13 Nearly Complete Protein Sources for Vegetarians and Vegans
Despite what some people may think, there are many ways to get enough protein on a vegan or vegetarian diet.
However, not all plant-based proteins are complete proteins, meaning protein sources that contain adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. While your body can make some of them, nine have to be obtained through your diet. These are referred to as essential amino acids and include:
Animal products like beef, fish, dairy, and eggs contain enough of every one of these essential amino acids. Thus, they're considered complete proteins.
However, many plant sources of protein are too low in or missing one or more of these essential amino acids. They're considered incomplete protein sources.
Still, given that plant foods contain varying amounts of amino acids, you can manage to get enough of each essential amino acid throughout the day by eating a varied diet and combining complementary plant proteins.
For example, grains like rice are too low in lysine to be considered a complete source of protein. Yet, by also eating lentils or beans, which are higher in lysine, throughout the day, you can be sure to obtain all nine essential amino acids.
Nevertheless, some people like knowing they're getting complete proteins in a particular meal.
Fortunately for vegans and vegetarians, several plant-based foods and combos contain adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids.
Here are 13 nearly complete protein sources for vegetarians and vegans.
Quinoa is an ancient grain that looks similar to couscous but has a crunchy texture and nutty flavor.
As it doesn't grow from grasses like other cereals and grains, it's technically considered a pseudocereal and naturally gluten-free.
One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa provides approximately 8 grams of protein.
You can use quinoa in place of rice in most recipes. It can also be simmered in a plant source milk for a creamy, protein-rich breakfast porridge.
Though most supermarkets have quinoa in stock, buying it online may offer you a wider selection and possibly better prices.
Quinoa is a gluten-free grain that contains 8 grams of protein per 1 cooked cup (185 grams). It's also a good source of several minerals, including magnesium, iron, and zinc.
2. Tofu, Tempeh, and Edamame
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all made from soybeans and make for excellent plant-based protein sources.
Tofu is made from coagulated soy milk that's pressed into white blocks and comes in a variety of textures, including silken, firm, and extra-firm. As it's quite bland, tofu tends to take on the flavor of the foods with which it's cooked.
A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of tofu provides approximately 8 grams of protein. It also offers 15% of the Daily Value (DV) for calcium, as well as smaller amounts of potassium and iron.
Tempeh is much chewier and nuttier than tofu and made from fermented soybeans, which are often combined with other seeds and grains to form a firm, dense cake.
Meanwhile, edamame beans are whole, immature soybeans that are green and have a slightly sweet, grassy flavor. They're usually steamed or boiled and can be enjoyed on their own as a snack. Alternatively, they can be added to salads, soups, or grain bowls.
A 1/2 cup (85 grams) of whole edamame provides 8 grams of protein along with a good amount of fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamin C.
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all derived from whole soybeans and excellent sources of complete protein. A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of edamame or tofu provides 8 grams of protein, while the same serving of tempeh has 11 grams.
Once considered a staple food in Incan, Mayan, and Aztec cultures, it has become a popular gluten-free grain alternative.
Amaranth is a versatile grain that can be boiled for a side dish or porridge, or popped in a skillet to add texture to granola bars or salads. Similarly to quinoa, it has a delicate, nutty taste and retains its crunch even when cooked.
When ground into a flour, amaranth can also be used in gluten-free baking.
One cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth provides approximately 9 grams of protein. It's also an excellent source of manganese, magnesium phosphorus, and iron.
In fact, 1 cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth provides more than 100% of the DV for manganese, an essential mineral that's important for brain health.
If you can't find amaranth locally, you can buy it online.
Amaranth is a gluten-free pseudocereal that provides 9 grams of protein per 1 cooked cup (246 grams). It also provides more than 100% of the DV for manganese.
While it's not as high in protein as quinoa or amaranth, buckwheat is another pseudocereal that's a plant-based source of complete protein.
Nutty in flavor, the hulled kernels, or groats, can be cooked similarly to oatmeal or ground into a flour and used in baking. In Japanese cooking, buckwheat is most commonly consumed in the form of noodles, which are called soba.
You can buy buckwheat in specialty stores or online.
Buckwheat is another gluten-free grain that's a source of complete protein, with 6 grams of protein per 1 cooked cup (168 grams).
