef and beans offers the following sharp contrast: While the protein content is comparable at 206 and 210 grams, the energy use in meat is about 10 times and GHG emissions 29 times when compared to beans. The energy use efficiency to deliver protein from plant sources is much larger than for animal-based foods. The energy use for animal products range from 4 to 11 g protein per MJ of energy invested, for cereals ranged from 8 to 57g protein/MJ and for legumes from 41 to 77g protein/MJ. Legumes have the highest efficiency, and livestock products have lowest – almost 4-8 fold lower efficiency than legumes and cereals. The larger the animal protein content the less efficient it is in  using natural resources, fossil  fuels,  water, soil, etc in production . Similarly, plant proteins have a positive efficiency of protein delivery per kg of Green House Gasses (GHG) emitted, while animal based proteins shows a negative correlation. When energy efficiency vs. GHG efficiency for protein delivery is compared, plant proteins particularly legumes such as soybean and peas score very high compared to animal proteins. In terms of water use, animal proteins are much more water intensive. 

Current challenges to increasing legume consumption: While policies can help educate the public on the benefits of consuming more legumes, there are several factors that prevent their greater adoption. In the US particularly, lack of familiarity and lack of knowledge to integrate legumes in the diet, taste and sensorial preferences and  lifestyles that require minimal cooking and more on-the-go alternatives.  To succeed, any product must meet the expectations in terms of affordability, convenience and enjoyment. An example is the soybean industry. While soy, also a legume, ranks very high on the efficiency index as we saw earlier, soy has achieved immense success as a protein source in the forms of concentrates and isolates.

Crunchfuls is a pulse-legume platform of ready-to-eat foods: Crunchfuls is a snack product made from steam puffing beans and lentils with the goal to bring the benefits of these wonderful ingredients into daily diets. In Crunchfuls, we have created a balance of function, ingredient choice and consumer preferences to achieve a shelf-stable ready to eat product that is mainstream in taste, form and texture while also being highly scalable. For more information, please visit: http://www.crunchfuls.com

References:

Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, FAO

Sustainability of meat-based diets and the environment: David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78(suppl):660s-3s

Reijnders, L. & Soret, S. 2003. Quantification of the environment impact of different dietary protein choices

FAO. 2006. Livestock’s long shadow

A.D. Gonzalez et Al, Food Policy, 36(2011) p562-570

Protein Quality of Cooked Pulses, Pulse Canada

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