Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment

Last decade we proved that electricity from the solar energy is more efficient than burning fossil fuels. Today we may do the same with our food. How can humans reduce their impact on the environment and increase the supply to feed the growing population? Can we achieve 10x cost reductions?

Can we convert solar energy into edible energy as we did it with electricity?

A hectare of arable land yields about 8 metric tons of dry corn. Each kg eaten by humans  provides 4200 dietary calories. That means we get in total 33.6 million dietary calories for humans.

That same field would also yield roughly 8 metric tons of corn stover. Every kg fed to the cattle provides about 1740 dietary calories of metabolizable energy. Thus in total it provides 13.9 million dietary calories for cattle.

Assuming just 3% of that will eventually be eaten by humans as beef meat (Shepon 2016), because of things like skin and bones that aren't human-edible, that leaves only 417,000 dietary calories for humans.

Not that much, right?

Growing population needs a more efficient technology to make edible energy:

Growing population needs a more efficient technology to make edible energy.png

What If we feed both the stover and the grain to the cattle?

Metabolizable energy from corn grain is 3127 dietary calories per kg for cattle. Having the same 3% caloric efficiency from feed to beef we'd get around 417,000 dietary calories of beef from the stover and an extra 751,000 dietary calories of beef from the grain. 1,168,000 dietary calories of beef in total.

Let's summarize:

  • Plant agriculture = 33,600,000 dietary calories from one hectare (100% plant-based)
  • Plant+animal agriculture = 34,017,000 dietary calories from one hectare (99% plant-based, 1% animal)
  • Animal agriculture = 1,168,000 dietary calories from one hectare (100% animal)

Although we see 29x more efficiency from plants over animal agriculture - it’s still a half of the work. A half, because we still have about 50% grown energy processed with 3% efficiency… You can burn it with the same success as feeding animals.


What do we need to use 100% plants efficiently?

But before we start talking about tech, let me ask you: what kind of food do we need? Imagine you came into new city, straight to the carnival and hunger led you to a chain food trucks. What are your criteria to choose? My meal should be tasty, healthy and have a better price. If you share at least 2 of my points, follow me.

"Inedible by humans" basically means there's no cost-effective way to make it palatable and/or nutritious to humans. A typical example of a something considered inedible to humans is corn stover - stalks, leaves, and cobs of the corn plant.

This is distinct from the broader category of foods that humans could eat but choose not to because they're not as palatable as other options we have (e.g., wheat bran, potato peelings).


Zero Waste Diet

Some companies thought if we don’t have a technology to make food from waste, what if we start making snacks


Eat your beer

ReGrained recovers “spent” grains, the byproducts of the beer brewing process, from craft breweries and turns them into granola bars. ReGrained aims to expand to other grain-based products in the future. Currently, its bars are sold online and in several select stores around the US, as well as in partner breweries. 


Drink Ugly Fruits

MISFIT Juicery aims to fight food waste by using tasteful but aesthetically unappealing fruits and vegetables in its juice products. MISFIT juices made with “ugly” produce that usually fills landfills because they don’t fit our grocery beauty ideals. You can find Misfit on the shelves of various retailers in DC and NYC.


Snack your waste

PLANETARIANS makes chips from discarded parts of plants and believes that by using 100% of plants, we are making meals wholesome, feeding a growing population and all around planet friendly. PLANETARIANS snacks have 300% more Protein, 200% more Fiber and 70% less Fat per serving than typical potato chips.

Are these three companies an exceptional case or there is mass scale technology to go beyond?

What technology can we use to turn 100% plants into tasty and healthy food?

We can use the extrusion cooking to make snacks from discarded parts of plants. Extrusion uses a thermo-mechanical energy (think of kitchen grinder) to cook meals at a high temperature and high pressure over a short term.


Minimal processing is not only energy efficient, but it also keeps all the nutrients in place.

Extrusion technology may work with ingredients as they are (high heat and pressure kill all possible contamination). Short term cooking does not affect nutrients and is energy efficient.

Although using extrusion technology for discarded parts of plants is still in the very beginning, there are some good results for Sunflower Meal, Orange Peels, Coffee Grounds.


What products can we make from discarded parts of plants?

To get the yummy snacks from disregarded parts of plants, you may pair it with other plant-based ingredients such as grain flours, starches, oils. 

Extruded snacks may contain same or higher amount of protein as animal products (table):

Chicken Nuggets vs Ground beef vs Sunflower Chips PLANETARIANS.png

The price of extruded snacks is comparable to beef. The wholesale price for 1 lb of grass-fed beef is $3.70. The wholesale price for extruded snacks is $4.25 and can be lowered down to $2.34 at the mass production.

One question is left: when we make snacks from 100% plants, can we say that they are wholesome?

Aleh Manchuliantsau,


Aleh Manchuliantsau