The global food market is valued at $9.43 trillion and is responsible for approximately 34% of global greenhouse gas production. In addition to causing enormous greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss, the food system is inefficient, unsustainable, and inequitable. This can be observed through the vast quantities of food waste produced annually, the inequitable access to nutritious foods resulting in both widespread malnourishment and an obesity epidemic, and the increase in antibiotic resistance and new pandemics as a result of food and animal handling. Addressing these challenges requires innovation across multiple sectors and scales. However, current innovation often occurs in silos, with little multidisciplinary interaction and collaboration across stakeholders from academia, industries, and communities. For example, many alternative meat products have reported environmental benefits compared to industrially produced animal products; however, in recent years, market growth for these products has stalled despite an increasingly worsening environmental crisis. This is a clear signal from consumers that further innovation is needed to produce environmentally sustainable products that can provide better flavor and health benefits to the consumer at competitive prices.
Established and start-up food companies that are increasingly invested in developing products to meet this demand have partnered with UC Berkeley for this course. Students will work in teams with assigned companies for the duration of the semester while they seek and propose innovative solutions to combat the environmental and health challenges prevalent in our current food systems. This includes investing in plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy, seafood, and other animal products, in addition to upcycling waste streams to reduce waste and create a more circular and secure food system. This class will serve as an introduction to the current sustainable food scene and innovative ideas in relation to food technology. While learning about this emerging space, student teams conduct literature and laboratory-based investigations to develop environmentally sustainable solutions to real-life challenges faced by their industry partners.
Participation in this course sets students up to take the follow-up spring course “Design of Plant-based Foods” where students will take their introductory knowledge and industry insights gained in this course and translate them to developing their own food products and developing business plans and even new companies.
Students of any major and professional degree (MBA, undergraduate, graduate) are encouraged to apply. Especially suited for students with an interest in food technology, biotechnology, engineering, business/start-ups, data science, nutrition, and design oriented thinking.
Sarah Klass, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the Keasling Lab at UC Berkeley and the Joint Bioenergy Institute. Additionally, she serves as a lecturer for courses in conjunction with the Alt: Meat X-Lab through the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology at UC Berkeley. With a chemistry and chemical biology background, her focus has been on chemically and genetically modifying natural protein structures for advanced material and biological functions. During her Ph.D. in the Francis lab at UC Berkeley, Sarah studied the impact of sequence modification on intrinsically disordered proteins’ self-assembling properties to develop a new class of bioderived and biodegradable protein-based materials with unique functions. In the Keasling Lab, Sarah works on engineering polyketide synthetases (PKSs) in bacterial hosts to bio-manufacture small molecule monomers that can be polymerized into recyclable 3D plastics. Additionally, she has worked to genetically engineer Aspergillus oryzae, the filamentous fungi associated with the production of sake and miso, to produce novel compounds and enzymes with applications in food and waste upcycling. As a Lecturer, Sarah teaches the fall introductory course to Sustainable Solutions in Plant-Based Foods and the spring challenge course: Design of Plant-Based Foods which has historically served as a launching pad for numerous successful food-tech start-ups formed by Berkeley students during this course.