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CNN Special Reports

Jonathan Safran Foer On Climate Change; Danielle Beck: We Are Committed To Being Part Of The Climate Solution; Weir: By Some Estimates, We Have 60 Years Of Good Soil Left On Earth. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 23, 2021 - 21:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The following is a CNN Special Report.






BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a show about diets, not the kind that gets you ready for swimsuit season.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lobster's the best.

WEIR (voice-over): But the nutritional wants and needs of over 7 billion people, what all those meals are doing to our bodies, and our little blue marvel in space.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay home as much as possible.

WEIR (voice-over): When COVID-19 shut down life, as we knew it, it made a lot of folks rethink food. Where it comes from? Who provides it? And the incredibly complicated system that gets it into our bellies, or doesn't?

And it turns out, that system grows all kinds of problems, invisible gases that can cook the planet, and burn a lot more than dinner. Business models that lay waste to wild spaces, fill dumps with wasted food, and take shortcuts that can shorten your life.

So, as the world reopens, will we go back to the same old buffet of unintended consequences? Or can information and innovation bring balance, both to our diets, and our world? This is EATING PLANET EARTH: THE FUTURE OF YOUR FOOD.

WEIR (voice-over): What would be your last supper?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Steak and lobster surf and turf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Filet mignon steak.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Korean fried chicken.

WEIR (on camera): You got one meal left.


WEIR (on camera): What would be your last meal?

LEWIS: Ooh man! I'm making Vegan nachos.

WEIR (on camera): You're crazy!

WEIR (voice-over): What was your first feast coming out of a global pandemic?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burgers, hotdogs.

WEIR (voice-over): For those fortunate enough to choose, a favorite food is an emotional choice.

WEIR (on camera): While I've been lucky enough to fill my belly, around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are so think (ph).


WEIR (voice-over): And whether it is falafel in Egypt.

WEIR (on camera): Beautiful!

WEIR (voice-over): Seafood in Galapagos.

WEIR (on camera): It's still fighting.

WEIR (voice-over): Or a Greek salad on a Greek island.

WEIR (on camera): Yes, I'm supposed to drink this whole thing?

I just drank a half a coconut cup of somebody else's spit!


WEIR (voice-over): Chances are that craving was passed down through generations.

JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER, AUTHOR, "EATING ANIMALS": More often, it has to do with memories, like burgers, my dad would grill on the Fourth of July, or the roasted chicken my grandmother would make, whenever we would visit her. Those are really valuable memories, for me, you know?

WEIR (on camera): It's love on a plate.

SAFRAN FOER: It is love on a plate. That having been said, are there other ways to offer love on a plate? I think there are.

WEIR (voice-over): Jonathan Safran Foer was best known as a best- selling novelist. But his non-fiction, "Eating Animals," and "We Are The Weather," are the voice of a worried father, in the age of climate change.

SAFRAN FOER: Our families and friends inspire us to try harder. And I found that that's the case with my kids. But I didn't know what trying harder would even mean.

WEIR (on camera): Right.

SAFRAN FOER: Do I have to go buy a Tesla? Did I have to stop flying? I just didn't know.

WEIR (voice-over): So, he looked around at our choices, and realized that from an almond latte to a Vegas buffet, everything we consume comes with a cost, not often reflected in the price.

And according to science, the foods that cost more land, water and pollution than any other, come from the humble cow.

And by cutting those products from breakfast and lunch, Safran Foer suggests that humanity can start saving itself, and our home.

SAFRAN FOER: I believe in science.

WEIR (on camera): Yes.

SAFRAN FOER: And I believe in science, when 97 percent of scientists say climate change is happening.

WEIR (on camera): Right.

SAFRAN FOER: I believe in the United Nations when they say that animal agriculture is one of the top two or three causes of every significant environmental problem on the planet, locally and globally, from air pollution to water pollution, to deforestation to greenhouse gas emissions.

Does that mean that we all have to become radical? No. Does it mean that we all have to become vegetarian? No. We just have to respond to it.

WEIR (voice-over): In the 10,000 years since men in, what is now, Iran, tamed a small herd, of wild oxen, the global herd of cows, has exploded to around 1.4 billion.


A big reason livestock now outweighs all the wild birds and animals on land, by a factor of 10, while taking more and more wild spaces, as that herd grows, and their 5.6 billion stomachs are burping out a massive existential threat we cannot see.

WEIR (on camera): Unless you have a special infrared camera like this, which can turn a Texas bluebird sky into this.

And this is methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If CO2 is a blanket of average thickness, methane is a blanket as thick as LeBron James is tall.

