Chew this: there’s probably something in your cupboard or fridge that’s not 100% good for planet earth.
Your red meat comes from cows, which produce methane emissions, and your vegan version of red meat may be wrapped in plastic. I’m willing to bet some of the produce in your fruit basket didn’t grow in this valley, this state, or any of the states right next to it; given our distance from the sea, I don’t think any seafood has made it into your fridge.
Is it possible to source your dinner in the Roaring Fork Valley and collect all those ingredients by bike? Sure. Are you going to do this every week? Maybe. If so, you’re probably more engaged than me.
I am not writing this with accusing fingers to point fingers. Wasn’t it two weeks ago that I was singing the praises of wagyu and lobster? As I write this from bed, I can look to my right and see the popsicle wrappers piling up. I sip a 10-hour-old coffee languishing on the table.
I also recognize that climate change is not something that I can personally solve by not eating popsicles or refusing to taste some amazing dish that we once learned about winning the ‘Games Beef Olympics” of Japan. My choice to order a salad instead probably won’t put a damper on oil drilling; if i get the chance i will try the lobster stuffed peppers.
We all have a stab at every living being here on Earth. Even then, and especially if, our environment is changing rapidly, there are some experiences (like a Spanish ham tasting or a sushi extravaganza) that we should indulge in.
But all this talk of global warming with more extreme weather has sparked an appetite (mine and many others) to think about how changing food systems and cultural forces might help us eat a little greener.
That’s why I sat in a tent at Aspen Ideas Fest last week, hungry for big ideas during an in-depth seminar called “What to Eat in a Warming World.”
This isn’t the first time food and climate have been on the table at Ideas Fest: panels on failing food systems have appeared in 2016, as well as 2022, and “The Fate of Food: what we will eat in a bigger, warmer world”. appeared in 2019. In a search of past ideas sessions, the local food movement keeps coming up as a theme, as does reducing food waste. Heck, the Aspen Institute even has a “Food and Society” program.
These discussions grapple with big existential questions about what we eat and how it shapes the world around us. Heady stuff.
It’s also really cool stuff, especially when solutions are at the forefront of the conversation – solutions like making food out of nothing. There are at least two different companies doing this, and their CEOs were on stage at the What to Eat in a Warming World seminar at Ideas Fest.
Lisa Dyson runs Air Protein, which takes elements from the air and turns them into long-lasting protein. “Meat made from air” can be found on the homepage of the website. The way Dyson described the science, the process is much like making yogurt: the cultures chew elements from the air and produce proteins as a result of what the company’s website calls “fermentation air”.
Gregory Constantine runs Air Company – not affiliated with Dyson’s Air Protein at all – which uses carbon conversion technology to turn carbon dioxide into products like vodka, hand sanitizer and perfume.
There is a lot of novelty in the concepts. But there’s also a message and a mission behind them, according to Constantine and Dyson, who spoke with The Ringer’s Juliet Litman during the first half of the “Warming World” seminar.
“If you walk into a restaurant and you can buy a product made from carbon dioxide, it allows ordinary people to kind of have a point of contact about what the technology has the ability to do and how we we can use technology to help improve the planet and somehow continually move humanity forward,” Constantine said.
These concepts are also gaining momentum.
“The good thing that’s happening is a shift in interest – consumer interest, which leads to interest from brands and other businesses, and so that’s what’s going to make these kinds of technologies, these types of businesses, these innovations are becoming more popular,” said Dyson.
Going back to the roots of food is also an option, literally speaking. Chef Daniel Humm, famous for Eleven Madison Park, said in the second half of the seminar that his decision to switch to a plant-based menu at the famed New York fine-dining restaurant was “the opposite of being restrictive”, and that “Working with vegetables has been so beautiful.”
Much of Humm’s conversation with MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff focused on Humm’s evolution as a chef and his relationship with the kitchen, with some occasionally sticky points about restaurant operations. (The pandemic has been a challenge; low staff pay has been the subject of recent criticism; and the new plant-based menu hasn’t been a hit with a New York Times restaurant reviewer.)
I was curious about Humm’s own relationship with meat and how he assessed it as he turned to plants in his restaurant. So, during a question-and-answer session with the audience, I asked. He’s not vegan by any means, but he’s getting much closer to an all-plant-based diet these days, he said.
Humm had said earlier in the conversation that her choice to turn to plants was partly down to a matter of inspiration. In the midst of skyrocketing success, “I had really lost the connection to (a) love of food,” he told Soboroff; turning to vegetables helped him reestablish that connection, he said.
“It came from a really — creative place,” he later added, in the A of my Q. “(It) got very political. It got a lot more about climate change. ‘ve seen ingredients disappear in the 30 years since I’ve been cooking, so I wanted to respond to that.
For Humm — and “everyone who pays attention to what’s going on in our food systems” — sticking to the old ways was no longer an option, he said.
“You don’t have to be an expert: you learn pretty quickly that things have to change, and we have to change with it,” Humm said. “And for me, I felt like I had this creative platform — if that’s where we’re going, might as well make it as delicious and magical as possible.”
Kaya Williams is a reporter for The Aspen Times and The Snowmass Sun who sometimes eats things that aren’t good for her or the planet, but also eats a lot of things that are. She hopes this column helps even the karmic scales. Email him at [email protected].