5. Ezekiel Bread
Ezekiel bread is made from sprouted whole grains and legumes, including barley, soybeans, wheat, lentils, millet, and spelt.
Two slices (68 grams) of the bread contain 8 grams of protein.
Unlike most breads, the combination of whole grains and legumes in Ezekiel bread provides all nine essential amino acids.
Plus, studies suggest that sprouting grains and legumes increases their amino acid content, especially their content of the amino acid lysine.
For an extra protein boost, use Ezekiel bread to make a vegan BLT sandwich with tempeh instead of bacon, or toast the bread and top it with peanut butter and chia seeds.
You can look for Ezekiel bread at your local supermarket or shop for it online.
Ezekiel bread is made from sprouted whole grains and legumes and contains all nine essential amino acids. Just two slices (68 grams) provide 8 grams of filling protein.
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that's a popular supplement among those on vegan and vegetarian diets.
While it can be purchased as tablets, the powdered form of spirulina can be easily added to smoothies, granola bars, soups, and salads for a boost of nutrition.
Just 1 tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina provides 4 grams of protein.
In addition to being a source of complete protein, spirulina is rich in antioxidants and a good source of several B vitamins, copper, and iron.
If you would like to give spirulina a try, you can find it in specialty stores or online.
Spirulina, a supplement made from blue-green algae, is a source of complete protein. One tablespoon (7 grams) provides 4 grams of protein, as well as good amounts of B vitamins, copper, and iron.
7. Hemp Seeds
Coming from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, hemp seeds are members of the same species as marijuana, but they contain only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana.
As a result, hemp seeds are unlikely to contain enough THC to cause a high feeling or any of the other psychoactive effects that are associated with marijuana.
However, there is concern that hemp seeds could become contaminated with TCH from other parts of the plant during harvesting or storing. Therefore, it's important to purchase seeds from trusted brands that test for THC.
Technically a nut, the edible whites inside of hemp seeds are referred to as hemp hearts and incredibly nutritious.
In addition to being a source of complete protein, hemp hearts are particularly rich in the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3).
Three tablespoons (30 grams) of raw, hulled hemp seeds boast an impressive 10 grams of protein and 15% of the DV for iron. They're also a good source of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.
Hemp hearts have a mild nutty flavor and can be sprinkled over yogurt or salads, added to smoothies, or included in homemade granola and energy bars.
These tasty seeds are widely available in stores and online.
Hemp seeds are often sold as hemp hearts and incredibly nutritious. In addition to providing 10 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons (30 grams), they're a good source of essential fatty acids, iron, potassium, and several other essential minerals.
8. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are tiny round seeds that are often black or white.
They're unique in that they can absorb liquid and form a gel-like substance. As a result, they can be used to make puddings and pectin-free jams. They're also commonly used as an egg substitute in vegan baking.
However, chia seeds can also be used raw as a topping for oatmeal or salads, mixed into baked goods, or added to smoothies.
Two tablespoons (28 grams) of chia seeds provide 4 grams of protein. They're also a good source of omega-3s, iron, calcium, magnesium, and selenium.
If you would like to give chia seeds a try, stock up at your local supermarket or online.
Chia seeds are tiny round seeds that contain all nine essential amino acids. Two tablespoons (28 grams) contain 4 grams of protein, as well as good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and several essential minerals.
9. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae that's grown specifically to be a food product.
Commercially, nutritional yeast is sold as a yellow powder or flakes and has a distinctive umami flavor that can be used to add a cheese-like flavor to vegan dishes, such as popcorn, pasta, or mashed potatoes.
You can shop for nutritional yeast locally or online.
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of yeast that imparts a cheesy, umami flavor to vegan dishes. Just 1/4 cup (15 grams) provides 8 grams of protein.
10. Rice and Beans
Rice and beans are a classic pairing that's a source of complete protein.
Both brown and white rice are low in lysine but high in methionine. In contrast, beans are high in lysine but low in methionine. As such, combining them allows you to get enough of each, as well as the remaining seven essential amino acids, to count as a complete protein.
One cup (239 grams) of rice and beans provides 12 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber.
While you can enjoy the mixture on its own, rice and beans can be topped with guacamole, salsa, and roasted vegetables for a simple, filling meal.
Together, rice and beans contain all nine essential amino acids to form a complete source of protein. Approximately 1 cup (239 grams) provides 12 grams of this nutrient.