WEIR (voice-over): While the oil fields of Texas and New Mexico leak enough natural gas, to heat 2 million homes a year, American cows and livestock released 6 percent more.

And then there's the 12 million acres of carbon-capturing forests that are cleared around the world, each year, to feed them.

Add it all up, and if cows were a country, they would be third behind China, and the U.S., in the creation of planet-cooking pollution.

WEIR (on camera): What is the National Cattlemen's Beef Association? Where do you stand on manmade climate change and your industry's role in it?


And we are committed to being part of the climate solution. Beef is a safe, affordable and nutritious product that consumers love. And it's one that they can feel good about eating.

PAT BROWN, FOUNDER & CEO, IMPOSSIBLE FOODS: The fact is, this is the most destructive industry on Earth.

WEIR (voice-over): But, according to the gentleman, in the "No-cows" T-shirt, that is "Impossible."

BROWN: The greatest threat that humans have ever faced is primarily due to the use of animals as a food technology.

WEIR (voice-over): Pat Brown was a professor at Stanford Medical School, until he realized that a big part of the climate story is a food story.

So, in typical Silicon Valley fashion, he rounded up the smartest scientist, he knew, and set out to disrupt Big Meat.

JOHN D. YORK, CHIEF SCIENCE OFFICER, IMPOSSIBLE FOODS: This is what we call a bench-scale fermenter.

WEIR (voice-over): Including John, who once studied Vampire Bats.

YORK: We basically took the beef product. We deconstructed it, found out what made it beefy. WEIR (voice-over): What makes beef beefy is called heme, short for hemoglobin. But what we associate with animal blood is also created by all kinds of plants. And it is the secret sauce at "Impossible Foods."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going to go do a classic patty melt.

We're going to show you some meatballs for the beef.

And then the pork variety, we're going to do some Bao Buns, as well as some pork fillets (ph).

WEIR (on camera): Oh, beautiful!

WEIR (voice-over): All of this will be made with heme-flavored plants.

And in five years, a guy with no experience in food, or business, took "Impossible," from one restaurant, to over 30,000, including Burger King and Starbucks, and 20,000 stores.


Lots of burger.

WEIR (on camera): Oh yes!

MELTON: Integrated medium (ph).

WEIR (on camera): May I?

MELTON: Absolutely.

WEIR (on camera): OK.

MELTON: You ever heard of a burger test? This is how it is.

WEIR (on camera): This is how they do.

MELTON: Test the burger.

WEIR (on camera): Cheers!

Wow! That's really good.

MELTON: Got to go in for seconds.

WEIR (voice-over): And since everything is political these days, don't take my word for it, get a load of conservative firebrand and ranch owner Glenn Beck.



G. BECK: --is meat. B is the fake burger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: B is the real burger - real burger. A is the "Impossible" burger.

G. BECK: That is insane!

WEIR (voice-over): "Impossible" isn't even the biggest player in this game. They are third in the meat replacement market share behind Kellogg's MorningStar Farms, and Beyond, which has been on a rocket ride, since going public in 2019.

BROWN: The first mechanized vehicle lost a race to a horse, but it was never going to lose again. And that technology gets better every day. And that's the situation we're in.

Cows are not getting any better. I bet they're doing. They haven't, and seriously, they're not even trying. So, it's game over. They just don't know it yet.

WEIR (voice-over): While meat sales ticked up slightly, during the Pandemic, some analysts predicted alternatives will take 60 percent of Big Meat's business in less than 20 years, including a fascinating new player that doesn't use plants or animals.

WEIR (on camera): Oh, that's it? That's the magic?

THOMAS JONAS, CO-FOUNDER & CEO, NATURE'S FYND: From this fridge, we can literally feed the world.



WEIR (voice-over): In the 40 years, after the Civil War, around 400 million cows, hogs and sheep were butchered in the few 100 acres of Chicago's Union Stock Yards. My how times changed!

JONAS: When we were doing the construction, digging down the Earth, we found this meat hook.

WEIR (on camera): Oh, that's a meat hook?

WEIR (voice-over): But now in 2021, just a few blocks from McDonald's' headquarters, a start-up CEO, named Thomas Jonas, has hooked me with a most amazing story.

JONAS: I was president of a large multinational packaging company. Everything from the pongs (ph) on Chanel No 5 to the pongs (ph) on Windex, I started to realize that what I've been doing was putting plastic in the ocean.

WEIR (voice-over): Amid a mid-career crisis, he decided to start a company, to help the planet, by tricking our carnivorous taste buds, in a way that has never been tried before.

WEIR (on camera): Really interested in this ground beef.

