Lab-produced protein could solve world hunger

Mildred Vargas enjoys a hot meal at the non-profit soup kitchen Neighbors Together.  The agency serves the needy who live in Ocean Hill, Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

"Even though we get our food stamps, it's still a struggle.  It's difficult out there," Vargas says.

Founded by Catholic nuns in 1982 as a "temporary" emergency solution; four decades later the need for it in this community is stonger than ever.

Denny March the Executive Director of Neighbors Together.

"One in every five people who is living in New York is experiencing hunger," March says.  "It's 20-percent of our city."

It is more than just a place for the needy to get food.  The volunteers and staff connect clients to  resources like substance abuse counseling, health care, job placement, and a host of other social services.

Head chef Marcel Lindoume believes so deeply in "neighbor's together's" mission. Two years ago he left his job at a high end restaurant in Manhattan to work there.

"It was a big switch leaving fine dining to soup kitchen But also you know when you have people telling you hey the food was awesome that's kind of reward so far we enjoy that," Lindoume says.

Alison Cohen is the senior director of programs at the global non-profit Why Hunger.  She says that poverty is the root cause of hunger.

Why Hunger supports Neighbors Together and other agencies like it because the organizations promote grass-roots organizing to change policies to improve the lives of the hungry.

"We believe that is it the grass roots leaders of the world that are going to end hunger so we support grass roots led social movements and grass roots led community organization," Cohen says.

Vernon Jones is one of those who once lived in a shelter and now advocates for the needy.  She is now a homeless advocate.

"It's overwhelming not to know where you can eat not to know where you can get food from," Jones says.

In addition to the grass roots work they are doing at Neighbors Together in the New York City area there are also advancements in technology addressing the hunger issue around the world.

Pasi Vainikka is Chief Executive officer of Solar Foods.  The  Finland-based technology start-up has developed a way to make food using just air and electricity.

Vainikka says, "How could you make edible calories from electricity and CO2?  We found there are actually natural forms of life that can use these ingredients."

Inside a bio-reactor steel tank, scientists use electricity and water to create hydrogen.  Technicians then combine hydrogen with carbon dioxide and some minerals to feed bacteria which ultimately creates  an edible protein. 

The microbes first have to be heat-treated.  What results is a protein power that can be added to food and eaten.

"This technology we can produce food in arctic, in desert, in space," Vainikka says.

The technology has captured the attention of the European Space Agency.   The ESA is now interested in having solar foods make this sustainable food for astronaunts on future missions to Mars.