“For as long as i can breath i will fight for the animals…
The day i stop breathing, on my final breath i will feel sadness, that i can fight no more.
Yet elated that i am freed from this living hell that all of us with compassion have to witness on a daily basis, created by fellow humans that i am ashamed to be connected with.~ X”
Patrick Brown founded Impossible Foods with the goal of supplanting the meat industry. He believes America’s 230 million omnivores can be made to trade their hamburgers and steaks for a plant-based equivalent, scienced into being.
That vision may yet be a long way off — even Brown admits as much. But next week the concept will get an important early test: Impossible Foods is opening its first large-scale facility in Oakland.
The Oakland plant, which will begin to produce burgers this summer, is the first concrete sign that Impossible Foods and flagship offering are anything more than utopic moonshots. The plant will prove whether or not the concept can scale, which has implications for public health and the environment.
It also has consequences for the emerging clean-meat industry, of which Impossible Foods is an early (and highly visible) player. Unlike Boca or Morningstar before them, which sought to corner the vegetarian market, these companies aim to appeal to hardcore meat-eaters by creating a meaty plant-based product. Beyond Meat, a popular vegetarian brand, has dipped a toe in those mainstream waters with its beet-juice “bleeding” Beyond Burger. And earlier this week, the start-up Memphis Meats announced that it had successfully created a lab-grown chicken strip — at a whopping price per pound of $9,000.
But few of these companies have proved that they can commercialize yet, and even those that have, like the Beyond Burger, still only sell at Whole Foods. With this new facility, a spokesperson for Impossible Foods said, the company’s production capacity will increase 250-fold — allowing it to supply 1,000 restaurants by the end of this year.
“The mission of the company is to making the existing method for producing meat obsolete,” said Brown on the phone from California, several weeks before the factory’s ribbon-cutting. “That means we need to be competitive everywhere. And soon we will be.”
Proclamations like this one have earned Brown and his six-year-old company constant attention almost since its founding. A former biochemistry professor at Stanford, Brown became interested in industrial meat production after learning that it’s a major contributor to climate change: livestock account for nearly 15 percent of all greenhouse gasses, according to the United Nations.
Brown became convinced that, given enough time and resources, science could essentially solve that problem by engineering plant-based “meats” that look and taste like the original artifact. Since 2011, he has received more than $180 million in investments from the likes of Bill Gates and Google Ventures to pursue the project.
His first offering is the Impossible Burger: a patty composed largely of wheat and potato proteins that — thanks to a iron-containing molecule called heme — looks, handles and (reportedly!) tastes quite a lot like ground beef. The burger has caught the eye of several high-end chefs, including New York’s David Chang and San Francisco’s Traci Des Jardins, who have put the burger on their respective menus for roughly $15 apiece.
But even as the burger earned rave reviews from curious patrons, its central tenet has remained unproven. Namely, Brown still has to show that he can churn out burgers en masse — and that red-blooded meat-eaters will buy them.
That could prove difficult in two respects, say analysts and advocates who know the industry. First, Brown and his team will need to optimize their supply chain and manufacturing process to bring the price of the Impossible Burger on par with conventional beef.
Some of that will happen naturally, said Bruce Friedrich, the executive director of the Good Food Institute: all food startups, regardless of what they make, benefit from economies of scale as they standardize and mechanize the way they make their food. Prices will also come down once Impossible Foods has a reliable distribution network. And the company has another advantage, as well: Compared to conventional livestock slaughter, its methods are inherently more efficient.
But sourcing has still provided challenges — such as the question of heme. The iron-containing molecule is what makes the Impossible Burger taste like meat. Brown initially extracted it from the root nodules of soybeans, but that process, at scale, costs a fortune and releases a lot of greenhouse gasses. Impossible Foods eventually skirted the issue by engineering yeast that produce heme, meaning that the company no longer needs to extract the molecule from soybeans. It can be produced in vats.
It’s also not the only uncertainty that faces Impossible Foods. The company’s biggest challenge may be getting it to catch on not only with the coastal Whole Foodies who have flocked to Manhattan or Los Angeles to try it thus far, but with average and middle-income Americans. Brown is adamant that his product is not designed to appeal to vegetarians; he’s after the old-school meat-eater, who is motivated largely by price, taste and convenience.
John Coupland, a professor of food science at Penn State and the president of the Institute of Food Technologists, believes this type of consumer might prove difficult to convince, even if plant-based meats are priced on par with their conventional equivalents. Some focus-groups and studies have suggested that consumers aren’t entirely comfortable with the idea of meat that doesn’t technically have any animal in it.
“So much is going to play out in psychology, more even than in chemistry,” Coupland said. “Meat is an incredibly gendered thing to eat. How is that going to play out? Are you picking the light beer by having this stuff? It’s too early to tell if it’s really going to take off.”
We may find out very shortly. While Impossible Foods is not releasing any details on the new plant’s exact capacity, cost or headcount until after the March 22 launch, it’s already clear that the facility represents a significant ramp-up from what the company has produced thus far.
