Cecilia Mayer, working in the Food and Nutrition Division at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering, talked in front of her first Science Festival audience on Friday. The task was to describe her research in three minutes – and also try to attract some laughter. Eight researchers, four from Chalmers and four from the University of Gothenburg, competed against each other. The audience voted, and when the competition was over Cecilia Mayer was declared the winner.
– I hope it was clear to everyone that I am passionate about these questions, and also that I have a topic that is currently on the agenda, and that many people care about. I also got a lot of supplementary questions by the audience afterwards. It was really fun, she says.What was your presentation about?
– We need to find a way to switch over to using less animal proteins and more vegetable proteins. It’s not sustainable to continue eating meat the way we do. For example, we need many times more crops to raise animals and produce one kilogram of meat, than to produce one kilogram of beans. We need our Swedish farmers but the meat and dairy production, as it is done today, is unsustainable. Instead, we need to help them to switch over to production of beans, or likewise, by creating added value.How can you do that?
– That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Beans have a lot of nutrients, and can actually be used to produce almost anything; meringues, cheese, “milk” products... But we need to find ways to remove the non-nutritious components and the taste – I wouldn’t want my yoghurt tasting like beans – without ruining the nutrients. For this we need new, better and more gentle methods.That actually sounds a bit like science fiction.
– But it’s not very far ahead in the future. We already have meat substitutes. Soon, we will have more products along this range. I think that we might expect, for instance, cream cheese-like spreads. Hard cheese will probably take longer to produce.How do we get people to choose these types of products?
– It's about spreading the knowledge, but also about making the products good enough to choose based on taste. Environmentally conscious people is already purchasing these products. Many others will by things based on their personal taste, so the products really need to be tasty. New methods are needed to work with this, and the industry is showing great interest.We could grow many more kinds of crops in Sweden than we do today, right?
– Yes. We can grow many types of beans, lentils and quinoa for example. Beans have another advantage; they improve the soil by giving of nitrogen. This way, it would fit perfectly to grow beans and oat together, or every other year. If we do, we can cut down on fertilization with nitrogen, which causes eutrophication in the Baltic Sea, the Kattegat and our inland waters.How did it feel to win the Science Slam, in fierce competition with many other interesting scientists and topics?
– It's felt amazing, and it was also a confirmation that I’m doing important work. I’ve wanted to work with these issues for a very long time. After this, I feel strengthened! Also, it’s incredibly important for us to get our knowledge out. My work doesn’t matter if I can’t spread it to others.Do you have any advice for others who will present their research?
– Have fun!
Text: Mia Malmstedt
Photos: Anita Fors, Carina Schultz