Fresh Take: Wells Running Out Of Water, Making Meat From The Air, And Stealing $250 Million From Hungry Children

Food & Drink

Climate Week in New York City has me buzzing. On Tuesday at Forbes’ inaugural Sustainability Leaders Summit, I led two back-to-back fireside chats about whether modern agriculture—built on cheap energy, free water and consistent weather—is actually a house of cards.

Fifth-generation Alabama farmer Kyle Bridgeforth kicked us off and explained how his family’s operation has transitioned to more sustainable practices, like cover-cropping, while maintaining a strong business. I wanted those points to sink in, as our conversation then transitioned to the topic of racism, and decades of land theft and other discriminatory policies that systematically led to generations of Black farmers leaving agriculture. As Bridgeforth said, “We were blessed in some great years in some very difficult times.” He wants to see more diversity in farming, and said the industry will only get there through more access.

Then Lisa Dyson, the visionary founder and CEO behind Air Protein, joined me onstage. She shared how her startup has been commercializing research originally from NASA’s space program in the 1960s that hypothesized how to create single-celled proteins from the carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts in space.

Fear not. Dyson promised that the food of the future wouldn’t look like glop straight out of The Matrix. Like many of the other meatless meats out there, her startup uses flavor science and manufacturing techniques to create analogs we can recognize. A product she’s calling “Air Chicken” is what investors and advisors have been trying.

It will take a whole lot of money and time and energy before there’s a McAirChicken sandwich available at drive-thrus, or even before the futuristic food is sold at grocery stores. Will a potentially carbon-negative protein actually be produced at scale? The challenges are stacked against that goal. There’s not enough time to waste on the wrong solutions, but there are going to need to be a lot of different solutions to how we produce food for a growing planet while combating climate change.

Resources are going to be hard to come by. In some regions, especially where extreme heat and drought have been festering, water is already scarce. My latest feature, out yesterday, details how some 1,100 wells in California have run out of water so far this year. That’s up more than 60% compared with 2021. Most of the dry wells are located in the Central Valley, where more than 40% of the fresh fruits, nuts and other produce consumed across America are grown.

It may sound counterintuitive, but when I feel all that climate dread compounding, I cook. Usually, I cook quickly, because life still feels hard, and lately, I’ve been getting inspiration from the revised edition of bestselling cookbook author Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Fast, out this week. With Bittman’s organization, these quick and zesty takes on classics work well. I’d recommend the recipes for Creamy Creamless Mushroom Soup with Parsley Pesto and White Bean and Ham Gratin, especially for this weekend. Here in the Northeast, temperatures have already started their descent into the crisp clime of fall.

— Chloe Sorvino, Staff Writer

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What’s Fresh

California’s Water Emergency: Satisfying The Thirst Of Almonds While The Wells Of The People That Harvest Them Run Dry. Broiling heat in the middle of the worst drought in 1,200 years has strained the state’s underground water supply, pitting the Central Valley’s $20 billion agriculture industry against many of its own workers.

DOJ Charges 47 People With Stealing $250 Million From Child Nutrition Program. The Department of Justice charged 47 people in Minnesota with allegedly stealing $250 million from a federal program that provides meals to low-income students, as reported by the Forbes Video team.

As Inflation Rages, Retailers Pump Up Private Label. While Walmart’s private labels reach the most consumers, others are growing their private labels faster. Various economic forces, beyond potential savings for consumers, are fueling private label, writes Louis Biscotti.

Hurricane Fiona Strengthens Into Category 3 Storm After Battering Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic. Fiona is the first major hurricane of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, Robert Hart reports.

How SIMPLi Is Building A Regenerative Organic Food Brand. A new brand is redefining CPG supply chains by empowering farmers, cutting out middlemen and tackling climate change, writes Errol Schweizer.

This Peach Melba at the new West Village restaurant Ferdi was a perfect goodbye to summer. Helmed by a young brother-sister duo, Ferdi brought me back to the old school red-sauce joints for which I am ever nostalgic. Yet, of course, there was just enough modern flair. I loved the eggplant rollatini, clams oreganata, seared octopus, eggplant pasta and a whole lot else.

Chloe Sorvino leads coverage of food and agriculture as a staff writer on the enterprise team at Forbes. Her book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed and the Fight for the Future of Meat, will publish on December 6, 2022, with Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books. Her more than eight years of reporting at Forbes has brought her to In-N-Out Burger’s secret test kitchen, drought-ridden farms in California’s Central Valley, burnt-out national forests logged by a timber billionaire, a century-old slaughterhouse in Omaha and even a chocolate croissant factory designed like a medieval castle in Northern France.

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