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By Jeannette Cwienk
After the coronavirus spread through a number of slaughterhouses in Germany and the United States, some people might be asking themselves how they can replace meat in their diets.
Perhaps they're worried that meat production could collapse if facilities are in lockdown. Or maybe ethical reasons are their main concern.
The recent revelation that more than 200 workers at a slaughterhouse in western Germany were infected with COVID-19 has shed light on the catastrophic working conditions in industrial meat production. But it's no secret that the sector harms people, the environment and the climate, not to mention the suffering of animals.
Some 14.5% of human-produced global greenhouse gases come from the meat production industry. Farm animals and their waste also cause significant environmental damage: cattle produce methane gas that negatively impacts the climate, while enormous quantities of liquid manure put groundwater at risk.
But meat consumption is increasing worldwide — even in developing countries. And the losses in nutrients are alarming. For example, 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of plant protein are required to feed an animal to get 1 kilogram of protein in the form of meat.
There are many alternatives to steak and sausages from animals — and most of them are lower in calories, contain no cholesterol, and keep you full for longer.
1. Soy Products: Schnitzel, Tofu, Tempeh
The typical meat substitute in supermarkets in Europe, North America and Australia comes from soy. From burgers and goulash to sliced meat, sausages and cold cuts — a variety of products are seasoned and shaped to resemble animal products. In its native Asia, soy is mostly consumed as the fresh bean, edamame, or as tofu and tempeh.
The protein content of dried soybeans is significant — about 35-40%. On top of that, the bean contains several essential amino acids that the body needs to absorb protein. But it's also important to point out that the beans' protein content drops to about 12% after cooking. Tofu contains 7-15 grams, while tempeh and soy strips contain 18-20%.
Besides protein, soybeans also contain many unsaturated fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. By comparison, 100 grams of raw pork has about 18% protein, according to the GU nutrition table.
Given that 80% of the world's soybean cultivation comes from the United States, Argentina and Brazil, the bean usually travels some distance before it's consumed. But the argument that the rainforest is being cut down for tofu makes little sense, because 80% of the world's soy production is actually used as animal feed.
Farmers in Europe are now also growing soy, although the conditions aren't ideal — the beans come from the subtropics, and so need a warm, humid environment to thrive. Soybeans require less water than meat production, but don't score as well on that front compared to some other legumes.
Meat alternatives made from sweet lupins are becoming more popular in Germany, with shredded lupin or lupin steak no longer a rarity on supermarket shelves. Lupins are most commonly used, however, as a substitute for milk, yogurt or eggs. They're also used in gluten-free baking products because they contain no gluten.
Lupins have an impressively high amount of protein: the plant's dried beans contain at least 40%, as well as various vitamins and minerals. Unlike soybeans, lupins can cope with a dry climate and grow well in lime and sandy soils. That means conditions in Europe are better suited to lupins than soybeans.
3. Beans and Beyond
Beans, lentils and peas also have protein in spades. In their dry form, green peas contain around 23%, but that amount shrinks to 8% during cooking. Most types of beans contain 8-10% protein after cooking — more than half that of pork. These legumes aren't available as sausages or cutlets — at least not yet anyway. Still, a bean-based chili sin carne promises a decent amount of protein, as does a spread made from brown lentils instead of Leberwurst, or liver pate. Add green spelt grain, spelt or oat-flakes (17% protein) to this spread, and it becomes even healthier, as well as tasty. That's because these cereals, nuts and seeds are ideal for the absorption of protein.
All legumes, including soybeans and lupins, have a positive effect on the soil they grow in. They hardly need any fertilizer, since they draw nitrogen from the air with the help of nodule bacteria. They also enrich the earth with humus.
4. Seitan – Wheat Protein
This meat substitute consists of wheat gluten. Its slightly fibrous texture means it is mainly used for ready-made meat alternatives. It's produced by mixing flour and water into a dough, followed by repeated rinsing to remove starch until only the protein mass remains.
As with tofu, a large amount of the vitamins and minerals are lost during this process. And then there are the many flavorings and thickeners that often get added. One advantage Seitan has over soy, though, is that the wheat or spelt it comes from can be grown in many parts of the world.
5. Sunflower Seeds
This type of "ground meat" comes from the remnants of sunflower seeds after they've been pressed to extract oil. It contains large amounts of protein, all the essential amino acids and many B vitamins.
All nuts and seeds generally have a very high protein content. Hemp seeds top the list with more than 31%, closely followed by pumpkin seeds, peanuts (26%), almonds (21%) and sunflower seeds (19%). Nuts and seeds also contain valuable unsaturated fatty acids. This also makes them a good source of energy, in their unpressed form.
This meat substitute, known as Quorn, is made from fermented mold fungus, with added vitamins and egg protein.
Vegetarians can enjoy it fried, for example, but for vegans this highly processed product isn't an option. Still, its climate footprint is likely smaller than that of a steak, if only because the production of eggs doesn't consume as many resources as that of meat.
The B12 Problem
Despite all the advantages that come with plant-based meat substitutes, one essential nutrient is missing: vitamin B12. Only animal products can provide sufficient bioavailable levels of it. The German Nutrition Society recommends an intake of 3 micrograms per day. That's the equivalent of about 100 grams of beef or salmon, 150 grams of cheese, or half a liter of whole milk. That means those who don't eat animal products have to resort to food supplements to get their daily B12 dose.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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