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Can alternative foods help solve our food waste and food poverty?

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The many ways that are advertised about how we could save money and cut food waste are usually helpful but make us feel guilty as consumers trying to benefit our health and the planet we live on, especially when combined with the ever-growing issue of food poverty.


Some companies have been trying to help with the issue, reusing waste from farming waste by-products or excess ingredients from other food manufacturers for fertiliser,


One company, Hyfé Foods, is plating up foods that could help with the food waste issue caused by other food manufacturers and benefit their customers’ health.


In particular, lowering the cost of alternative ingredients for people allergic to wheat products, such as Celiac Disease or dairy, with conditions like lactose intolerance. 


Celiac Disease, in particular, is when the body either outright considers the presence of gluten a threat, either after years of someone eating wheat products or products made in an environment with wheat, or an allergy that is present from a younger age.


Lactose intolerance can also be present as young as birth, but it is rarer at that stage of life. Lactase, which is naturally made by the body to break down dairy products into calcium for the body, can decrease naturally over time, causing them not to be adequately digested and cause issues.


Often, wheat-free food products can be safe for Lactose allergies, too, with the use of soya beans, oats, rice, coconut or nuts being used for kinds of milk and flours too.


Alternative flours, such as ones made with brown rice, cauliflower or mushrooms, can benefit anyone without allergies as well, with bleached white flour having more of a risk for people with no fibre, having little nutrients, and being acidic, which can put bone density at risk over time.  


Flour bleached with Alloxan is banned in England due to the way it causes the breaks down the way the pancreas functions, which is one of the causes found to damage the beta cells in your body and lead to diabetes, which is something Co-founder of Hyfé Foods, Michelle Ruiz, found out was putting her mother at risk, with her Pre-diabetes.


Alloxan is a chemical which is unnecessarily used in the production of flour to bleach it white. Though its usage in foods in other countries globally puts concern for the health of the world and, in particular, encouraged Chicago-based Michelle to find an alternative.  


Andrea Schoen became co-founder with Michelle to find a way to find different alternatives to the ‘gut-glue’ that white flour is, which has somehow culturally become part of our lives.


‘Foods containing refined carbs (Such as white flour) are leading drivers of chronic illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease; I wanted to help people enjoy food culture - and still live long and healthy lives.’ Said Ruiz in her interview with BBC about her company.


Additionally, the company’s mushroom flour is made with mycelium, the network that helps grow mushrooms, which is low in carbs, wheat free, and high in fibre and protein.


To combat the expense that is sugar to feed the Mycelium growth, Hyfé Foods uses a food factory waste ingredient, sugar water, to feed it while being conscious that they are reducing the food waste that is unused in manufacturing and can affect the planet negatively. 


Diverting the output of sugar water waste to be used in the process of making the flour, saves water and money in the long run, with water being one of the most important resources this planet has for life. 


‘Our goal is to scale our technology so that we can achieve price parity, which is why we use upcycled sugar water, up to half of the cost of fermentation can be attributed to sugar, so upcycling can make a meaningful difference to the cost of production.’ 


With the strain that Russia’s war with Ukraine is having on imports like grain, wheat and sunflower products like spreads as an alternative to butter, seeds that are used in bread or as snacks, or cooking oils, like rapeseed or sunflower.  


Although Russia and Ukraine’s output of crops makes up almost thirty per cent of global exports for the world, the export is only thirty per cent exactly for total wheat production, according to the export Market. Thirteen per cent of the world’s wheat crops are from the two warring countries, finds the Washington post.


The weaponisation of food prices by conflicts like this one tends to drive prices higher and cause more problems for people who were already struggling, particularly if they are trying to avoid cheap foods that have allergens they cannot eat and be conscious of the planet.


Perhaps it is the food system’s wake-up call which will help us find alternatives to benefit our bodies and the planet?


Professor Shailaja Fennell, a development economist at Cambridge University, who is also a founding member of the Forgotten Crops Society, highlights that growing one type of crop repeatedly is terrible for the planet’s sustainability and cost to the planet, which, though not monetary, is still a risk to human life in the long run.


“(Crops like wheat) are much more susceptible to climate shocks, diseases and drought. Having a more diversified agriculture is the way forward- There is a whole group of cereals called millets - small-seeded grasses similar to oats and barley - that are more hardy, use less water and are gluten-free.’ 


That, in turn, could help solve the issue of monoculture farming, allergens, and chemicals used in products like flour that are causing health issues and food poverty for many others, especially when the production of these products can cause harm to the planet or the combined cost can make this harmful for the planet we live on, and doubly cause these products to be too expensive for people on lower incomes.


The people most affected by food poverty on lower incomes, and the domino effects of Putin’s war, especially with Putin now trying to use food, cooking ingredients and oil prices as a weapon.


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