Wow! That's impressive. WEIR (voice-over): If you've never heard of "Nature's Fynd," I'll bet you a fake burger, you'll never guess what kind of protein is in all of these dishes. Here's a hint.

WEIR (on camera): Does it need sunlight?

JONAS: It doesn't need sunlight.

WEIR (on camera): You can grow it in the dark, yes?

JONAS: It can grow in a complete dark. It's not a plant. It's not an animal.

WEIR (voice-over): Still stumped? I'll give you another hint.


This new miracle meat was discovered out west, in Yellowstone National Park, America's first best idea, a natural wonderland formed by a supervolcano, and protected as a glimpse of what the American West looked like, before White people and their cows showed up.

And no, they are not cloning buffalo. The answer is over here, because there is something in the water.

WEIR (on camera): It's just perfect, right?


WEIR (on camera): Amazing!

MARK KOZUBAL, CHIEF SCIENCE OFFICER & CO-FOUNDER, NATURE'S FYND: And this is a really active part of the Yellowstone too. There's a lot of seismic activity here, and the things are changing quite a bit.

WEIR (voice-over): Nature's Fynd really started when a scientist at Montana State, named Mark Kozubal, began a NASA-funded study, to look for life, in the most unfriendly environments, like the boiling acidic hot springs of Porcelain Basin.

KOZUBAL: There's an enormous amount of these chemical gradients happening. And organisms are using things like arsenic, and sulfur, and iron, for - as their energy source.

WEIR (voice-over): And the life Mark discovered? A fungus microbe that grows incredibly fast, and clean, and as they showed me back in Chicago, has the natural texture of a chicken breast, and they claim all the digestible protein and amino acid of a prime cut of meat.

They call it "Fy," spelled F-Y. And amazingly, that first sample is all they will ever need.

WEIR (on camera): Do you have to come back here to get more Fy?

JONAS: Never.

KOZUBAL: Never, we never.

JONAS: Never. So, we're not going to put factories here. We never have to come back.

KOZUBAL: The sample we took was no more than that much.

WEIR (on camera): Yes.

KOZUBAL: So that's kind of like a bread-starter.

WEIR (on camera): Oh, that's it?


WEIR (on camera): That's the magic?

JONAS: Just for example (ph).

WEIR (on camera): Wow!

JONAS: And so, from this fridge, we can literally feed the world.

WEIR (voice-over): With the backing of billionaires, like Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos, they've built a huge system, to grow, steam, shape, and flavor Fy, on an industrial scale.

JONAS: We made about 1 percent of greenhouse gas cover to account (ph). So, it's a much gentler way to make protein. And also, you can grow it closer to the consumer. So here, we are in Chicago. So, you don't have to move things around the country.

There is no blood on the floor, that's for sure.

We'll be able, when we produce to live stream this, and people can go and check, how their food is being made.

WEIR (on camera): Well, that's what's interesting is--

JONAS: That's the problem.

WEIR (on camera): --I can't get a camera into a slaughterhouse in this country. They - meatpacking plants won't let us anywhere near, to see where our food really comes from. And you're going the other way. You're letting people in.

JONAS: We're completely transparent.

WEIR (voice-over): But what they'll see is raw Fy that kind of looks like wet laundry. So, the trillion-dollar question is not only will they eat it, but will they love it?

But remember, it was a brave man, who ate the first oyster, and lobster, and drank the first squirt of milk. But once they did, we never stopped.

Nature's Fynd is not the only one betting that tastes will evolve. There are around 60 start-ups, around the world, hoping to take a few cells, from animals, and grow them in bioreactors.

A company called "Eat Just" just got approval in Singapore to sell the world's first lab-grown chicken nuggets. Others have tried to exploit the over 2,000 different kinds of edible insects.

WEIR (on camera): This is not a technology or a science question anymore. It's a cultural one.


WEIR (on camera): And so there's, probably a lot of dairy farmers, I'm from Wisconsin, a lot of cattle ranchers in Colorado, watching this, going, "Wait a minute. Is he coming for us?" Like what do you think the future diet will look like?

JONAS: What I would say is what your mother told you, or what you probably tell your kid. It's "Don't say it's bad until you've tried it." You cannot say you don't like it until you tried it.

And it is - it is a tough question, because if meat consumption is reduced, in the coming years, there are - this is going to have an impact on this people life. And it matters.

WEIR (on camera): Right.

JONAS: And there is no good guy or bad guy. There is no cartoon villains, you know? There is no "Oh, the rancher is the bad guy. The scientist is the bad guy." That's not - that's - we need to walk away from these simplified stories.

WEIR (on camera): Right.