11. Pita and Hummus
A delicious Middle Eastern classic, pita and hummus are another combination that provides all nine essential amino acids.
One medium-sized (57-gram) whole wheat pita with 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of hummus provides approximately 7 grams of protein.
In addition to serving as a snack, adding fried or baked ground chickpea balls known as falafel will further increase the protein content of your pita and hummus.
The combination of pita and hummus is another classic pairing that constitutes a complete protein source. One medium-sized (57-gram) pita with 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of hummus provides 7 grams of protein.
12. Peanut Butter Sandwich
A lunch box staple, natural peanut butter sandwiched between whole grain bread is another common combination that results in a complete protein source.
As mentioned earlier, wheat is low in lysine while pulses like peanuts make up for it by being high in lysine.
Two slices (62 grams) of whole wheat sandwich bread with 2 tablespoons (32 grams) of peanut butter provide approximately 14 grams of protein.
However, the exact amount of protein may vary depending on the brand of bread you buy.
When choosing a peanut butter, aim for a product with minimal ingredients, ideally only peanuts and maybe a bit of salt.
Wheat bread is low in lysine, but when combined with lysine-rich peanut butter, it becomes a complete protein source. One peanut butter sandwich provides approximately 14 grams of protein.
13. Mycoprotein (Quorn)
Mycoprotein is a meat substitute product that's marketed under the name Quorn.
Made from a naturally occurring fungus called Fusarium venenatum, it's sometimes mixed with eggs or milk protein before being shaped into patties, cutlets, or strips. As a result, not all mycoprotein products are vegan.
Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency have determined that mycoprotein is safe enough to be sold to the public.
If you want to give mycoprotein a try, you can find many Quorn products in stores and online.
Mycoprotein, a popular meat alternative, is sold under the brand name Quorn. While the amount of protein varies by product, one Quorn Chik'N patty provides about 9 grams of complete protein.
The Bottom Line
Despite some concerns over being able to get adequate protein on a vegan or vegetarian diet, many high protein, plant-based foods are available.
Furthermore, several of these foods even provide all nine essential amino acids and are therefore considered complete proteins.
To ensure you're meeting your amino acid needs on a vegan or vegetarian diet, try incorporating a variety of these complete protein sources or combinations of nearly complete choices into your plant-based diet.
- Vegan Meat Substitutes: The Ultimate Guide - EcoWatch ›
- 17 Quick and Healthy Vegetarian Snacks - EcoWatch ›
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Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. D-Keine / E+ / Getty Images
By Jake Johnson
Democrats in the House and Senate on Tuesday introduced sweeping legislation that would ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. and institute stronger protections for farmworkers and communities that have been exposed to damaging chemicals by the agriculture industry.
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BP, the energy giant that grew from oil and gas production, is taking its business in a new direction, announcing Tuesday that it will slash its oil and gas production by 40 percent and increase its annual investment in low-carbon technology to $5 billion, a ten-fold increase over its current level, according to CNN.
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By Alex Thornton
The Australian government has announced a A$190 million (US$130 million) investment in the nation's first Recycling Modernization Fund, with the aim of transforming the country's waste and recycling industry. The hope is that as many as 10,000 jobs can be created in what is being called a "once in a generation" opportunity to remodel the way Australia deals with its waste.
