Will Hemp Take Over the Plant-Based Food Market?

Meat alternatives are on the rise globally. Could hemp take the lead as cannabis reform drives agricultural production?

Meat consumption is rising globally (starting with the U.S.). The American market alone is worth about $270 billion annually, out of a market worth about $1.5 Trillion dollars globally. Unfortunately this is also a vertical which is increasingly unsustainable from the climate change perspective—forget the moral issues involved. As Mr. Rogers famously said, he could not eat anything that had a mother.

Less prosaically, cow farts are the top agricultural source of greenhouse gases. Each cow emits about 220 pounds of methane annually. As a result, reducing methane emissions via transitioning the planet to animal-protein-free alternatives is also seen as the biggest opportunity to slow global heating in a relatively short 20 years or so. Given that this single source also creates about a third of the human-caused methane emissions, this is a significant issue. Particularly as other environmental efforts to halt the impending climate emergency—such as switching to solar and other fossil fuel free energy sources—are still so politically problematic.

That is also an impactful thing to say in world now suffering from a(nother) global heatwave this summer.

In Germany, where recreational cannabis reform is now in the offing, the topic is getting serious attention. Not to mention some funding. For example, the University of Hohenheim (in Stuttgart) was given a million euro grant last year from the regional government to study how hemp could replace protein-rich foods—from schnitzel to tofu and pasta.

No matter its “crunchy” reputation, the animal-free protein sector is also a highly significant market. Forty percent of the meat substitutes currently produced globally are sold across Europe. This is one of the reasons that the E.U. has actually moved ahead fairly quickly on this aspect of cannabis reform. This market is also expected to reach about $28 billion globally by 2025. That is good news for early adopters who are making the switch to vegan alternatives for health and environmental reasons—forget the economic incentives. The more mainstream, the faster broader adoption will be. This is good news too. The more animal slaughter can be reduced, so can the breeding of animals for this purpose.

The Superfood That Is High in Protein

There are many wondrous aspects of the cannabis plant. One of them is that hemp seeds are a superfood full of vitamins and other nutrients. Beyond this, the seeds of the hemp plant can contain as much as 25% protein—making them similar to egg whites. The seeds also contain all essential amino acids and are easy to digest. The end result creates a chewy, meat-like texture that is highly satisfying to consumers.

Not every hemp variety, at least according to German research during this study so far, creates the desired results. The scientists involved in the investigation are currently growing 20 varieties of hemp in test plots.

The idea is to create an extensive supply chain throughout Europe, while also increasingly the local food self-sufficiency of Baden-Württemberg located in the south-west corner of the country and bordering France and Switzerland. It is a part of the world known for a few globally recognized symbols including the Black Forest plus the Porsche and Mercedes-Benz headquarters.

It is hard to get more German than that.

This is, however, just one example of the coming hemp-based protein-replacement craze. The entrepreneurial endeavours necessary to drive the market demand beyond the lab are by now scattered all over Europe. In Estonia, one firm has even got a rather catchy name for their product—Crump. It probably tastes like chicken, even though it is designed to be a “protein crumble” designed to replace ground beef.

Beyond Europe, the trend is clearly global. A firm called Leaft Foods based in New Zealand received $15 million in financing this spring to grow its line of products that include not only beef but other animal-based protein substitutes.

Can Cannabis Help Heal the Planet?

There is no one panacea for global warming—or environmental disasters caused by the industries of the industrial revolution and the 20th Century. However, the much-maligned cannabis plant appears to hold many of the answers. From helping detoxify areas of land blighted by gold mining to reducing the first world’s dependence on animal protein—and of course beyond this, the medical efficacy of the plant—cannabis is starting what many assume will be a global ascendency in the next decade.

It is not hard to understand why. The mandate for trying to keep a limit on global warming is evident (again) this summer—even as multiple countries struggle politically in a world with much more expensive fossil fuels. Cannabis reform is creating a different narrative around such issues—from energy to meat substitutes, beyond medicine.

One thing is for sure. If there was a plant with the power to if not heal the world but significantly fix it, it would be good ol’ Cannabis sativa.

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