JONAS: And we really need to work together on building up the solution, so that our kids have a chance. That is why we are all doing what we're doing here.

WEIR (voice-over): But old habits die hard!


Coming up, the effort to engineer a more climate-friendly cow, in a way that might just give new meaning, to surf and turf.


WEIR (voice-over): Growing up in Wisconsin, every time we drive past a herd of pungent cows, the go-to dad joke was "Smell that dairy air!"

But on the gorgeous California coast, north of San Francisco, there is a farm where cow poop smells like money.

WEIR (on camera): Normally, I'm not that excited about manure lagoons but.

WEIR (voice-over): Albert Straus' dad started this place with 23 cows, while his mom formed America's first agricultural land trust with the hope of preserving a working wilderness, like this forever. And to pull that off, he has what feels like a giant waterbed full of (BLEEP).

ALBERT STRAUS, FOUNDER & CEO, STRAUS FAMILY CREAMERY: So, you're standing on the liquid. But this - this bubble is all methane gas.

WEIR (on camera): OK.

STRAUS: So, the bacteria digest the manure and give off the gas.

WEIR (on camera): Right.

STRAUS: And we take the gas up.

WEIR (on camera): Oh!


WEIR (voice-over): Whoops! That was my producer/director Julian, finding out that working with a huge methane digester does have its challenges.

WEIR (on camera): I am so happy you didn't go through it!



WEIR (voice-over): But worth it, because Straus says this contraption captures enough of the planet-cooking gas, coming out of his cows, to fuel his farm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cows are essentially powering the truck that feeds them. So, it's closing the loop.

WEIR (voice-over): He says it took him eight years to convert his old diesel truck to electric. And with the help of BMW, it's one of the first all-electric feeder trucks in the world.

WEIR (on camera): Why isn't this on every farm? What has to change policy-wise? Mentality?

STRAUS: Well actually, I've put in proposals to Biden Administration around having each farm in the United States have a carbon farm plan.

WEIR (voice-over): Unlike drillers and frackers, farmers don't need retraining to become allies in the climate fight.

By growing a lot of different forms of life, instead of just one big crop, carbon dioxide gets sucked from the sky, and locked in the ground. But before you can pay a family to do this, you have to be able to measure how much greenhouse gas goes down, and how much goes up.

In Europe, they're experimenting with methane-catching cow masks. Tough to provide for over a billion cows! But one of the ideas Straus is most excited about would cut the amount of methane burping out of his herd by feeding them seaweed.

STRAUS: Cows eat 45 pounds per day. So, you feed one to three ounces of this material of this red seaweed. And you get 80 percent to 90 percent reduction in the methane production.

WEIR (voice-over): One hedge! This red seaweed only grows in the Pacific.

But what if the rest of the world's kelp could do the same? Well, on America's opposite coast, in the gorgeous Gulf of Maine, that is exactly what they're trying to find out.

NICHOLE PRICE, SENIOR RESEARCH SCIENTIST, BIGELOW LAB: In here are the bottles that were measuring our methane production.

WEIR (on camera): Those are your tiny cows?

PRICE: Those are the tiny cows. And it actually is fluid from a cow's stomach.

WEIR (voice-over): Nichole Price used to study coral reefs. But that got really depressing.

Then she thought, "What if seaweed farms could help heal underwater life, the way trees do on land, and draw down carbon, and create new jobs, and make less gassy cows, and better meat and milk?"

PRICE: The solution can't only be about suppressing methane. It's also got to be something that will increase milk productions or, and yields, or the quality, the butterfat content, for instance, in order for it to be a really viable solution.

WEIR (voice-over): The business end of this study is happening in a place called Wolfe's Neck, pretty much the exact opposite of a factory farm.

WEIR (on camera): So, this is the seaweed feeder, huh?

DAVID HERRING, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WOLFE'S NECK CENTER: This is the GreenFeed machine. This is where we're taking methane readings from them, when the cows come up.

And every 30 seconds, they're getting another little treat, up in the air. And while they're hanging out in the - up in the air, and breathing, that's when we're getting that methane read.

WEIR (on camera): So, are these Stonyfield cows, or what's the relationship?

BRITT LUNDGREN, DIRECTOR OF ORGANIC AND SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE, STONYFIELD FARM: The milk from these cows comes straight to Stonyfield, and goes right into our yogurt.

WEIR (on camera): Stonyfield has always been at the sort of the forefront of conservation and sustainability.

As I'm making this hour, I'm meeting a lot of people, who think there's no such thing as sustainable dairy. What do you say to that?

