Plant-based Protein and Eco-Food

As much as the majority of the world population would like to stick to traditional foods in its original form, the steady increases in food consumption by the expanding population, coupled with increasingly volatile weather affecting food production, it was evident to world leaders that if no drastic actions are taken, the world is likely to face a severe food shortage in the near future.

Livestock caged in cramped quarter.

Livestock farming, especially raising cattle for meat is highly inefficient in converting the energy of natural resources including land, water and feeds to a piece of protein on the plate. On feed alone, on the average to produce a pound (0.45kg) of beef requires seven pounds (3.17kg) of feed, a pound of pork requires three pounds (1.36kg) of feed, and a pound of chicken requires around 2 pounds (0.90kg) of feed. If the depletion and degradation of land, amount of water consumed, greenhouse gas emission are taking into the consideration, livestock production is one of the major factors of environmental degradation.

Further more valuable land that could be used to grow grains for human consumption are used for livestock rearing or grow feeds for the livestock. It is somewhat ironic that this particular sector of food production is a key factor in world hunger.

Realizing the current system can’t continue, but also realizing meat eaters will always have meat craving, pockets of innovative scientists have sprouted out in several research centers around the world trying to find plant-based replacement protein that can closely mimic the taste and texture of the real thing, whether it is beef, chicken, pork, or even egg. With the support of Silicon Valley bigwigs, industry entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists, numerous products are already in the grocery stores or scheduled to launch in the not too far future.

One of them is the Los Angeles-based company Beyond Meat, started by Ethan Brown in 2009 to produce food using green protein, mainly no-GMO pea or no-GMO soy with oils and other additives. Ethan switched his career from clean energy after realizing livestock sector is stripping the environment of natural resources.  In 2012, their first product, “Chicken-Free Strips,” was introduced to the market.  They have since launched Beyond Chicken Strips, Beyond Beef Crumbles, Frozen Meals, and the Beast Burger and Beast Slider. Their product, Beyond Burger, is sold in both the meat section and vegan section at selected Whole Foods grocery stores. Bill Gates, among others, has given his thumbs-up, saying he “couldn’t tell the difference between Beyond Meat and real chicken”. Ethan has a vision that eventually grocery stores will label meat section as protein section to better reflect the growing trend.

Hampton Creek Foods, on the other hand, produces plant-based substitutes to use in mayo, dressings, mixes, cookie dough, cookies, and others. The company was founded by longtime friends Josh Balk and Joshua Tetrickin in December 2011, based in San Francisco. Josh Balk was with The Humane Society of the United States farm animal division as the senior director of food policy. Joshua Tetrick, a Fulbright Scholar and a social enterprise entrepreneur. The duo named their products ‘Just’ as they hope their meat-free products is not just a substitute for egg, trans fat and sugar but assist in providing healthy and nutritious food for every person without causing more harm to the environment. Hampton Creek Foods is committed to continuous innovation and improvement in their products. In 2014, Dan Zigmond, a database guru, came on board with the aim to create the world’s largest plant database.

And then who can forget about the unprecedented taste-test of the world first lab dish-grown beef patty burger in 2013. The patty was grown from stem cells extracted from a cow and nurtured into muscle strips. Around 20,000 thin muscle tissues were then formed into patty shaped. Although the testers generally favor the cultured patty, the project leader, Professor Mark Post from the Maastricht University of Netherland remarked it will take at least another decade before the process is ready for mass producing cultured meat tissue.

At the current state, meat replacement choices are limited and expensive. As time progresses, we are likely to see more of such ventures emerges and soon we are likely to be presented with affordable versions that are hard to differentiate from the actual food they are mimicking.  Plant-based protein meat analogue provides an alternative food choice that is more environmentally viable for meat lovers.