The Chemurgic principles of George Washington Carver and Henry Ford can stimulate the imagination, “anything made from a hydrocarbon can be made from a carbohydrate” and “grow our oil don’t drill for it.” But replacing fossil fuels with hemp is an expensive and difficult proposition, will take decades, and will compete for land for food and medicine production.
While everyone believes hemp has a role in improving climate change and sustainability by reducing fossil fuels, many focus on the hardest segments to realize. But biofuels are not yet economically viable, and building materials are not yet approved for use in construction. And growing hemp for CBD often uses artificial lighting, wide spacing, plastic mulch, and CO2 gas for extraction, thus is the worst of all for climate change impacts.
Biofuels are not soon going to be economical enough to compete against fossil fuels. Textiles need a lot of expensive infrastructure. Using hemp in plastic means you still are making plastic, with chemical resins that don’t decompose well. And it, like hempcrete, doesn’t even need hemp let alone virgin hemp grown just for that use. Most ag wastes can be used, which today are routinely burned thereby making them an even better candidate than virgin hemp fiber to capture carbon.
However, there is one hemp product that is the low-hanging fruit in the fight against climate change which few mention: use of the seed to replace or supplement meat and dairy products in the human diet. Hempseed is actually a fruit, and is grown to be shorter than fiber hemp. Thus it is literally the low-hanging fruit in the climate change fight. Before CBD, hempseed was the value-driver for hemp and is expected to be once again.
Worldwide, an estimated 2 billion people live primarily on a meat-based diet while an estimated 4 billion live primarily on a plant-based diet. The U.S. food production system uses about 50% of the total U.S. land area, 80% of the fresh water, and 17% of the fossil energy used in the country.
Cows generate the bulk of emissions in the livestock sector, which itself is responsible for almost 15% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) use far more grain protein than they produce in meat or dairy protein, thereby turning abundance into scarcity. But shelled hempseed (“Hemp Nut” or “Hemp Hearts”; the seed of the hemp plant with the shell removed, exposing a delicious savory nutty fruit) can be used directly to make such dairy-like foods as ice cream, milk, yogurt, and even burgers and other meat alternatives. And unlike most other aspects of hemp, incorporating hempseed into operations would be very easy for food processors.
The growth rate for vegan foods is high, the future is so bright many meat companies are embracing the trend with their own offerings. People eat two or three times every day, thus food has the widest range of potential customers and highest potential sales volume.
Touting the least-viable and most-expensive uses of hemp which also require the biggest capital investment is not necessary when hempseed can be used in foods immediately. Hempseed as food is hemp’s first billion-dollar segment, and today is over 90% of Canadian hemp.
Ben and Jerry’s, Dannon, Hormel, and the like could have products made from hempseed on the shelf in months. With 1/3 complete protein, 1/3 essential fatty acids and delicious raw, hempseed is a better material than soy for most foods, can be used in any recipe, is free of drugs, is non-GMO, can be organic, and is free of most of the anti-nutritional factors plaguing soy.
Transitioning to plant-based solutions to climate change won’t be easy, many industries will be impacted. Perhaps that’s why one of the easiest and cheapest ways to cut greenhouse gas, by replacing animal products with plant-based sources, isn’t discussed. Hempseed could disrupt milk, yogurt, ice cream, and cheese production, as well as the animal protein industry. Not everyone will be happy with that especially powerful and politically-connected CAFOs, as artisanal production will always have a market. The global hemp-based foods market is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 24% during 2018-2022. Hemp as food will also encourage organic and regenerative production.
It’s easy to see Big Oil as the Boogeyman deserving disintermediation, and harder to get behind disrupting local corporate meat and cheese makers. But pivoting to hempseed to replace dairy could be done easily and quickly and the factories already exist, we just need the seed.
Aseptic and fresh milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream can displace some-to-all of the dairy product used. Even just 5% hempseed in the formula is a good start; it kicks off the revolution and gets factories into the protocol and swing of things. It’ll be a big change for them but having made plant-based dairy analogs in a dairy plant many times since 1984, I know it’s not that hard to incorporate shelled hempseed into formulations, you just have to want to. Oh, and perhaps buy a small mill; but seriously that’s about it.
Other possible products include protein powders, functional ingredients, egg replacers, vegetable oil, animal feeds, birdseed, and even Cannabisin from the shells.