LUNDGREN: Well, first of all, look around, right? These cows are doing a service that we couldn't be doing with vegetables. They are taking sunlight, and grass, and turning that into nutritious milk. They are building carbon in this soil.

And the way that Wolfe's Neck moves their cows around, through the pasture, allows them to improve pasture health, and build soil at the same time.

WEIR (voice-over): But can this model of relaxed seaside cows scale up to feed almost 8 billion people, when most of the meat and dairy, in your grocery store comes from places like this? Well, if it can, we're going to need a bigger boat full of seaweed.

As of now, this is the tractor of an American kelp farmer. And if it looks just like a lobster boat, that's because it is.

CAPTAIN JUSTIN PAPKEE, MAINE LOBSTERMAN: So, this is a really big one. This one's a female.

WEIR (on camera): Right.

PAPKEE: So, that one has eggs.

WEIR (on camera): Look at all those eggs! Wow! Wow! Wow!

PAPKEE: And we'll cut a notch. Now anybody else that catches this will know that it's an egg-breeding female, and they won't be able to keep it, and they'll toss it back.

WEIR (voice-over): Captain Justin Papkee, and the sustainable ethics of his pull-in prey (ph), are just one reason why Maine has the reputation as one of the best-managed lobster fisheries anywhere.

Too bad they can't say the same for cod, or salmon, which were both over-fished to the brink, because people believed there is such a thing as an endless seafood buffet.

But as an example of being in the right place, at the wrong time, the warming oceans have driven these critters north, out of New York, and Massachusetts, and right into the Gulf of Maine, because the water is colder here, for now.


But scientists say our oceans absorb as much manmade heat, as five Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, every second, of every day. So, without some kind of miracle, these record lobster hauls cannot last forever.

And that's a worry that gave Bri Warner an idea.

BRIANA WARNER, PRESIDENT & CEO, ATLANTIC SEA FARMS: And everyone was kind of looking around, trying to figure out what's going on, like, why is this guy landing like giant bags of seaweed?

WEIR (voice-over): She took over Atlantic Sea Farms, in hopes of creating a kelp market, not just for cow food, but people food.

WARNER: And he brought the check down, to the end of the dock, and said, "Look, boys! This here is the future!"

WEIR (on camera): It's a reminder that diversity, biodiversity is truly the measuring stick.

WARNER: That's right.

WEIR (on camera): And it's the same, whether it's a farmer, who just grows corn to feed cows.


WEIR (on camera): And has a bad corn year, is screwed.


WEIR (on camera): And the same in the water.

WARNER: It's no different. I think the big difference is how adaptable this industry is.

WEIR (on camera): Yes.

WARNER: We have this tremendous opportunity, here on the coasts, where fishermen can diversify in ways that most terrestrial farmers never could.

WEIR (voice-over): Since they already have the gear, and knowledge, she convinced lobstermen that farming kelp in the winter is a win-win.

PAPKEE: It's great for the water quality. Neutralizes our carbon footprint.

WEIR (on camera): Right, right.

PAPKEE: And then we could take it out, and sell it, and make a little bit of money, and give a good deed out of it.

WEIR (voice-over): But there are some who argue that it is too late to save the oceans, and to slow the demise of marine life, we must stop eating seafood entirely, immediately.

Coming up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hear a lot about blood diamonds. This is blood shrimp.

WEIR (voice-over): A documentary called "Seaspiracy" starts a raging debate over your seafood.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WEIR (voice-over): The documentary "Seaspiracy" reveals horrifying abuses of the ocean's people, animals, and ecosystems, by corporations and countries, all around the world.

When superstar quarterback Tom Brady tagged it as "A Must Watch," and one of the Kardashians said the film made her stop eating fish, the film jumped into the Netflix top 10, and sparked an ethical debate, over seafood.

DANIEL PAULY, MARINE BIOLOGIST: And I have a long career, mainly in the Tropics, but also in Canada, looking at global fisheries.

WEIR (voice-over): Daniel Pauly is a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia. He agrees that there are plenty of bad guys, driven by greed, on the high seas. But at least half of the global catch comes from little guys--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down the latch (ph).

WEIR (voice-over): --who eat or sell what they catch, just to survive.

PAULY: I have no problem with people not eating fish or not eating meat. But it is not a solution to a problem like overfishing.

WEIR (on camera): There are hundreds of millions of people in Bangladesh, who don't have the luxury of thinking about going vegan.

PAULY: Yes. So you end up with an audience that was privileged.

WEIR (voice-over): He argues that the only fix is to force governments and corporations to police their waters and supply chains.

PAULY: The most of fisheries, they are the ones that can mix, in the high seas, stolen fish, slave fish, that have been caught by people that are working on slave-like condition. Legal fish, they mix.

