How what we eat on Mars could determine the future of food on Earth

What will we eat after we get on Mars? In their new book, Dinner on Mars, food experts Lenore Newman and Evan Fraser lay the table on the Red Planet.

Kimchee soared when the first Korean entered space in 2008. Kimchee is not your typical Korean dish. The fermented gochugaru and garlic-coated cabbage needed to be devoid of germs lest cosmic rays cause them to change since they are often swarming with helpful microorganisms.

According to the New York Times, researchers at the Korea Food Research Institute used radiation to zap kimchee to make it space-ready, eradicating the germs but preserving 90% of the flavor.

The scientists prevented the possibility of rogue fermentation, which may have caused the kimchee to bubble over in the spaceship, by sealing the food in cans or plastic containers. In an effort to appeal to the other astronauts on the International Space Station, they also reduced the fragrance by as much as half (ISS).

According to Soyeon Yi, the first (and so far, only) astronaut from South Korea to travel to space, their kimchee “looked like it was 100 years old.” Even if it wasn’t particularly appetizing, “I enjoy it because I can sense my home,” the person said.
The narrative of space kimchee is used as an example by Evan Fraser, director of the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute and co-author of Dinner on Mars (ECW Press, 2022).

Efficiency alone won’t suffice to feed personnel on the ISS and beyond, into the depths of space, and ultimately to Mars.

We cannot disregard the mental and emotional components of eating, according to Fraser.

“When you consider space exploration, we acknowledge that people would be in quite harsh, challenging circumstances. Thus, these psychological components of eating perhaps become even more crucial than previously. Because a satisfying dinner at the end of the day will be crucial to an astronaut’s sense of wellbeing.
Fraser and co-author Lenore Newman, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Food Security and the Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley, examined the agricultural innovations that would allow humans to feed the inhabitants of Mars in Dinner on Mars.

A lesson on how we could enhance the food systems on Earth can be learned from Newman and Fraser’s hypothetical Martian settlement of BaseTown’s food system.
Cellular agriculture and vertical farming have the potential to be “really disruptive,” both in the positive and bad sense, of all the technologies they looked into for Dinner on Mars, according to Fraser.

He says that these technologies are, on the one hand, upsetting systems that could have issues with them. On the other hand, controlling how they develop will be difficult for sustainability, animal welfare, and the humans whose way of life could be affected.
Newman believed that a Martian food system would be built on plants and algae, with animal husbandry playing a small part, when they first started working on their pandemic project. She was taken aback by how challenging it was to argue in favor of having animals on Mars, which served as “a reminder of how inefficient animal protein production truly is,” in her words. BaseTown is devoid of all livestock, including cows, pigs, and chickens.

We’ll have to change how we do things since it’s improbable that we can bring these creatures to Mars, says Newman. Precision fermentation, a form of cellular agriculture that employs bacteria to generate proteins, has the potential to have a significant influence on both Earth and other planets.

According to Newman, “if (these technologies) displace animal agriculture to any extent, it liberates enormous tracts of land that may be rewilded, for example, to collect carbon and restore to ecosystem functions.” The potential is amazing.
In the realm of animal agriculture, Newman and Fraser differ. The conclusion Newman reached after studying cattle was that “cows are possibly the most damaging invading species on Earth.”

On the Canadian prairies, for instance, settlers drove out the bison to make space for livestock. Newman emphasizes that unlike cows, bison are adapted for living on the prairie; they spend the winter outdoors, consume snow, and use their hooves or muzzles to break through ice in search of water.

“We’ve placed cows there, but they’re an animal that belongs on the plains. It’s also incredibly inefficient, claims Newman. ‘Huh, even on Earth, if we’re going to consume animals, they should be a lot smaller than cows,’ is something I’ll take away from this.
Fraser views animal husbandry, where cattle recycle nutrients by grazing and leaving behind manure, as a method of generating economic benefits in grassland ecosystems and sees it as a crucial component of many sustainable food systems.

I’m not ready to claim that animal agriculture is going away as a result of these technologies, he adds. What I will say, though, is that there are many very major animal welfare issues with the way we now practice animal agriculture, particularly in restricted feeding facilities. It places a heavy load on the ecosystem.

Fraser underlines the need for new systems. A variety of alternative proteins, including plant proteins and, to a greater degree, cellular agriculture, are plausible alternatives.
Fraser predicts “dramatic advancements” in precise fermentation during the next ten years. He believes that even while animal-based agriculture won’t totally replace it, cellular agriculture will influence how we feed ourselves in the future.

Products like chicken nuggets, frozen beef burritos, ice cream, and industrial cheese will rely more on bacteria for their components and less on animals.