If 100% plant-based versions could be supported by the public, it would quickly develop. It could create a new hempen Silk brand, or a hemp Tofutti or Tofurky. Take it public. That playing field is wide open, no one has yet done it right in hemp. Tempt tried, Evo did well. But no one yet created hemp food’s Big Brand, at least in this century. HempNut, Inc. did last century, but that’s ancient history at this point. Many other younger hemp food companies innovate circles around the legacy ones, such as Hemp Way Foods and Planet Based Foods.
To develop a breakthrough national hemp food brand will take a company with an authentic genesis backstory. That doesn’t preclude say a Venture Capitalist from starting a “fauxthentic” co-packed brand for the U.S. while living in Dubai by throwing money at it. He’ll come up with his “Juan Valdez,” the fictional coffee grower. It’s totally possible to do that, buy your way in.
But it’s also possible for a passionate young person to have the vision of “what should be,” and create an honest food processing company employing many. It could even be a farm, a co-operative of farms, or an existing food company.
In hemp foods, right here right now… the world is yours. It’s like the automobile industry in 1915, video games in 1985, or tofu in 1980. But unlike those eras, you have the benefit of leveraging major social issues. The marketing of cars was riding social concerns as well; American exceptionalism, westward expansion, the feeling of independence and freedom, the new concept of commuting far to a job from the suburbs, etc. But autos did not present the value proposition of active engagement in healing a planet on fire, like we have today. The imperative of protecting the world our children’s children will live in is a powerful lever.
Smart branders will no doubt use that in a Neoliberal Marketing campaign, “buy our product to fix climate change.” It’s inevitable these days, hopefully it won’t be yet another marketing lie.
Comparing plant-based milks with cow’s milk, soy is the best understood. Researchers who compared the units of fossil-fuel energy required to produce milk and soybeans found that it takes 14 kilo-calories (kcal) of fossil fuels to produce a single kcal of dairy milk, whereas just 1 kcal of fossil fuels can produce 3.2 kcal of soybeans. That measurement takes into account the fertilizers, pesticides, and other industrial inputs used in agriculture.
The carbon footprint is only one aspect of a given food’s sustainability; it’s also important to consider the source of the product (such as whether the soy is sustainably farmed) and the other resources, such as water, needed to produce your non-dairy milk. Non-dairy beverages also require additional processing—after all, those 3.2 kcal of beans have a long way to go before they are transformed into your vanilla soy milk. Compared to soy, hempseed has a number of advantages: it is not genetically engineered to allow drenching it with herbicides, it can be grown in more regions, has more genetic diversity, is more likely to be grown organically, captures more carbon, has fewer allergens and anti-nutritional factors, has more uses besides just the seed, and tastes better raw. Soy requires extensive heat processing before being edible, unlike hempseed.
Whereas soybeans are grown in rows and don’t get much taller than 2 m, hemp grown for seed can be very tall, with exponentially more biomass sucking carbon out of the atmosphere than a field put to soy. While the current practice when growing for seed is to have short plants for harvesting ease, that’s more an equipment limitation than a natural one. Comparing soy agronomy and processing to hempseed, soy is more energy intensive.
While a liter of soymilk generates only 18% of the GHG of a liter of cow’s milk, hempseed will be even lower, much lower. And although tofu is 8% of the greenhouse gas generated per pound of protein than herd beef, simply because shelled hempseed can be eaten raw, unlike soybean, it could generate far less GHG by the time it gets into people’s stomachs.
The Naturally Nutrient Rich score of shelled hempseed is 21.1. PDCAAS is 0.46, protein digestibility is 0.93, and PER is 1.87. The Disaster Response Diet Score of hempseed as food is 11.
And where there’s hempseed, there’s bast and hurd fiber… lots of it. As much as twenty times more fiber than seed, per-acre. To get that seed, you’ll have to also find a revenue stream for all that fiber. It won’t likely be suitable for textiles, but still has value and tons of carbon locked-up inside it. It could be used in Biocrete to make carbon-negative building insulation, ethanol, biochar, animal bedding, auto parts, erosion control, and many other products.
Growing hemp, especially for food, aligns with many Sustainable Development Goals. Where a Carbon Credits system is implemented it may give hemp farming an economic advantage over other crops or operations and could warm investors and asset owners to hemp.
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