WEIR (on camera): Right.

PAULY: And then do not know what it is.

WEIR (on camera): Right.

PAULY: You have no idea of provenance.

WEIR (voice-over): And he says the best move for a healthy conscience and planet is to get to know your fishermen, which is possible, in places like Maine, where most of the nearly 4,800 lobster licenses, are owner-operated, by people extremely motivated to protect these waters.

LUKE HOLDEN, CEO, LUKE'S LOBSTER: At any given moment, we can tell you exactly where your lobster is coming from, or your crab, or your shrimp, given that we are in control of it, from point of origin, from when the fishermen caught it, through to the customer.

WEIR (voice-over): Long before Luke's Lobster had dozens of shacks, around the world, back when Luke's dad, Jeff, was fishing the Gulf of Maine, the location of traps was secret.

But now, it is a point of pride, as a growing number of people demand to know exactly where their food comes from, whether it is lobster today, or these seaweed salads of tomorrow.

SEBASTIAN BELLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MAINE AQUACULTURE ASSOCIATION: I will say that in my grandchildren's lifespan, we will grow more food in the water than we do on land.

WEIR (on camera): Wow!

BELLE: And that's how efficient it is.

It's about 20 percent more efficient that growing food on land, because they don't have to thermoregulate, and they don't fight gravity, so 20 percent efficiency plus right off the bat.

WEIR (voice-over): Maybe it's time to completely reimagine what a farm can be. And maybe it's time to realize the ideal farm we imagine?


WEIR (on camera): Where does the tractor go?


WEIR (voice-over): Is an endangered species.


WEIR (on camera): That's the barn!


WEIR (on camera): I was just playing a puzzle with my little boy, and it's "Barnyard Friends." It's the pastoral picture of the cow and the chicken. And that's not what farming is anymore, is it?

SAFRAN FOER: No. And it's unfortunate because there's a reason why that image is perpetuated, because it's a good image. I really have nothing but respect for traditional and small farmers. The problem is they barely exist anymore.

WEIR (voice-over): Since corporate efficiency means doing more, with less people, commodity markets and government subsidies encourage the average American farmer to go big or get out.


So, instead of storybook farms, filled with all kinds of different plants, and animals, we have mile after mile of corn, to make chips and soda, or soybeans, to feed pigs, in China, that will become sausages, at Costco.

And this system, with its relentless need for synthetic fertilizer, and pesticide, is killing the land. By some estimates, we have 60 years of good soil, left on Earth.

PETER MARTINELLI, OWNER, FRESH RUN FARM: We're creating a habitat where there wasn't one before, so.

WEIR (on camera): Yes, amazing!

MARTINELLI: Put you to work.

WEIR (on camera): Yes!

WEIR (voice-over): But you can still find farmers showing us the way it used to be.

MARTINELLI: They're just starting, so they're not--

WEIR (voice-over): And the way it could be.

WEIR (on camera): At your most diverse, how many different crops have you grown?

MARTINELLI: I've counted up to 70.

I don't know if you'd like to eat them raw, but they're delicious to eat. You know about them?

WEIR (on camera): Sure.

WEIR (voice-over): Peter Martinelli grows a bounty of organic biodiversity, only about 20 miles from San Francisco. And it all starts by staying in balance with the old-growth forest around him.

MARTINELLI: We grow a lot of yellow potatoes. We have Yukons.

WEIR (voice-over): Using natural mulch to fertilize.

MARTINELLI: There's not a lot of it. But it's precious.

WEIR (on camera): Oh yes.

WEIR (voice-over): And natural predators to kill pests.

MARTINELLI: They showed up this year. I love having them here.

WEIR (on camera): Wow!

MARTINELLI: There are ways to sort of engage nature, and work with it, rather than just try to sterilize everything and push it away.

WEIR (on camera): Yes.

MARTINELLI: Because it's still going to creep in, and afflict you either way.

You can see it up there.

WEIR (on camera): Yes. MARTINELLI: That is--

WEIR (voice-over): But Martinelli can afford to focus on quality, over quantity, because he farms for one special customer, a chef named Michael Tusk, who along with his wife, Lindsay, own three hit restaurants in San Francisco, including the Michelin three-star, called Quince.

During the Pandemic, he was forced to change Farm to Table, to Table to Farm, bringing customers to eat in Martinelli's fields.

WEIR (on camera): What is it you think most Americans miss about their connection with food? And what do you wish you could share from this bounty with them?


I'd say just the immediacy of like, the taste of something that's harvested, and it's eaten directly, after its harvest.