“Those will start showing up on the shelves of our grocery stores gradually at first, and then, I believe, with increasing pace. And there will be a shift from conventional cattle to those, predicts Fraser. “There won’t be 100%, but there will be a lot of things that we presently associate with being animal-derived.”
The absence of animals on Mars and its rolling fields of grasses (including wheat, rye, rice, oats, millet, corn, and barley) may cause the greatest change in food, according to Newman and Fraser.

For thousands of years, people have been raising grasses in captivity. They can be grown on a substantial portion of Earth, making production simple and effective, according to Newman.

The Martian regolith (soil), which is “very poisonous,” cannot be considered to be the same. In order to access nutrients, Martian colonists will need to employ blue-green algae (cyanobacteria).

The base of the food chain in BaseTown is several types of algae. Mars residents have a meal high in protein and vegetables, with less emphasis on carbs, “in attractive but typical cafeteria settings.”
It’s impossible, in Fraser’s opinion, for grains to contribute to our overall net diet in a way that is comparable to what they do on Earth in terms of carbs.

According to the authors, that might not necessarily be a negative thing. According to Fraser, grains should make up approximately a fifth of our diet overall yet account for about half of the world’s food supply. They taste great, are simple to grow, and are ingrained in culture. However, there is a discrepancy between the foods that dietitians advise us to consume and those that our agricultural system generates.

We reacquaint ourselves with the order of nature on Earth by traveling to Mars.

It’s an intriguing little turn of events, but eating less grains could really improve health results, claims Newman. Although I’m sure I would miss my spaghetti if I were there.

If producing grass becomes much more difficult and grass products make up a lower portion of our diet, Fraser continues, “there could be nutritional benefits to it, if it’s done well.”
He emphasizes that living on a world where water and fossil fuels are few, the weather is unpredictable, and the soil is infertile might lead to a more effective food system that is adapted to dietary demands.

In this approach, adopting a Martian mentality on Earth might significantly contribute to tackling problems like climate change, biodiversity loss, and dangers to ocean life.

According to Fraser, “if we are going to achieve all of those things, it will need a far, far more frugal, far, far more scrupulous transformation in our attitude to these challenges in our culture.” We can envision things that are wholesome, nutritionally balanced, and culturally suitable coming out the other end, so that may be good. but hopefully without the excesses and wastes that the existing food system on Earth has exposed it to.
What American writer Wendell Berry referred to as “nature’s exquisite answer” has been destroyed by these excesses and wastes. There is no waste in nature’s closed cycles, according to Newman and Fraser. The following ingredient is fed by the previous.

They say that in order to settle Mars and live more sustainably on Earth, closing the loops in our food systems is crucial. And it doesn’t take much searching to find evidence that it is possible.

The RePURPOSE experiment by Cher Mereweather, a circular supper of fish and chips and a pint of beer made using leftover grain at the Wellington Brewery in Guelph, Ontario, is mentioned by Newman and Fraser in Dinner on Mars.

The leftover beer-making grains were eaten by domesticated insects. Then the insects were eaten by farmed fish. Potato fields were fertilized with fish waste. Chefs breaded the fish using sourdough bread made by bakers from leftover grain and yeast.
“That’s a fantastic illustration of what may be accomplished when the nutrition cycles are closed. And as every schoolchild is aware, nature operates in cycles rather than in protracted, drawn-out rows, adds Fraser.

He claims that due to the abundance of natural resources on Earth, people have created systems that are sound from an economic standpoint but not from an ecological one. “We re-establish contact with the logic of Earth’s natural world by traveling to Mars.”
After spending roughly a year thinking about space, Fraser is both inspired by the technological promise and in awe of Earth’s grandeur.

“Perhaps by considering life on an other planet, we’ll create the means to protect the one on which we truly depend. Since that is essentially the only one we will ever have.

He wishes that humanity could go to Mars for seven months, but he is not interested in doing so. The earth is too wonderful, Fraser chuckles.

On the other hand, Newman would gladly join a spacecraft if the opportunity presented itself to establish feeding programs on Mars. She thinks that humanity will colonize Mars and that living there will profoundly change the nature of the human race.

Newman believes that colonizing Mars will lead to a reciprocal exchange of food and ideas akin to the Columbian Exchange between the Western and Eastern hemispheres. For example, a Martian engineer with expertise in cyanobacteria may come to Earth to assist in solving our food issues.

“‘Before Mars’ and ‘After Mars’ will exist. Additionally, there will be a break. It will fundamentally alter the way we view humans, said Newman.

But the reality is that it will be risky. It will be terrifying. In the process of filling space, people will fail and perish. It has always been the case, and there is probably no way to change that. Because it is in our nature to look ahead, we won’t stop.

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