Millet, a fast-growing cereal plant, typically used to make flour or alcoholic drinks, could be the latest plant used in the fight to feed our growing global population. Millet tends to be high in micro-nutrients and protein and grows well in semiarid, hot regions with skeletal soils (picture what the world is going to look like when the temperature rises three degrees Celsius). Because of this, millet has been a staple crop for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the U.S. Government has overlooked millet and instead promoted the mass production of monocultures, like wheat, rice, and corn – mainly because these crops can be used for animal feed among other commodity items. As a result, our food system has become completely devoid of biodiversity – leaving it highly susceptible to collapse – and we’ve completely ignored the role that plants can play in meeting our high demand for proteins.
Patricia Bubner and Amrita Hazra, both postdoctoral researchers, realized millet was nearly absent from agriculture in the United States, so they founded The Millet Project (TMP) to help bring diversity into agriculture and diets in the U.S.
TMP was awarded a seed grant from the Berkeley Food Institute in 2015 and the project grew, with undergraduates, graduate students, and other postdocs interested in the project.
TMP hosted The Millet Exhibit in 2015 and 2016, where the team invited community members to a farming test site in Albany, California so that they could walk through a field of millet and learn more about the crop.
TMP members developed two millet-based food products: a “millet slider,” a beef patty alternative that was rated highly by attendees, and a “Might Millet Snack Drop,” made with malted millet, dried figs, and roasted hazelnuts.
TMP sees the immense potential for millet to be used in plant-based products and is excited to see what comes next! Millet is a gluten-free, nutritious, drought-tolerant grain and could be a solution for how we are going to feed a population of 9.8 billion by 2050.
The standard Western diet, which is centered around meat and dairy, is extremely resource intensive. In order to produce animal products, land, water, and energy are required to grow, harvest, and transport the feed that is then fed to the farmed animals. We currently produce enough calories to feed 10-11 billion people worldwide, however, the majority of this food goes to feed livestock, not hungry people. In fact, it is estimated that people who eat beef use 160 times more land, water, and fuel resources to sustain their diets than their plant-based counterparts.
From beans and legumes to plant-based meats, there is no shortage of sources of plant-based protein. Plant-based meat companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are just at the tip of tapping into plant-based protein’s potential. What’s more, innovative projects such as TMP that focus on promoting protein sources that are not harmful to the environment will help heal our broken food system. We hope that this is a sign that the agriculture industry, and consumers, are catching on to the fact that you don’t need to waste time, energy, and resources raising and killing an animal to get protein!
Want to learn more about the impact of our current food system and how plant-based proteins can build a better future? Check out the #EatForThePlanet book!
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