WEIR (on camera): Let me ask you, Peter, do you think this is scalable? Can we feed 7 billion people, on this planet, doing it your way?

MARTINELLI: I think we can. And I think it's a matter of, you know, we have these huge waste streams that are just now being recognized, and all the food wastes that can be turned into compost, and get away from the monocultures and get a lot more diversity, in what we're growing. I think it's possible.

WEIR (voice-over): But in a land of food deserts, connecting average folks with good fresh food will take innovation. And on that front, there is a bounty of hope and good ideas.

LEWIS: If people don't believe that they have the right to be healthy, they're never going to try to be healthy.



LEWIS: We got to show people that you actually not only can do better, but you deserve it.

WEIR (on camera): You deserve to be healthy.

LEWIS: Yes, you deserve it, man!

WEIR (voice-over): Meet John Lewis, aka the "Bad Ass Vegan."

Growing up amid the struggles of Ferguson, Missouri, he had to figure out who he was, the hard way.

LEWIS: So my mother was actually a crack addict.

WEIR (on camera): Wow! LEWIS: So, my grandmother stepped in, and took over. She didn't have a lot of time to cook like home-based meals. And, by the time I was 13, I found myself at 315 pounds.

WEIR (voice-over): He says he had three aunts, who weighed over 400 pounds. There were amputations due to diabetes. And while he was in grad school, his mother got colon cancer.

So, the former butcher, and barbecue fanatic, tried veganism. And he found a new calling, chef and plant evangelist.

And he discovered a new universe, in places like PLANTA, built by the acclaimed restaurateur, Steve Salm, who once saw a documentary about food so disturbing, he changed his diet, and blew up his business model.

STEVEN SALM, PRESIDENT & CEO, CHASE HOSPITALITY GROUP/PLANTA RESTAURANTS: If I had to rely on exclusively vegans to fill our restaurant?

WEIR (on camera): Yes.

SALM: We'd be out of business day one.

My job is to make you love it. And if I can convince you, as somebody that identifies themself, as a carnivore, that doing this one day a week, one meal period a day, whatever it may be, then I've won.

Because the way, in which we've shaped society, to think it's OK, to have eggs for breakfast, and Grilled Chicken Caesar for lunch, and a steak for dinner, is sustainable, is insane.

WEIR (on camera): And he's not the only one, who thinks the future is all about veggies.

This is Eleven Madison Park, one of the best-reviewed, most revered restaurants, in the world, where a dinner for two can set you back about 1,000 bucks, and they just went vegan.

But while all of this plays out at the fancy end of the food chain, there were a disturbing number of food deserts, in this country, where good groceries, good food is a luxury. And oftentimes, they're in the same neighborhoods of color, suffering the worst effects of pollution and climate change.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You put guns in the communities. You put disease in the communities. Put food in the communities.


WEIR (voice-over): Food justice is the subject of his new film, "They're Trying To Kill Us," which also lifts up hip hop stars, as vegan role models.

WEIR (on camera): It feels like you joined a club, right, or?

LEWIS: Yes, yes. Not a cult. A club.

SALM: Starting to feel - it's starting to feel--

LEWIS: I mean, to some people--

SALM: It's definitely starting to feel more clubby than--

LEWIS: Yes, yes, yes.

WEIR (on camera): Yes.


LEWIS: I think, back in the day, it did have that cult feel, maybe? You know what I'm saying?

Because it was so - it was a lot of people that were like, "You're not a vegan? No, I can't - I can't talk to you!" And I think now, people are starting to realize like "We got to be more accepting, and we have to be the ones to show them, how amazing this life is."

It's like if you're - if you're trying to promote how happy and healthy you will be, being vegan, you can't be angry and dismissive, like that's going to--

SALM: Right. It's--

LEWIS: --counter - that doesn't work.

WEIR (voice-over): But breaking old systems and habits will take new thinking, and new ways of bringing fresh nutrition, into all those dry food deserts, no matter where they are.

NONA YEHIA, CO-FOUNDER & CEO, VERTICAL HARVEST: So, these are our microgreens.


WEIR (voice-over): When man started exploring the heavens, we had no idea the kind of technology we'd enjoy, as a byproduct, from Velcro to GPS.

But there is another space race that is helping perfect the farming of the future. And that race is led by marijuana! Yes, since legalization, the hydroponic techniques, once used to grow weed, in some basement, have come a long way.


YEHIA: The question that everybody asks, "Will you include cannabis in your portfolio of crops?" For us, this is about food, and this is about feeding communities. But we're really excited about what the cannabis industry has afforded--

WEIR (on camera): Yes.

