Two Men With the Same Surname On A Mission To Eliminate Industrial Farming.
It’s no secret that the consumption of animal products is affecting the planet. According to the United Nations, “the global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined” (UN). Intensive animal farming, also known as factory farming, is a form of intensive agriculture which aims to maximise meat and dairy production by keeping animals at high stocking densities. Through the use of modern machinery and biotechnology, agribusinesses (“a term used to describe the sector that encompasses all economic activities that are related to farming” – CFI), are able to meet increasing consumer demand for meat, milk, eggs and cheese. Intensive animal farming accounted for 30% of meat production globally by 1990 and by 2005 this has risen to 40%. What began as a way of providing food security has led to farmers moving away from traditional, more sustainable, practices of rearing meat in order to fill supermarket shelves. At the cost of fully stocked fridges land is being increasingly depleted, according to PETA: “more than 90 per cent of all Amazon rainforest land cleared since 1970 is used for grazing livestock” (PETA). In light of this, the argument for eating a plant-based diet begins with the land:
“It takes up to 10 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat, and in the United States alone, 56 million acres of land are used to grow feed for animals, while only 4 million acres are producing plants for humans to eat”
– U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification
Beef production, which represents “about 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions” (UN), uses “2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, while producing 1 pound of tofu only requires 244 gallons of water” (PETA). According to research, one individual can save up to 219,000 gallons of water a year by living on a vegan diet. Recent years has seen the development of meat alternatives, developers working to emulate the taste and texture of meat for those non-meat eaters fatigued by offers of tofu, tempeh and mushroom burgers. aware_ presents two companies on a mission to convert consumers: to modernise their dietary habits and open their minds to a new school of thought with eating.
Patrick Brown, a Stanford biochemistry professor, took an 18-month sabbatical in 2009 to investigate how to eliminate intensive farming. After a failed conference in 2010, Brown vowed to develop a meat alternative that not only tasted just like meat, but had added health benefits. After establishing Impossible Foods in 2011, the company launched its first burger made from plants in 2016 (Impossible Foods). Brown’s team analysed meat at a “molecular level to determine what makes a burger taste, smell and cook the way it does” (NPR) and assessed that plants could emulate the structure of animal tissue and muscle cells: that which makes the burger brown up on the barbecue. Brown determined in the initial stages of development the one element that would set an Impossible Burger apart from the rest. “I had a very strong suspicion early on that heme would be the magic ingredient for flavor,” Brown tells NPR. Heme is “an iron-containing molecule in blood that carries oxygen” (NPR), essentially it’s the substance that gives blood its red colour and makes meat look pink. Instead of working with plants to create heme, which would ultimately lead to more emissions, Brown decided to investigate yeast as an ingredient.
“By taking the soybean gene that encodes the heme protein and transferring it to yeast, the company has been able to produce vast quantities of the blood-like compound.”
– Brown speaking to NPR
Impossible Food’s ultimate aim? To woo meat lovers and produce enough Impossible products to match the meat quantities currently being consumed across the world.
Ethan Walden Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat, was a vegetarian during high school and later became a vegan. Having previously worked as a clean energy executive, Brown has always had a vested interest in environmental issues and after meeting researchers Fu-hung Hsieh and Harold Huff in 2009, “who were working on technology to replicate the texture of meat using plant proteins”(Entrepreneur), Brown acquired the technology license and founded Beyond Meat. Their burgers, ground meat, sausages, meatballs and more, are created through a combination of expert innovation and non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) ingredients. The protein element in Beyond Meat products is peas, mung beans, faba beans and brown rice; the fat is cocoa butter, coconut oil and expeller-pressed canola oil; the carbohydrates are potato starch and methylcellulose (a plant fibre derivative); and the minerals include calcium, iron, salt and potassium chloride (Beyond Meat). Through careful curation of ingredients Beyond Meat has created a range of products that provide a ‘meaty experience’ with a reduced impact on both your body and the planet.
Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have both experienced great success since market release, and with the likes of Bill Gates investing in both companies, the two founders are planning to convert the unconverted. It’s clear that the level of industrialised farming must be reduced and with the price of organic meat becoming far too expensive for most households, meat alternatives provide an intriguing, and delicious, solution moving forward into the future.
by Eliza Edwards