Making Meat From Plants

How are companies trying to replace meat?


Vegetarianism is on the up. Nearly 3.2% of US citizens don’t eat meat, and 22.8 million follow a largely ‘vegetarian inclined’ diet. But for many of us, meat remains an integral part of our daily intake. Steak and burgers, for example, remain an American staple.

While the internet is awash with articles about the health implications of eating too much meat, a consensus has yet to be reached. If you want to find an article supporting your condemnation of meat eaters, there are plenty to call upon. If you want to find an article to reassure you that your love of meat isn’t going to send you to an early grave, there are articles for that too.

Red meat, in particular, has caused much confusion. Fragments of a 1.5 million year old skull from a child discovered in Tanzania showed that we weren’t part time carnivores back then, but regular red meat eaters. Researcher, Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, even went as far as to say that: ‘meat made us human.’

Regardless of your school of thought, red meat is commonly feared by the health conscious. And where there’s fear, there’s space in the market for a product. However, there are also the huge implications that rearing meat has on the environment, with animal agriculture being responsible for 91% of all deforestation today, 51% of greenhouse gas emissions and using 1/3 of the world’s water. It has meant that more people are looking to other options.

Alternatives to meat have been around for a while. British based, meat substitute company - Quorn - has been operational since 1985, and was recently sold for £550 million. While Quorn has proven a commercial success, it hasn’t been without its critics. The Center For Science In Public Interest, for example, has received 2,000 reports citing negative reactions to the company’s products, including: nausea and cramps. Two deaths have also reputedly been linked to Quorn’s products, although this is still unproven.

While these reports might be unfounded, their presence alone makes a ‘greener’ alternative attractive. Impossible Foods - a startup which develops meats and cheeses from plants - has apparently ‘reimagined’ the cheeseburger, replicating the taste and look of ground beef using only green ingredients. The company was founded in 2011 by a biochemistry professor, Patrick O. Brown, and chef Tal Ronnen.

The company is in high demand. It was reportedly subject to an offer between $200 and $300 million from Google [], and although that never came to fruition, a recent round of funding saw Impossible Foods raise $108 million, with Bill Gates the most notable investor. There were fears that the company wouldn’t have the capital to transform their idea into a tangible product, but according to Patrick O. Brown: ‘This latest financing ensures that we have more than enough runway to bring our first products to market,’

Impossible Foods aren’t the only company looking to get in on the act. Beyond Meat - the self professed ‘future of protein’ - also has backing from Bill Gates, and claims that its sales have been doubling each year. The emergence of these companies led the New York Times to call this ‘the (fake) meat revolution’ with startups like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat now firmly concentrating their efforts on the mainstream market.

The Humane Research Council found that 84% of Vegetarians and Vegans eventually revert back to eating meat. While it’s unclear how many of these people did so because they missed the taste, having products on the market which replicate it can only help.

We might not be experiencing the fake meat revolution just yet, but all the information points to its impending arrival, which can only be good for health and the environment.


Read next:

Leading Innovation into the Mainstream