Waste Mountain<p>The need for a dramatic increase in Australia's recycling capacity pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-27/where-does-all-australias-waste-go/11755424" target="_blank">Australians create approximately 67 million tons of waste a year</a>, and like in many wealthy countries, much of that was sent overseas. That all changed when China announced it was <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/china-has-banned-foreign-waste-so-whats-the-future-of-world-recycling" target="_blank">banning the import of a huge range of foreign waste</a> and recyclables. Soon <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/malaysia-flooded-with-plastic-waste-to-send-back-some-scrap-to-source" target="_blank">other countries followed suit</a>, and Australia was forced to look for alternative solutions.</p>
Biggest exporters of plastic. Statista
Waste Export Ban<p>Australia has adopted a strategy of taking responsibility for its own waste. Starting in January 2021, it is phasing in <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/waste-export-ban" target="_blank">bans on the export of different forms of waste</a>. By mid 2024, Australia's home-grown recycling industry will have to deal with an extra 650,000 tons of waste plastic, paper, glass and tires.</p><p>"As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy," federal environment minister Sussan Ley said in a <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">statement to Reuters</a>.</p>
Timeline for Australia's waste export ban. Australian Government
Trash Into Treasure<p>The benefits to the environment of boosting recycling rates are well known – less landfill, less plastic in our ocean, reduced need for virgin materials, and lower carbon emissions. The Recycling Modernization Fund initiative aims to divert more than 10 million tons of waste from landfill, part of an <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/publications/national-waste-policy-action-plan" target="_blank">overall strategy to reduce the total waste generated per person by 10%</a>, and push <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/7381c1de-31d0-429b-912c-91a6dbc83af7/files/national-waste-report-2018.pdf" target="_blank">Australia's total resource recovery rate from 58% in 2017</a> to 80% by 2030.</p><p>But like many countries, Australia is focusing on the economic benefits of better waste management as well.</p><p>"This will mean Australia converts more waste into higher valued resources ready for reuse locally by manufacturers and brands in their packaging and products," Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">told Reuters</a>.</p>
Green Jobs<p>The great potential of the circular economy to create green jobs is being recognized across the world.</p><p>In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Program has launched a <a href="https://wrap.org.uk/buildbackbetter" target="_blank">six-point plan which it claims could add $90 billion to the economy, and create 500,000 new jobs</a>. Investment in the circular economy forms a significant part of the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan that Democratic candidate Joe Biden</a> is taking into November's US presidential election. And the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_940" target="_blank">European Union has put its Green New Deal at the heart of its plans for recovery</a> from the economic shock of COVID-19.</p><p>The World Economic Forum's <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_Future_Of_Nature_And_Business_2020.pdf" target="_blank">Future of Nature and Business</a> report identifies 15 systemic transitions with annual business opportunities worth $10 billion a year that could create 395 million jobs by 2030.</p><p>As is the case with Australia's Recycling Modernization Fund, a combination of private enterprise and government investment can offer ways to get people back to work by building a more environmentally sustainable economy.</p>
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The Great American Outdoors Act is now the law of the land.
<div id="e0008" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ffc07febbf5d2d585ad06d3f43e2be56"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290667833999929344" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Breaking News: The President has just signed the bipartisan #GreatAmericanOutdoorsAct. It will help: 🏗️ Restore… https://t.co/RPefKPMn7S</div> — Fix Our Parks (@Fix Our Parks)<a href="https://twitter.com/FixOurParksUS/statuses/1290667833999929344">1596554165.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Andrew J. Whelton and Caitlin R. Proctor
In recent years wildfires have entered urban areas, causing breathtaking destruction.
Survivors left everything to flee the Camp Fire's path. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Wildfires and Water<p>Both the Tubbs and Camp fires destroyed fire hydrants, water pipes and meter boxes. Water leaks and ruptured hydrants were common. The Camp Fire inferno spread at a speed of one football field per second, chasing everyone – including water system operators – out of town.</p><p>After the fires passed, testing ultimately revealed widespread hazardous drinking water contamination. Evidence suggests that the toxic chemicals originated from a combination of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">burning vegetation, structures and plastic materials</a>.</p>
Pipes, water meters and meter covers after wildfires destroyed them. Caitlin Proctor, Amisha Shah, David Yu, and Andrew Whelton/Purdue University