By the end of the year, Brown said, the burger will be in multiple restaurants, including some chains like Bareburger, which debuted the Impossible Burger at its flagship location in February. Those restaurants won’t all be coastal hotspots, Brown added — they’re pursuing deals in the heartland, as well. Brown has also reportedly been in talks with McDonald’s, though the company doesn’t have that capacity yet.
Such a coup could move the whole industry much closer to dinner tables across America. And other plant-based and clean meat companies are watching the experiences of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat closely, Friedrich said. Their success or failure in scaling could inform the whole market.
“This is brand-new for the plant-based meat industry,” he said. “It’s lifting the whole sector and inspiring other entrepreneurs and food scientists to get involved with it.”
By 2050, scientists forecast that emissions from agriculture alone will account for how much carbon dioxide the world can use to avoid catastrophic global warming. It already accounts for one-third of emissions today — and half of that comes from livestock.
Lately I’ve made reference to Bigfoot—that legendary creature that people occasionally claim to see in the Northwest forest, but who have yet to be physically proven—as an analogy for the oft-cited but never really sighted mythical character the “ethical hunter.” The latter, of course, is a contradiction in terms. How can a person make sport of killing of animals in the prime of their lives and call themselves “ethical?”
But aside from the myth factor, the comparison is flawed. Bigfoot are said to be peaceful, self-sufficient vegetarians who live in harmony with the rest of life around them. ( Naturally, they avoid humans like the plague.)
The idea that a human-like creature can fit in with their environment and not destroy it does seem far-fetched these days. But for hundreds of thousands of years, our earliest ancestors lived alongside Australopithecus robustus, a plant-eating hominid who just tried to mind their own business until our direct carnivorous cousins killed or drove them off (just as gorillas of today’s world are falling victim to the bush meat trade.)
Upon reflection, human hunters, even those claiming to be the “ethical” ones, don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as higher beings like Bigfoot. Although a general rule of thumb may be, the more human-like, the more destructive, Bigfoot is a hopeful exception. The notion of a peaceful, inoffensive, upright two-legger is refreshing indeed.
Fish deserve better treatment based on a review of scientific data on their cognitive and emotional lives. According to the author, “the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate.” Fish must be included in our moral circle. Read More
Film Review and commentary by Jim Robertson
If you haven’t seen the movie, Life of Pi, and you plan to, don’t read this post yet. In discussing what I feel is the story’s theme I will end up revealing some of its major plot points, and I don’t want to spoil the experience just to make a point about ethical veganism…
Still here? Ok, assuming you’ve seen the film (or read the book on which it’s based), you’ll recall that there are essentially three parts to the story, ending with what many critics felt was a disappointing and even unnecessary “alternate” account of events to explain how Pi survived such a long ordeal at sea. Personally, I didn’t find the ending a disappointment, perhaps because I may have been one of the few people who got the message the movie was trying to make. After reading dozens of reviews fawning over the special effects (the computer generated middle act was indeed amazing) and decrying the ending, I found only one review that saw it the way I did: the “alternate” story (told by Pi to a pair of Japanese Ministry of Transport officials) was really what happened.
Now, you might be thinking, why does it matter; why ruin a fun thing (especially when it looked so astounding through 3-D glasses, so I hear)? To answer that, I’m going to try to make a long story short and hit its key points (many of which were completely missed by most mainstream film critics, and movie-goers).
The film starts off with an introductory act in which we learn about the early life of the main character, Pi, through a series of flashbacks as told to a visiting writer who wants to write his biography. We are told that Pi spent his childhood trying many of the world’s religions on for size, hoping to get to know God (his atheist father tells him, “You only need to convert to three more religions, Pi, and you’ll spend your life on holiday.”) At one point he jokes that as a Catholic Hindu, “We get to feel guilty before hundreds of gods, instead of just one.”
Of note is the fact that Pi is an ethical vegetarian. He’s also fascinated by a tiger (named Richard Parker, after its captor) stuck in a zoo owned by his father. When Pi is caught trying to befriend the captive tiger, his father decides to teach him a lesson by making him watch Richard Parker kill a goat, thus instilling a morbid fear of tigers in the curious boy.
The movie’s second act begins after it’s revealed that the zoo must close and the father decides to move the animals, and his family, by ocean-going freighter across the Pacific from India to Canada. En-route, the ship is swallowed up in a massive typhoon and Pi—according to the version of the story he is telling the writer, as we witness it—is the only human to make it onto a life raft. Somehow some of the zoo animals must have escaped their pens in the ship’s hold, and he finds himself adrift with only an injured zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and Richard Parker—the 500 pound Bengal tiger—for company.
It’s during this portion of the movie that viewers are drawn in by its startling special effects; and it’s also when the main character learns that sometimes the world is no life of pie (my interpretation of the title, as a play on the expression “easy as Pie”).
Driven by hunger, the hyena soon feeds on the zebra and, as it turns on the orangutan, Richard Parker rushes out from under the lifeboat’s only cover (where he has stayed out of sight until now) and quickly dispatches the hyena. This chain of events is essential to the plot since, skipping ahead to the third act, it mirrors Pi’s “alternate” story: substitute the zebra for a deckhand, the orangutan for his mother, the hyena for the cook and Richard Parker for Pi’s alter-ego.
