Food from inedible plant matter (FFIP)

Food Plus is a not-for-profit volunteer group seeking to promote research and development of technologies and techniques for the production of protein and other foodstuffs from inedible plant matter such as wood and cellulose. In particular, we are interested in the potential of unconventional techniques (eg the use of bacteria or fungi) rather than the familiar use of grazing animals to create meat or milk from grass and other vegetation. Some relevant publications are detailed in Reports and articles.

The potential lies in the relatively huge quantities of inedible plant matter in the world (wood -- including wood waste from sawmills -- forestry trimmings, straw and other agricultural waste, and more) compared with the relatively small quantities of edible plant matter (grains, nuts, etc). If even a small proportion of that inedible plant matter were to be converted into edible form (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins etc), this could transform world food supplies. There may be a case for using some of the new resource as animal feed.

This is different from and potentially much more useful than merely switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Potential benefits

The potential benefits of being able to create food from inedible plant matter include:

  • The alleviation or elimination of hunger and malnutrition:
    • As it is in the world today.
It is true that there are factors other than quantity that cause problems of hunger and malnutrition. But quantity is likely to be an increasingly important issue with population growth and the effects of climate change. And there are many options for ensuring that new foods are nutritionally balanced.
  • Reducing the need for over-intensive agriculture, including the use of pesticides, and consequent harm to public health, wildlife and biodiversity (see, for example, Assumed safety of pesticide use is false, says top government scientist, The Guardian, 2017-09-22).
  • Reducing the demand for water for agriculture, a particular benefit where there is a shortage of water.

  • Reducing the temptation to destroy valuable ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest. There is potential, for example, to create alternatives to palm oil and thus perhaps reduce the pressure to replace rainforest with plantations.
  • Reducing the temptation for agri-business to push traditional farmers off their land.
  • Reducing the pressure on the world's fisheries.

Potential problems

There seem to be two main potential problems, both of them soluble:

  • Safety. It is possible that food created from inedible plant matter may not be entirely safe. But rigorous testing, and a focus on the creation of food products which are identical with ones from traditional sources, should minimise such problems.
  • Palatability. As with safety, it is possible that food from inedible plant matter may not have a good flavour, or it may have an unappealing texture, or both those things. But a strong focus on the need for new foods to be attractive to people should overcome such problems.
See also Possible objections.

A proposal

Given the problems of food supply identified in the UK government's The Future of Food and Farming, and other publications, and the potential of food from inedible plant matter to ameliorate them, there appears to be a need to raise the profile of this area of research and to provide more funding.

We believe there is a case for establishing a new research centre or institute, dedicated to the conversion of inedible plant matter into edible form. As far as we have been able to discover, there is no research centre of this kind in the world today.

A possible title for the new centre is "The Institute for Food". Topics for research would include conversion techniques, nutritional balance, the use of new foodstuffs as animal feed, safety, allergies, public acceptance, palatability, and more.

Some possible objections to the proposal, with suggested answers, are outlined on our page about Possible objections