Food For Thought: David Chang Wants Us To Think About How We Eat
Reinventing the wheel wasn’t necessarily on the menu for David Chang when he released his docu-series The Next Thing You Eat last year. Instead, the Momofuku founder and meat evangelist implored us to ‘recalibrate’ our attitude towards the foods we eat. Across all six episodes of his (occasionally harrowing) exploration of the future of food, there’s a sense of change on the horizon – from steakhouses using robots and automation to cook the ‘perfect steak’, to modern consumers that expect less environmentally damaging ways to nourish themselves.
You might not even know it, but the ‘future’ of food is already in the present – born out of innovation and necessity. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that cattle are responsible for 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions. They are also devastating in terms of the amount of land and water they devour. In its place, ‘cultivated meat’ – a more sophisticated way of referring to lab-grown chicken, steak, or salmon – is already being created from animal cells, causing them no harm. Chang even ponders if one can identify as vegan if they eat cultivated chicken, which contains no bones, blood, or skin; it’s framed as an ethical quandary as well as an environmental one.
The documentary is alarming, both because these innovations are necessary, but also successful. There is a sense of urgency, too; as oceans continue to become desolate and toxic, the very notion of ordering and eating sushi seems untenable. So, too, is industrialised animal slaughter – approximately nine billion factory-farmed chickens are slaughtered in the United States every year, even though we all likely know of the issues at play (terrible working conditions in abattoirs, mistreatment of animals, and industrial deforestation, which is responsible for hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases every year).
Lab-grown meat, however, could be one way to ensure people don’t have to radically alter their lifestyles in order to do good – if it looks like a steak, and tastes like a steak, that might be good enough!
Many might think veganism alone could help but, frustratingly, a steadfast devotion to fruit and vegetables could also prove harmful to the environment. A study by the University of Manchester found air-transported fruit and vegetables have five times the impact on the environment than home-grown ones. The takeaway? Buy locally and eat seasonally.
Here are other small shifts we can make to ensure our relationship with food doesn’t negatively impact the planet.
- Share your and other people’s leftovers. My food newsletter, Scraps, is a love letter to the things you can make with yesterday’s leftovers. Olio is a neighbourhood-based resource for picking up food in your community (with five million users across 49 countries), while the Karma app (available in London and Brighton in the UK, as well as across Europe) lets users rescue food from local restaurants, bakeries, cafes and even wholesalers that are otherwise destined for the bin.
- Manage your own food waste better. Nosh is an app that uses AI to track the food in your fridge, alerting you when expiry dates are coming up.
- Listen and learn. Podcasts such as Big Ideas Into Action and Zero Waste Kode explore food waste and its environmental impact.
Chris Mandle is a writer and editor based in South London. He currently works as a staff writer at New York Magazine’s The Strategist, and he writes the food newsletter Scraps on Substack