FoodShot Global, a platform promoting transformative food systems solutions, recently announced the winners of its second MoonShot for Better Food Challenge, Precision Protein. The Precision Protein FoodShot calls for research investigating the role protein can play in building a food system that promotes planetary and human health.
“In conversations about protein, you often end up in black and white situations where you either have to totally replace animal agriculture, or that animal agriculture is essential. We wanted to reframe [this] discussion,” Sara Eckhouse, Executive Director of FoodShot Global, tells Food Tank. “We wanted a more science-based conversation about how we can innovate across the protein sector to make sure that the protein system is meeting human and planetary health.”
According to FoodShot Global, proteins play a significant role in human and animal health, and have a great impact on the environment and resources. The Precision Protein FoodShot aimed to achieve improvements across food systems sectors, investigating proteins and other micro- and macro-nutrients, encouraging the production of alternate proteins, and identifying solutions for more regenerative farming systems.
Dr. Dil Thavarajah, Associate Professor of Pulse Quality and Nutrition at Clemson University in South Carolina, is the first prize winner for her work on organic plant-based proteins. “We are trying to work on the biofortification of pulse crops – lentils and peas,” Thavarajah tells Food Tank.
Thavarajah looks at improving the protein in pulses to make them more nutritious and digestible. She explains this not only has the potential to address global malnutrition and deficiencies, but it can also reduce dependence on animal proteins.
Dr. Hannah van Zanten, Associate Professor in Farming Systems Ecology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, received the second prize for her work to develop a circular food system model. “I am looking at how we can redesign today’s food system while considering all the interconnections within the food system,” van Zanten tells Food Tank.
Van Zanten is interested in the concept of circularity, with a focus on the potential to recycle and reuse in the food system. She has developed a model to redesign European food systems and hopes to use data, provided in part by FoodShot Global’s networking opportunities, to develop a global model with site-specific solutions.
As part of the challenge, Equity investments were also awarded to Novo Nutrients, a company working to transform waste carbon dioxide into protein for aquaculture and animal feed, and Vence, a company working to digitize animal management for livestock farmers.
For FoodShot Global, it was important that the winning projects demonstrate the potential to catalyze innovation across sectors in the food system and for their global relevance. “We see Hannah’s work as really enabling countries to reconfigure and reexamine their food systems. And we see Dil’s work as enabling a huge amount of innovation across the plant sector to improve protein production to improve bioavailability and digestibility,” Eckhouse tells Food Tank.
For Thavarajah and van Zanten, winning the FoodShot Global prize has provided them with networking opportunities and recognition for their work. “What was really important for me was having this network to help me figure out how my scientific work really helps others, and at the end stimulate this transition [to a sustainable food system],” van Zanten tells Food Tank. Thavarajah says that the prize, and the unrestricted grant funding, will also provide her with the flexibility to take her project to the next level.
FoodShot Global also awards individuals in two other focus areas: Innovating Soil 3.0 and Bioactive Foods. The final FoodShot, Bioactive Foods, which is currently accepting applications, aims to investigate the food-health nexus. According to Eckhouse, the frameworks for all three challenges were developed to recognize the complexities and interconnections in the food systems. She explains that Thavarajah and van Zanten’s work also bridge the gap between the FoodShots.
“There is an increased need to not just look at what we are eating, but how it’s grown and how that impacts human and planetary health,” Eckhouse tells Food Tank. “And we are trying to recognize the people who are doing that work and help them advance their work in a way that it can have a greater impact around the world.”
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