The symbolism here is that after witnessing the cook kill his mother, Pi summons his tiger-inner-self to kill the cook. And eat him. That’s right, to survive his 227 days at sea, Pi had to turn to cannibalism. Incredibly, though it’s critical to the story’s theme, nearly none of the film reviews I read even mentioned cannibalism, since most critics didn’t realize that the second “alternative” version of Pi’s plight was what must have actually happened. I thought it was pretty obvious when an adult Pi asked the writer, “So which story do you prefer?” to which the writer answered: “The one with the tiger. That’s the better story.”And so it goes with God” was Pi’s reply, meaning that, people believe what they want to believe. In order to cope with the sometimes harsh realities of life and death, in this case, resorting to cannibalism for sustenance—and still retain one’s sanity—people often cling to a fantasy world and make up stories which are easier to stomach.
Life of Pi is more than just a happy little special-effects film about a vegetarian boy and a computer-generated, 3-D tiger surviving on computer-generated, 3-D tuna and flying fish. It’s about the kind of anguish any sane person would go through when forced to eat the flesh of another human being. Perhaps the reason I could more easily relate to the story’s deeper meaning (that so many carnivorous critics failed to see) is because, having eaten only plant-based food for the past decade and a half, I feel that same sick revulsion every time I pass the meat isle in the neighborhood grocery store and imagine people actually consuming the flesh so brazenly displayed there.
One of the hunter trolls who reads this blog (to see how the enlightened, humane people think) just reared his ugly head in comment to the post “Top 10 Retorts to Hunter Fallacies” (soon to be 20…). He unimaginatively cited yet another one of the most common excuses hunters use to justify killing innocent, inoffensive animals for sport:
11) “You do realize that even if you are a vegitarian [sic] you killed the plants you eat. So plants can’t feel pain but all other animals can?”
Well, yes, that’s right, in fact. Apparently the guy hasn’t heard that animals (presumably including him) have a central nervous system and a brain—two things lacking in plants which spare them the experience of feeling pain when stepped on or fear when they’re about to be eaten. There must be something about being consciously aware that he can’t relate to.
His comment went on, “You stand up for the rights of helpless animals but then kill some plants probably eating them while they are still alive you sick sick people.” (Ahem…look who’s talking. Does that mean he doesn’t eat potatoes with his meat?) According to his (il)logic, those who ascribe to a raw food diet are eviler than any hunter or trapper. But of course, his reasoning runs counter to both science and common sense.
For a grand finale, he ends with, “Or how about the irony of wasteing [sic] valuable resouces [sic] so that you could put this on the internet, think of all the distructive [sic] mining that was done to generate electricty [sic] so you could put this on the internet. Have a nice day.”
A good point—I promise not to waste any precious resources answering to his comments in the future. Of course any hunter who makes a statement such as his must surely see the irony in the fact that they just wasted time and resources trolling and commenting to a blog with a policy of not approving hunters’ comments without making a mockery of them.
One of the most common lines of defense from people resistant to going vegan is: “But I was brought up that way—I was raised in a family of meat-eaters.” Well, so was I. My parents are big-time meat-eaters and they’ve got all the standard American health issues to prove it.
In college during the 1970s, I still proudly flew the flag of flesh-eating. I chose to join the “carnivores” camp cooking group on a quarter-long nature photography field course in the backcountry of Yosemite, rather than the ahead-of-their-time, health-conscious group of California falafel-eaters. I was fairly fascinated with the field of physical anthropology and could identify most of our earliest hominid ancestors by their Latin names. I even studied primitive buckskin tanning and stone tool making during an “aboriginal life skills” course in eastern Oregon.
But the allure of anthropology waned during the ensuing years after I moved to a remote wilderness cabin in the heart of the North Cascades. Living out where the resident nonhuman animals were my closest neighbors made untenable the notion of humankind as the center of the universe, or even the most interesting species to study on this planet. I discovered a new understanding of our fellow beings as unique individuals (as opposed to mere things to be objectified in paintings on cave walls), and I soon came to accept that meat was the product of their suffering.
It was ultimately my involvement in wildlife issues, such as the group efforts to oppose whaling and ban bear-baiting, hound-hunting and trapping in Washington State that led me to examine the cruelty inherent in the meat industry. I’d seen first-hand the look of fear on the face of a bear who’s being pursued by crazed hounds and technologically dependent human hunters, heard the cries of shock and agony when an animal first feels the steel jaws of a trap lock onto his leg and witnessed the look of despair in the weary eyes of a helpless captive who had been stuck in a trap for days and nights on end. I could tell that suffering is every bit as intense for the animals as it is for humans.
Almost overnight, I became what you might call an ethical vegetarian, or vegan. When I say “almost overnight,” it was actually a matter of several months of soul-searching, but it must have seemed like overnight to the rest of my family who knew me as quite a turkey addict at Thanksgiving.
When I allowed myself to hear the message of compassion for farmed animals, I didn’t hate the messengers or think of them as “party-poopers” or “food Nazis.” Instead, I was finally ready and willing to listen to how easily human beings can get by without eating meat.
That was 14 years ago; my only regret is that I waited so long.