Where Will Our (Kids’) Food Come From?

On Sunday, August 20th, the nets surrounding a fish farm in Washington State’s San Juan islands imploded, releasing over 150,000 domesticated Atlantic salmon. Fisherman of all persuasions, at the urging of state regulators and local native tribes, have been scooping up the escapees for two weeks now, with some of the non-native fish being found as far south as Olympia, below the Tacoma Narrows.

Cooke Aquaculture, owners of the farm, stated, ““exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse” caused the damage. Cooke said the salmon escaped after a “structural failure” of a net pen.” Yeah, that’s right, blame it on the eclipse, which occurred 24 hours after the accident.

Fish farming is just one way we’re trying to increase our food supply, as Earth’s human population rises toward 10,000,000,000 by mid-century. With countries such as China getting richer, more animal protein comes into our diet. Wild fish stocks are one source, but we’re already testing the capacity of our oceans to replenish what we catch. Feeding animals is a very inefficient way to turn sunlight into protein for human consumption. But getting people to eat soy burgers and fried grasshoppers, after they’ve tried beef and salmon, has not worked on a large scale.

So where will the food for our food come from? Farmed salmon eat a lot of other fish, just as their wild cousins do. Anchovies are ground into paste, then pellets, and fed to the trapped fish, swirling in their floating cages.

At least one large company, Cargill, is trying to cash in on what seems inevitable. It recently purchased a Silicon Valley firm, Calysta, which is developing an alternative. Using methanotrophic bacteria, they are turning natural gas into fish food, via the bacterial metabolism which converts methane into protein. It’s only a matter of time before they have scaled up the process, with Cargill behind it. This, after all, is the world’s biggest food-trading firm, and America’s largest private company, now 152 years old.

But wait, isn’t natural gas a non-renewable resource? How can this be the ultimate solution to running out of food for our food? So I thought, Hmm, where else does methane come from? Nearly 15% of the carbon released into the atmosphere from human activities comes from our herds of domestic beasts. With many cows now being fed the unused portion of other cattle which is left over in the abattoirs, they are already eating animal protein as a significant part of their diet, along with hay and grass.

I can see it now – row after row of beef cattle inside a giant air-conditioned metal “barn”. Coming in – hay slurries and bacterial byproduct protein. Coming out – methane, which is then re-fed to the little germs. Cows eating their own farts!

But Wait! There’s More! in my vision. Cows have four stomachs, right? They have special bacteria inside which help them break down the cellulose they eat from hay into useful protein and then expel methane waste. Why not just eliminate the middle man? Harvest those methane-generating bacteria. Feed them the hay, skim off the useful protein, suck up the methane, and send it down the line to those methanotrophs. Who make more protein. Which all can then be fed to the farmed salmon, After we figure out a way to keep them locked up where we want them, of course.

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