Silicon Valley and a Tasty, More Sustainable Tomorrow

Simon Mainwaring / Sustainability / 10 months ago

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With the Fourth of July holiday fast approaching and another summer grilling season heating up, we’re exploring the growing number of start-ups providing palatable alternatives to ground beef, and in the process, reducing its cost on both animals and the environment.

In fact, agriculture causes a quarter of all greenhouse emissions, 80% of which comes from methane-generating livestock production. In addition to all those damaging emissions, native habitats and forestland are cleared to make grazing room for cattle, which require excessive water consumption.

But thanks to social media and other digital sources, consumers have become not only more aware of what’s on their plate, but how it got there too, and have begun to prioritize healthier food choices that have less impact on the environment. And just as they have in other areas, a number of innovative businesses have sprouted up to offer sustainable meat and dairy alternatives that will serve the world’s growing food demands while reducing environmental consequences.

One such company, Beyond Meat, recently rolled out a line of beef substitute patties at a Whole Foods in Boulder, Colorado. Composed primarily of a pea protein, coconut oil and beet juice for coloring, Beyond patties are the result of several years of extensive research and testing by a team of scientists from such esteemed institutions as Stanford and Caltech.

The initial run sold out almost instantly and was so well-received, by both vegetarians and meat eaters alike, that the company is now preparing to open a facility in Dallas to meet increased demand. Beyond Meat’s CEO Ethan Brown is appropriately bullish on his ground beef alternative, “I can tell you that three or four years ago there would never have been this reaction,” he says. “There’s a shift occurring. If you can get people to stop thinking about meat in terms of its origin—chicken, cow, or pig—but more in terms of its composition—proteins, fats—I think the term meat almost becomes semantic at that point.” And to further that goal, Brown and Beyond Meat are working with retailers like Whole Foods to have their patties next to those of the cattle variety, similar to how almond, rice and other options have made their way to the dairy aisle.

Another start-up looking to have a large impact is Impossible Foods, which recently raised over $100 million in funding from an impressive range of backers, including Bill Gates. Founded by a former Stanford biochemistry professor, Dr. Patrick Brown, Impossible is also developing a ground beef patty, along with nut milk dairy alternatives that have no cholesterol, hormones, or antibiotics. “We’re reinventing the entire system of transforming plants into meat and milk,” Dr. Brown says. “We want to have a product that a burger lover would say is better than any burger they’ve ever had.”

Just as policy makers and governments have had difficulty in the past getting people to eat healthier, reducing their red meat and animal protein intake will prove a challenge. But as with any challenge, there also opportunities, specifically economic ones, which the private sector is rising to meet. As Ali Partovi, an investor in start-ups such as Airbnb and Dropbox puts it, “Anytime you can find a way to use plant protein instead of animal protein there’s an enormous efficiency in terms of the energy, water and all sorts of other inputs involved—which translates at the end of the day to saving money.”

If we’re going to feed 9 billion people by 2050, we’re going to need all the savings and efficiencies we can find. Fortunately for all, many have already begun to present themselves.

Image via Flickr courtesy of user Valters Krontals at https://flic.kr/p/cFEsQU

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