“The ‘meat’ was made entirely of plants. And yet, I couldn’t tell the difference.” – Bill Gates (2013)
I have a confession. The first time someone told me to eat a veggie burger, my response was “why would I do that?” I remember thinking, “why on earth would I eat that boring patty when I can devour a delicious, juicy, sizzling beef burger I had grown up loving?” Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out there are plenty of reasons to consider ditching animal protein. It’s not just a matter of taste.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to balloon to over 9 Billion people, more than doubling since the year 2000. Along with the explosion in humans across the globe, meat consumption is expected to explode as well. The trouble is, we don’t have the resources to grow all that meat without melting the planet in the process (#climatechange deniers can stop reading now).
Here and now, in 2016, we’re already grappling with water shortages, rising temperatures (and sea levels), and a dwindling amount of land to raise animals on. In fact, we’re cutting down over 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest every day for livestock production. That number is so overwhelming it can be hard to appreciate how truly immense it really is. To help put it in context, over the last 25 years, farmers have slashed and burned portions of the Brazilian rainforest roughly equivalent to the size of CALIFORNIA.
The good news is, savvy pioneers like Bill Gates are well aware of these figures, and they’re investing to take advantage of the tidal wave currently crashing on the meat industry. Clean meat, as many in the industry are beginning to call it, is meat that is either derived from plants (soy, beans, etc) or something called “cultured protein”. No, cultured protein isn’t meat that backpacked around Europe for a year after college. In fact, it’s meat that’s made from actual animal cells, without the need to raise animals on a farm. The process is very technical and requires a great deal of skill. What it doesn’t require is nearly the same amount of water as regular meat (90% less), and it produces about half of the amount of CO2 as raising cows and chickens. Companies like Memphis Meatsare already making beef and pork that are biologically equivalent to meat made from cows and pigs, just without the antibiotics, hormones, potential for foodborne illness, or animal confinement.
The greatest challenge for these companies at the moment is getting the price low enough to scale and compete with the meat currently in our food system. With influential backers like Gates (not to mention Google, Leonardo DiCaprio, and many other deep pocked investors), the clean meat industry will likely continue to receive the financial support needed to usurp meat from livestock production for good.
Other influential companies doing big things in this arena include Hampton Creek, Beyond Meat, and Impossible Foods.
Even the beloved celebrity chef David Chang (owner of the famous Momofuku restaurant empire), one of the biggest supporters of traditional meat, recently tasted an Impossible Foods plant based burger. His quote says it all:
“Today I tasted the future and it was vegan …. I can’t really comprehend its impact quite yet … but I think it might change the whole game.”