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Redefining the Food Landscape: Insights from UNEP's "What's Cooking?" Report

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has released a groundbreaking report titled “What’s Cooking? An assessment of potential impacts of selected novel alternatives to conventional animal products”. This report delves into the evolving realm of novel food alternatives and their potential to revolutionize the global food system.

The Urgency for Change

- Global Food System and GHG Emissions: Current food systems are accountable for about 30% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with animal products contributing to almost 60% of these emissions. The report highlights the critical need to transform how we produce and consume food, given its escalating impact on the triple planetary crises: climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

- Growing Demand and Environmental Impact: As the world’s population increases, so does the demand for animal-sourced foods, which can be environmentally destructive. This demand exacerbates the already severe planetary crises.

Novel Alternatives: A Sustainable Path Forward

- Focus of the Report: “What’s Cooking?” specifically examines novel alternatives to conventional animal source foods. These include plant-based, fermentation-derived, and cultivated meat and dairy products. The report assesses their environmental, health, social, and animal welfare implications【38†source】.

- Potential Benefits: Novel plant-based foods, cultivated meats, and fermentation-derived products are seen as viable alternatives or complements to traditional meat and dairy. These innovative options could leave a significantly smaller environmental footprint, especially in high- and middle-income countries, if they utilize low-carbon energy sources.

Key Findings and Considerations

- Interdisciplinary Assessment: An interdisciplinary team of experts has evaluated the impacts of these novel food alternatives in comparison to their conventional counterparts. The report aims to inform policymakers, investors, and others involved in regulating and supporting these emerging food categories.

- Environmental Footprint: Emphasizing the potential of these novel foods to reduce the environmental footprint of the global food system, the report underscores their significance in high- and middle-income countries. The use of low-carbon energy in the production of these alternatives is crucial for maximizing their environmental benefits.

Challenges and Opportunities

- Consumer Adoption and Education: While the report points out the advantages of these novel food alternatives, it also implies the need for greater consumer education and adoption. Overcoming hurdles related to taste, nutrition, and safety perceptions will be vital for these products to gain widespread acceptance.

- Policy and Investment Implications: Policymakers and investors play a crucial role in the development and support of these alternative food sources. Their actions can influence the pace and scale of adoption, potentially leading to a more sustainable global food system.


UNEP’s “What’s Cooking?” report is a significant contribution to the discourse on sustainable food systems. By exploring novel alternatives to animal-based products, it offers a vision of a future where our food choices align more closely with environmental sustainability and planetary health. This report serves as a call to action for policymakers, industry leaders, and consumers to embrace these innovative food solutions as part of the broader effort to tackle the pressing challenges of climate change and environmental degradation.


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