Dangerous Contamination Levels<p>Benzene was found at concentrations of 40,000 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water after the Tubbs Fire and at more than 2,217 ppb after the Camp Fire. According to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, children exposed to benzene for a single day can suffer <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Benzene-Levels-in-Water.pdf" target="_blank">harm at levels as low as 26 ppb</a>.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting children's short-term acute exposure to <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-03/documents/dwtable2018.pdf" target="_blank">200 ppb</a>, and long-term exposure to less than <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water-regulations" target="_blank">5 ppb</a>. The EPA regulatory level for what constitutes a hazardous waste is <a href="https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/tclp.pdf" target="_blank">500 ppb</a>.</p><p>In early 2019, California conducted contaminated water testing on humans by taking contaminated water from the Paradise Irrigation District and asking persons to smell it. The state found that even when people smelled contaminated water that had less than 200 ppb benzene, <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Dissipatiion-of-Burn-Related-VOC-From-Water.pdf" target="_blank">at least one person reported nausea and throat irritation</a>. The test also showed that water contained a variety of other benzene-like compounds that first responders had not sampled for.</p><p>The officials who carried out this small-scale test did not appear to realize the significance of what they had done, until we asked whether they had had their action approved in advance by an institutional review board. In response, they asserted that such a review was not needed.</p><p>In our view, this episode is telling for two reasons. First, one subject reported an adverse health effect after being exposed to water that contained benzene at a level below the EPA's recommended one-day limit for children. Second, doing this kind of test without proper oversight suggests that officials greatly underestimated the potential for serious contamination of local water supplies and public harm. After the Camp Fire, together with the EPA, we estimated that some plastic pipes needed <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/opinions/Final-HDPE-Service-Line-Decontamination-2019-03-18.pdf" target="_blank">more than 280 days</a> of flushing to make them safe again.</p>
Plastic pipes can be damaged by heat and fire contact. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Building Codes Could Make Areas Disaster-Ready<p>Our research underscores that community building codes are inadequate to prevent wildfire-caused pollution of drinking water and homes.</p><p>Installing one-way valves, called backflow prevention devices, at each water meter can prevent contamination rushing out of the damaged building from flowing into the larger buried pipe network.</p><p>Adopting codes that required builders to install fire-resistant meter boxes and place them farther from vegetation would help prevent infrastructure from burning so readily in wildfires. Concrete meter boxes and water meters with minimal plastic components would be less likely to ignite. Some plastics may be practically impossible to make safe again, since all types are susceptible to fire and heat.</p><p>Water main shutoff valves and water sampling taps should exist at every water meter box. Sample taps can help responders quickly determine water safety.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9540d7e271306ed417112042a3efc9a4"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GnlrzI1wdAI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Smell Test Doesn’t Work<p>Under no circumstance should people be told to <a href="https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/press_room/press_releases/2018/pr122418_voc.pdf" target="_blank">smell the water</a> to determine its safety, as was recommended for months after the Camp Fire. Many chemicals have no odor when they are harmful. Only testing can determine safety.</p><p>Ordering people to boil their water will not make it safe if it contains toxic chemicals that enter the air. Boiling just transmits those substances into the air faster. "Do not use" orders can keep people safe until agencies can test the water. Before such advisories are lifted or modified, regulators should be required to carry out a full chemical screen of the water systems. Yet, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">disaster</a> after <a href="https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2017/ew/c5ew00294j" target="_blank">disaster</a>, government agencies have failed to take this step.</p><p>Buildings should be tested to find contamination. <a href="https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2020/Q1/study-your-homes-water-quality-could-vary-by-the-room-and-the-season.html" target="_blank">Home drinking water quality can differ from room to room</a>, so reliable testing should sample both cold and hot water at many locations within each building.</p><p>While infrastructure is being repaired, survivors need a safe water supply. Water treatment devices sold for home use, such as refrigerator and faucet water filters, are not approved for extremely contaminated water, although product sales representatives and government officials may <a href="https://undark.org/2019/09/19/camp-fire-california-drinking-water-carcinogens/" target="_blank">mistakenly think</a> the devices can be used for that purpose.</p><p>To avoid this kind of confusion, external technical experts should be called in assist local public health departments, which can quickly become overwhelmed after disasters.</p>
<div id="71cf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e059d199e8368d282a31601e372e4dda"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1204068265980547075" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee signed off on an effort to expand the city's fire-re… https://t.co/fP8Z8mUq7R</div> — IntlCodeCouncil (@IntlCodeCouncil)<a href="https://twitter.com/IntlCodeCouncil/statuses/1204068265980547075">1575907219.0</a></blockquote></div>
Preparing for Future Fires<p>The damage that the Tubbs and Camp fires caused to local water systems was preventable. We believe that urban and rural communities, as well as state legislatures, should establish codes and lists of authorized construction materials for high-risk areas. They also should establish rapid methods to assess health, prepare for water testing and decontamination, and set aside emergency water supplies.</p><p>Wildfires are coming to urban areas. Protecting drinking water systems, buried underground or in buildings, is one thing communities can do to prepare for that reality.</p>
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By Zulfikar Abbany
"We don't have a definition of life," says Kevin Peter Hand, one early California morning when we speak via video. "We don't actually know what life is."