Americans love to sink their teeth into succulent burgers, chicken filets, and steak. So Patrick Brown has his work cut out for him. He is on an improbable mission to make a burger Americans will gladly purchase—minus the meat.
Brown doesn’t want to put just another pasty and dissatisfying veggie patty on the market. He says he is “creating meat without using animals.”
Huh? How does that work?
Brown’s company, Impossible Foods, extracts proteins from spinach, seeds, and beans. Those get mixed with other ingredients and flavorings. Brown thinks this recreated “meat” will be the mainstay in the market of the future. He wants to lessen dependence on livestock for food, claiming that actual meat isn’t as healthy, affordable, or environmentally friendly as plant-based alternatives. He calls bypassing the cow (or chicken) “a better way” to convert plants into protein.
But … meat is so good! Most Americans relish their meat. Without a major breakthrough, Brown’s startup won’t likely replace the grocer’s meat department any time soon.
So far, taste-testers aren’t tempted by other non-meat offerings that have made it to the market. One panel tried “chicken” strips from a company called Beyond Meat. Testers said the “meat” had an “unpleasant taste” that inhabits a “strange territory between meat and vegetable.” We’re not sure what that means. But it sounds just weird enough to make us wait a bit for the finished creation to catch up to nature—if it ever does.
Investors are more confident. Bill Gates and Google are just two of the wealthy contributors who’ve helped Beyond Meat raise almost $200 million in funding. They are willing to venture into a future where the main dish really may not need to be changed from plant to plate by a cow first.
Yet another startup business isn’t totally ditching the cow. Modern Meadow in New York takes living cow cells and cultures them (makes them grow) in a lab setting. Founder Andras Forgacs likens the process to culturing yogurt or brewing beer. The company has developed a sample it calls “steak chips.” About 200 people tried the chips at a small conference last year. The lab-grown chips are like bits of “crispy, crunchy beef jerky,” Forgacs says.
In time, he thinks people won’t find the lab process weird. It’s common today for people to tour chocolate factories or beer breweries to see how a product is made—sometimes even paying admission to do so. Forgacs says he wants people to come watch meat grow. He envisions his business becoming “your friendly neighborhood meat brewery” one day.