It was a week of flipsides and contrasts.

  • Perspectives focused on shoppers, instead of retailers and brands.
  • Alternative protein conversations took a turn toward lab-grown meats.
  • Weather extremes from wildfires to an early freeze battered agriculture.

“There are two different reactions to COVID — a small number who are getting health conscious and reacquainting themselves with real food, and a larger group that is going with comfort food that is cheap and shelf-stable.”

Dariush Mozaffarian, Tufts University (Washington Post)

Shopper’s Choice?

The topic of grocery shopping, and how habits have adapted during the pandemic, has attracted attention. Here are a few recent takes on filling up the grocery cart in the store, online and elsewhere.

  • The Secret Life of Groceries, a new book by Benjamin Lorr, caught the attention of several book reviewers, including Beth Dooley from the San Francisco Chronicle. Lorr critiqued U.S. grocery shoppers who demand “completely impossible, unsustainable opposites — low price and high quality, immediate availability and customized differentiation, and above all, convenience.”
  • New York Times food reporter Kim Severson counted “7 Ways the Pandemic Has Changed How We Shop for Food.” You won’t believe #3. (It’s oranges.)
  • After the attention Walmart+ received last week, Food & Wine compared the differences between the new service and Amazon Prime.
  • New Hope Media summarized data from marketing firm Acosta, indicating that “the U.S. grocery retail experience will increasingly be shaped by multicultural consumers, based on population growth and current shopping behaviors” over the next decade.
  • Washington Post retail reporter Laura Reily explained how the pandemic has limited shoppers’ choices in the store, quoting several influential voices who expressed concern about the long-term health impact of the trend.

Home, Home in the Lab

Tech pioneers are reshaping how we think of protein, from cultured meat cells grown in labs to 3D-printing imitation steaks. But Gen Z consumer acceptance is low, an early prototype looks like Play-doh, and special interest groups are raising alarms with the technology.

  • Science Daily published findings from a study in Australia that found nearly 75% of the Gen Z population is not ready for lab-grown meat, despite their concerns for the environment and animal care issues.
  • Business Insider shared the debut of Israeli-based Redefine Meat’s new 3D-printed “steak,” the first plant-based attempt at a whole-muscle cut. Visually, it bears an unfortunate Minecraft aesthetic.
  • Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle updated readers on the state of cell-cultured meat in the United States in terms of regulation, global market potential and interesting product developments.
  • After 31 years in development, the biotech community and AquaBounty celebrated the availability of the first transgenic salmon this fall. However, environmental groups are working to stop grocery stores from selling it.
  • One Green Planet reviewed the downside of cell-based meat: “Overall, due to the novel nature of lab-cultured ‘meat,’ the lack of transparency from the companies involved, and the myriad of potential health risks to consumers, rigorous regulation of this product is vitally important.”

A Week of Ice & Fire

The weather from this past weekend sounded like something out of a fantasy story. On the West Coast, droughts and wildfires ravaged farms, ranches and vineyards. Meanwhile, areas in the Midwest saw the earliest snow in recorded history, threatening crops.

  • As of September 10, the National Interagency Fire Center estimated that wildfires burned 4.4 million acres across 12 states.
  • Modern Farmer highlighted how California farmers are fighting flare-ups on their own due to overtaxed fire crews.
  • Western Farm Press cited UC-Davis viticulture expert Caroline Firman on an issue that might be more welcome for a whiskey distiller: “The risk of smoke taint increases with continual or repeated exposures of heavy fresh smoke.”
  • Shifting eastward, NPR reported that large areas in Colorado saw new records for both high and low temperatures within 48 hours.
  • AgProfessional shared forecasts for the rest of the Midwest and broke down how this week’s cold snap could affect crop yields.

“The idea is to replace a cow. So each of our machines produce in a day exactly like a cow, up to 250 [kilograms] in a single day.”

Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, CEO, Redefine Meat (Business Insider)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Pre-election Policymaking

The American Farm Bureau Federation sent the Trump and Biden campaigns a 12-question survey, allowing each candidate to outline his position on agricultural priorities. Trump focused on first-term accomplishments and emphasized voluntary regulation, while Biden’s responses reflected an interest in environmental sustainability and improving rural prosperity. Read full responses here, and expect a full “Ag on the Ballot” Focus Feature from The Intel Distillery ahead of the election.

Corn: Not Just for Cobs

With harvest near, digital academic library JSTOR posted a lively history of corn and its ubiquity: “You’ll also find corn used in the production of antibiotics; aspirin; books; charcoal briquettes; cosmetics; crayons; disposable diapers; drywall; dyes and inks; fireworks; glues; paper, and plastics. The spray cleaner Windex has at least five corn-derived components. Spark plugs, toothpaste, batteries, and running shoes…”

Kelp Is the New Corn

Time profiled a surge in interest in seaweed farming: “over the past decade, global seaweed production has doubled — with an estimated value of $59.61 billion in 2019 — as interest in seaweed as a food source, carbon sink option and renewable product from consumers, farmers, researchers, and business leaders blossoms.”

Baking Climate into Bacon Futures

In the world of finance regulation, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) manages how banks and traders can bet on the future prices of pork bellies and wheat bushels. On September 9, the CFTC published a 194-page report encouraging buyers to factor climate change into contract decisions. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich) commended the group: “This groundbreaking comprehensive report comes at a critical juncture for our country and includes important recommendations that will help protect our economy from the climate impacts we’re already seeing.”

Just So You Know …

BNP Media announced the Meat Industry Hall of Fame, Class of 2020.
Los Angeles Times gave some pretty specific instructions on how to pick a watermelon.
CNN reported on Martha Stewart’s new line of “Appropriately Fancy” CBD-infused gummies.