Written by Joshua Mhar Quinit, TFF Ambassador from the Philippines

In the next three decades, we will need to produce 70% more food compared to now. Current systems won’t allow for that, which is why we as individuals, countries, and regions need to rethink what we eat, how we produce food, and how we make safe food available to everyone.

Let’s take Southeast Asia as an example. I am from the Philippines—a Southeast Asian country that has a plethora of Asian and Western influences embedded in its culture. From regional integration to international relations, I have witnessed how the region paved the way for economic developments.

Southeast Asia’s population is growing fast, almost every person my age is moving to megacities, leaving the countryside behind. On average, city dwellers are wealthier, they consume more meat and industrially produced foods, and with their choice to move to an urban area, they distance themselves from traditional jobs, such as family farming. With all these trends in mind, what can we do to meet the towering demand for protein in Southeast Asia?

Why “Just keep going” is not an option

👩‍⚕️ We will not be able to meet the prescribed daily protein and other nutritional requirements. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy adult will require, as a safe level, 0.75 g of protein per kilogram of food per day. Conventional sources of protein, such as seafood and meat, won’t be able to support the needs of every living person in the planet. 

🌾 The predominant staples in the Southeast Asian diet – rice and other forms of grains and cereals – contain low amounts of usable protein. These foods are also characterized by their low composition of necessary amino acids and micronutrients.

🌎 Not only is human health compromised with our present protein consumptions, but the health of the environment as well. Depletion of natural resources and exacerbation of climate change through greenhouse gas emissions are some of the risks resulting from the current trends of dietary consumption. To illustrate, freshwater by 2050 may be completely used up if necessary adjustments to the way animal-based products are consumed are not made. 

🐄 Global warming can be a highly possible outcome of livestock farming as grazing animals release carbon dioxide at a stupefying rate. Hence, it is very clear why we should start having a flexible preference for food as the various concerns in our food systems are continuously evolving.

The potential of alternative proteins and the next generation

🤩 Alternative proteins may lower the adverse repercussions that our present food system places on the environment and improve our health and wellbeing. The majority of the quality improvements of alternative protein products and the growth of the conscious consumer within the region should continue to drive the growth of the market and the related environmental benefits. 

🙋‍♀️ The large youth bulk, for instance, is becoming more sensible of environmental issues and this perception is being shown in their choices. If the whole of Southeast Asia takes a defining move to alternative proteins, then the amount of land saved from the associated reduction in meat consumption will be potentially more significant. Primary signs suggest that this is a practical prospect. 

💰 Unavailability of affordable mass-market prices continues to be the top cause of low initial adoption levels of alternative protein products, but luckily, this is unlikely to persist as a wave of Asian-based food tech start-ups is developing products for Southeast Asian consumers. 

Remodeling our food systems

Bear in mind that restraining oneself from eating meat products does not have the relevant impact necessary to restore our protein use to sustainable levels as overall demand for meat keeps on growing.

What is needed today is to remodel our systems to adapt to numerous challenges. Production and consumption of alternative proteins in Southeast Asia is just one of the many food security strategies to satisfy the protein demand in the region. Needless to say, there is much that alternative proteins can offer to the citizens of these nations, which could further cause a fundamental shift to a more sustainable future.

🎥 How can we adopt alternative diets?

Watch our recorded live session where we talked about behaviour change and food labeling to dive deeper into the topic of #alternativeproteins.