Two Intensives To Explore Hot Topics in Food

Two Intensives — multi-session, cohort-based experiential learning opportunities — will take on trending topics in food this fall. From the ancient practice of fermentation to the emerging field of plant-based and lab-grown “meat,” these Intensives are leveraging cross-campus perspectives to explore food practices and systems from new angles.

Alternative Protein 101

In the spring of 2017, Yale became the first university to serve the Beyond Burger in its dining halls. The vegan burger, unlike a garden-variety Gardenburger, is designed to look and taste like meat. Made with pea protein and beet juice, the Beyond Burger is part of a wave of innovation in the field of alternative protein, driven by consumer preferences and sustainability concerns. 

This fall, CITY will run an Intensive, titled “Alternative Protein 101” and produced in partnership with the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, that explores this wave of innovations and their potential implications. Led by students Maki Tazawa (MEM ’19) and Abhi Kumar (MMS ’19), the Intensive will offer students from all disciplines an opportunity to explore advances in alternative protein products, gain exposure to the processes behind them, and consider food innovation from multiple lenses. Though products like the Beyond Burger have recently taken a bite out of the industry, plant-based food technology and meat substitutes are not new. Tazawa points out, “What has made the space grow more in recent years are the new technologies and products that are aiming to make plant-based foods as meat-y, milk-y or egg-y as possible.” Right now, there are two ways of pursuing this mimicry: cleverly engineered plant-based food and “clean meat,” which is grown from animal cells. 

But meatiness is not the only requirement of a viable meat-replacement. Kumar notes that before diving into engineering, innovators must consider consumer priorities. He says, “Most thought leaders and early research in this space suggests that it’s taste, price, and convenience that rule the roost. You could add nutrition to that list, depending on the exact consumer segment you’re going to target.” With those parameters in mind, teams must consider a variety of questions. Kumar asks, “Is your product going to be shelf stable or will it need the cold chain? How will that affect your distribution capability and therefore the ‘convenience’ element for the consumer? How will you balance saturated fat content when consumers want tasty and nutritious alternatives?” This broader strategizing, with any eye toward the complexities of food systems, is essential to the development process. 

It’s exactly this kind of holistic attention to the process that Kumar and Tazawa plan to incorporate in their Intensive. They aim to cover current technologies and existing alternative proteins (both plant-based and cell-based), as well as to assess the potential impacts of alternative proteins for sustainability, climate change, food security, nutrition, and policy. According to Tazawa, they hope “to share where the space is, what social and environmental impacts it has, and the future of food innovation so interested students can begin to explore what role alternative proteins will play in their lives and theories of change.” 

The world of alternative protein is just beginning to open up, and the work of the Intensive will both touch on the wealth of opportunities it offers and draw upon the urgency of the problems the field aims to solve. Kumar reasons, “If we can solve some critical science and technology barriers in the space, we’ll…unlock industries that are absolutely massive. For instance, the meat and dairy industry is expected to be about $1.2 trillion this year. Apart from the economic opportunity, it’s a fantastic opportunity to solve a critical global issue that is a climate change issue, public health issue, and ethical issue all at the same time.”

Applications for the Intensive, which is open to all Yale students, are due October 10. The Intensive will take place over three sessions: 12pm-3pm on 10/26, 11/2, and 11/9. Learn more and apply here

 Students sample food (here, as part of orientation with the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies) at the Yale Landscape Lab, which will be the site of a fermentation Intensive this fall.

Students sample food (here, as part of orientation with the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies) at the Yale Landscape Lab, which will be the site of a fermentation Intensive this fall.

Fermentation: Science, Culture, and More

From Good Nature Market to Durfee’s, Bass Café, or even the recently installed display at the Stop & Shop on Whalley Avenue, the kombucha craze has made its way to Yale. Students who don’t care to spend a swipe or buy a high-priced beverage can purchase a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) and brew their own. This newly popular, effervescent probiotic beverage is part of a broader health trend focused on gut health and the body’s microbiome. 

Though fermentation is an ancient practice (it’s mentioned throughout the Old Testament and is believed to have been used in ancient civilizations from Egypt to India), it’s currently experiencing a renaissance. A popular YouTube series from Bon Appetit, “It’s Alive with Brad Leone,” for example, teaches recipes and strategies for making fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, miso paste, giardiniera, kimchi, and more every few weeks. Yale students, though, don’t need to voyage to the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen to get their fill of fermentation. This fall, CITY and the Yale Landscape Lab will host a Fermentation Intensive, which will take a “hands-on approach to the industry, science, and cross-cultural craft of fermentation.” 

Students will not only have the opportunity to visit with scientists, nutrition experts, and companies working in the fermentation industry, but will also participate in hands-on workshops on product development. Student Haley Leslie-Bole (MEM ’20), who is helping coordinate the Intensive, notes, “Students will come away with a solid practical knowledge of the art of fermentation and will gain a better understanding of the microbiology that makes fermentation happen.”

Each use of fermentation has its own background and context, and Leslie-Bole emphasizes that this Intensive will go beyond just the scientific basics of the fermentation process: “We will also dive into the cultural aspects of fermentation, including the ways that fermentation can bring communities together and the complexities of turning fermentation into a business.” Like all culinary arts, she says, “there is always room for experimentation and innovation in fermentation.”

Ultimately, fermentation goes far beyond the pungent health foods and beverages currently attracting buzz. From baked goods (like sourdough) and cheese to alcohol, bacteria shape diets and health across lifestyles, cultures, and food preferences. “Fermentation is fascinating,” Leslie-Bole says, “because there are so many ways to engage with the process.” 

The Fermentation Intensive is open to all Yale students: students interested in the microbiome, nutrition science, food innovation, or just learning more about fermentation can learn more and apply for the Intensive here. Applications are due October 16, and the Intensive will run 1pm-4pm on October 26 and November 2, 9, and 30. 

Emma Chanen