YEHIA: --in its development.

WEIR (on camera): Well, they make people hungry, and you feed them.


WEIR (voice-over): "Vertical Harvest" started as a brainchild, between an architect, looking to bring fresh food, to the wintery ski town of Jackson, Wyoming, and a social worker, looking for ways to employ folks with disabilities. Together, they may have just stumbled on a fix for food deserts.

YEHIA: These are our microgreens.

WEIR (voice-over): And they are expanding to four cities.

YEHIA: The lettuce is a four-week grow. These grow from anywhere from one week to three weeks. And they are being looked at, in terms of preventative health right now. They're 40 times the nutritional equivalent of their adult counterpart.

WEIR (on camera): Wow!

YEHIA: What's really exciting about it is that we can look at it as alternative sources of protein, the pea shoots.

This is really the "Willy Wonka" part of our tour.

WEIR (on camera): The water usage, are you able to recycle this water?

YEHIA: We are.

WEIR (on camera): OK.

YEHIA: 90 percent re-circulated. So, that's another benefit.

On a 10th of an acre here, we grow the equivalent of 10 acres worth of farm.

WEIR (on camera): Really? Wow!

YEHIA: Yes, farmland.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would you like for breakfast?


WEIR (voice-over): We may not have Jetson-styled food delivery yet.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One soft-boiled egg.



WEIR (voice-over): But in the golden age of logistics, shouldn't it be easier to connect with a good farmer, and buy some good food?

CANDICE SAVINO, CTO, FARMER'S FRIDGE: I placed an order on this fridge, for my breakfast. We just saved again touchless pickup.

WEIR (on camera): OK.

SAVINO: And then I punched in that code that's on the fridge.

WEIR (on camera): OK.

Oh, look at that?

SAVINO: Yes. It's like magic!

WEIR (on camera): Berries & Granola Greek Yogurt.

LUKE SAUNDERS, FOUNDER/CEO, FARMER'S FRIDGE: The whole idea was break what people's mental model is, for a vending machine, so change the shape, change the design, make it feel like something that you could buy a fresh meal from.

WEIR (voice-over): Luke Saunders came up with the idea for a Farmer's Fridge, on the road, as a hungry traveling salesman.

SAUNDERS: I would leave the food manufacturing plant. And I would go to the fast food restaurant, down the street. And there was just such a big disconnect.

So, you can see right now they're running our Greek salad.

WEIR (on camera): Right.

SAUNDERS: We've cooked these noodles. We've chopped these vegetables. We've made this sauce.

WEIR (on camera): Oh my God!

SAUNDERS: It's great, right?

WEIR (on camera): Yogurt!


WEIR (on camera): I mean it feels like I just watched the berries, cut the fruit.

SAUNDERS: It's a perfect representation of what we mean, when we say "We're using fresh produce at scale." That item, 40 percent of people who buy it, buy it again.

WEIR (on camera): That's really good.

WEIR (voice-over): A new report by World Wildlife Fund and, the grocery giant, Tesco, finds that 2.5 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year, way more than previously thought.

SAUNDERS: As an entrepreneur, when you hear numbers like 40 percent waste, on a trillion-dollar industry, and you realize that there's a way to create IoT technology, to connect the whole process, directly to your customers, and create this marketplace for fresh products?

WEIR (on camera): Yes.

SAUNDERS: This is a totally solvable problem.

WEIR (voice-over): But while the prescription for a healthier world demands a gentler, more personal relationship with food, just a handful of giant corporations produce 80 percent of the groceries on your shelf. Three companies can almost 85 percent of the tuna. Four companies process half the nation's meat.

D. BECK: We're going to continue investing to improve our production practices to improve our sustainability, resource intensity, you name it, and continue to produce a safe, affordable and nutritious product that consumers love.

WEIR (on camera): Sure. But I'm just trying to get a sense for how many of your members are really engaged on this?

D. BECK: You know? That's a really good question.

In terms of the number of our producers, how to quantify, who is involved in sustainable production, we are still trying to gather good data, about baseline, because there have been so many early adopters, of good conservation practices.

WEIR (voice-over): Guess it's up to we the people, then to find and support those doing their best, and demand more of the same from those in power. And we might just find a new choice of last meal along the way.

SAFRAN FOER: As we change our habits, and change our practices, to ask for things, that are better for the environment, then corporations will be incentivized to make them, the government will be incentivized to legislate in more green-way. There'll be a virtuous cycle. So, I'm cautiously hopeful.

WEIR (on camera): You just accidentally gave us some hope there!

SAFRAN FOER: It is the last thing I would ever want to do!