Other solutions

There are a number of other resilient food solutions that we think are less promising, either because of higher costs or because the solution would feed fewer people. However, future research could change this.

  • Other high-tech solutions

    Petroleum wax turned into fat

    Petroleum wax, a common oil processing byproduct, could be converted into a synthetic butter substitute to produce significant amounts of food. (ref: a domain which we can later redirect to our soon to be published paper on the topic).

    Propylene to glycerol (glycerin)

    The potential of petroleum for food production is even greater. Propene (a.k.a. propylene), is a common chemical intermediate obtained from petroleum processing, which can be chemically converted to glycerol (ref: https://doi.org/10.3390/membranes7020017). It is sweet, contains as many calories as table sugar, and is commonly used as a food ingredient to make vegan cakes.

    CO₂ + electricity to glycerol

    Glycerol can be obtained via multiple different chemical routes. We’ve identified another production route which is also completely independent of traditional agriculture, requiring only CO and electricity as raw materials (ref: a domain which we can later redirect to our soon to be published paper on the topic).

    Electric microbes producing vinegar

    Electrotrophs are a special group of microorganisms capable of “digesting” electricity directly. They can be used to convert CO and electricity into acetic acid (ref: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clet.2021.100139), also known as the major ingredient in vinegar. It is a calorie dense compound which is traditionally consumed all around the world, most commonly as a salad dressing.

    Fats from microorganisms

    Fermentation can be leveraged as a means to obtain dietary fats. Specific microorganisms are capable of synthesizing considerable amounts of fatty acids, even omega and essential fatty acids (ref: https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2020.608662). One concept is similar to the sugars from plant fiber: the fiber would be turned into a pulp, and then the cellulose would be digested by the microorganisms to produce the fats (ref: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biortech.2016.10.039). Another concept is similar to the hydrogen SCP, in which the microorganisms convert hydrogen and CO2 into fatty acids (ref: https://wyss.harvard.edu/technology/circe-tailored-fats-for-food-applications/).



  • Other low-tech solutions

    Feeding food waste to animals

    In a catastrophe, food waste would likely decrease, but there still may be opportunity to feed food discarded by humans to animals. It may be possible to co-opt the municipal trash/recycling system to collect the food. 

    Freshwater plants

    There are several photosynthetic water-based options that are not seaweed, such as spirulina and duckweed. Though currently relatively high cost, it may be feasible to grow some of these in wastewater economically. 

    Sprouting seeds

    Sprouting seeds can increase vitamins (at the expense of some calories), but greenhouses can provide a variety of vitamins at lower cost. 

    Artificial light

    Artificial light (vertical farming) can produce any food, but it is very expensive and inefficient. Therefore, it should only be used when greenhouses are inadequate, such as for extending the lighting duration for certain crops in greenhouses in the tropics. Another use is for nontropical tree crops if it is too difficult to relocate the trees to the tropics. 

    Rabbits

    Rabbits can eat nonhuman edible food. Food from domesticated rabbits could comprise about 0.1% of human food requirements after one year (ref: https://allfed.info/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Feeding-everyone-if-the-sun-is-obscured-and-industry-is-disabled.pdf), but utilizing wild rabbits could increase this significantly. 

    Rats

    Rats also have some ability to digest fiber, and could produce about 7% of human food after a year.

    Mushrooms

    Since mushrooms can produce a billion spores (their equivalent of seeds) each, they could be scaled up very quickly. They can convert fiber into food, but not as efficiently or as low cost as industrial techniques. 

    Insects

    There is significant interest now in insects as human food because of their greater conversion of feed. However, in a catastrophe, feeding insects human edible food is not very valuable. On the other hand, some insects can digest fiber or consume animal waste, so these would be the resilient forms of insect food. 

    Deep sea fish

    There are roughly 10 billion tons of mesopelagic fish (200 m to 600 m or 700 feet to 2000 feet down in the ocean), enough to feed everyone for years. They are generally not economical to harvest now, but they may be in a catastrophe. 

    Trees

    The inner bark of some trees is edible, and has been used historically as a famine food. 

    Shipworms

    Shipworms are a clam that can eat wood, and it could scale up very quickly. However, the logistics of moving many logs to the ocean and retaining them would need to be worked out. Other clams might be synergistic with seaweed.

    Behavioral changes

    There are also many behavioral techniques that could reduce demand for food. The best options would be those that have other benefits, such as sleeping more, targeting the lower end of healthy body weight, and reducing drug consumption such as nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine. Other options include feeding food scraps to pets, reducing exercise, and raising indoor temperatures/wearing heavier clothing.

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