— by Lee Pitts
Cattlemen and cowboys expect competition from pork producers, poultry pluckers, lamb-lords and tasteless tofu tillers, but I’m quite sure no one ever saw Bill Gates, Google or Silicon Valley as beef’s major adversary. But thanks to the man who cleaned up on Windows, and other geeks and nerds just like him, someday we will view the technocrats of Silicon Valley as a bigger threat to our well being than all the wolves, bureaucrats, Sierra Clubbers, Obamanites and the BLM combined.
Driving through San Jose, Stanford, Cupertino and San Francisco one gets the distinct impression that this is computer country, not cow country. If it wasn’t for the Cow Palace in South San Francisco there’d hardly be any sign of livestock at all. But if the techies have it their way, this just might be the origin of the meat you eat 20 years from now. It won’t be produced by ranchers in boots and spurs but by eggheads in lab coats.
A Better Way?
Sand Hill Foods sounds more like a Nebraska outfit than it does a Silicon Valley startup. It was created by Stanford professor Patrick Brown to produce beef and dairy products in California labs that will be substantially cheaper and every bit as good as the meat and dairy products produced by ranchers and dairymen. And the only chips involved will be made from silicon, not grass. Of course, others have tried this before but Brown thinks he has discovered the secret ingredient this time: plant blood.
Wow, who knew plants had blood? And if so, that means they must bleed just like animals. Does that mean we are murdering plants when we harvest them? Are we causing them pain and do they scream in the night when no one is listening? Doesn’t this now mean that the animal rightists should direct a little bit of their anger previously reserved for meat, towards beans, broccoli and barley too?
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
Another of Professor Brown’s startups is a company called Impossible Foods. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal written by Evelyn Rusli, Impossible Foods is developing a new generation of meats and cheeses made entirely from plants. Says Brown, “Our mission is to give people the great taste and nutritional benefits of foods that come from animals without the negative health and environmental impact.”
Continued Brown, “We looked at animal products at the molecular level then selected specific proteins and nutrients from greens, seeds, and grains to recreate the wonderfully complex experience of meats and dairy products. For thousands of years we’ve relied on animals as our technology to transform plants into meat, milk, and eggs. Impossible Foods has found a better way.”
According to the company’s website, 50 scientists, chefs, farmers, and engineers are “driven to make the best meats and cheeses you’ll ever eat — from plants.”
If you want to get in on the ground floor, Impossible Foods currently has openings for a Controller, a scientist for systematic chemical analysis of complex samples, a software engineer, a coordinator for their sensory team, and a marketing manager. And boy oh boy are they ever going to need a marketing manager!At a time when the consumer wants to know more than ever what’s in the food they’re eating, selling counterfeit beef would seem to be a tougher sale than a used Gateway 2000.
It’s Impossible Foods goal to create a hamburger that looks, tastes, and cooks like the real thing. Pardon me for asking but wouldn’t it be a lot easier just to eat the real thing?
Mr. Brown seems to have a pet peeve with animals. He says, “livestock is an antiquated technology” and that the cow business is not sustainable. Let’s see, we’ve been eating meat for 2 million years on this planet and that seems pretty sustainable to me, while the half life of your average electronic gadget is what, six months?
Making inferior hamburgers from plants is nothing new. Go into any grocery store and you’ll see a few measly offerings in the refrigerated section, probably past their due date. Those who have tried Mr. Brown’s beef say it tastes more like a turkey patty but again, if you want to eat something that tastes like turkey, why not just eat turkey? Especially when you consider that one Impossible Foods beef patty costs $20 while a turkey burger costs considerably less.
Impossible Foods says they want to start selling their beef next year and hope to sell 1,000 tons in their first year. But what if it doesn’t catch on? That’s a lot of stuff that could end up filling landfills and that’s a big environmental concern.
The Tech Connection
But where, and how, does Bill Gates, America’s richest man and co-founder of Microsoft, fit in?
It turns out that he and other tech gurus like him are the money behind all these fake food startups. And Mr. Gates may be prejudiced towards plant food because, according to syndicated columnist Alan Guebert, Gates owns 100,000 acres of farmland and 8.4% of John Deere. He also owns a stake, (or is that steak?) in another outfit called Beyond Meat. Their goal is also to replace animal protein with plant material. Causing us to wonder, what’s Bill’s beef with bee
The techies have it in for all meat bearing livestock. There are countless startups trying to make chicken from chickpeas and sci-fi pork from seaweed. This is all part of a revolution called the clean-food movement.
Livestock producers can only hope that the geeky rich guys are as successful with their counterfeit food investments as they were with their bad bet on a plethora of solar, wind, and fuel-cell companies that went broke.
According to an article written by Brandon Griggs of CNN, two of the most esteemed venture capital firms, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Khosla Ventures, have backed nearly a dozen startups trying to engineer healthier and cheaper alternatives to beef, eggs, chicken, cheese, salt, and even candy.
In promoting their product over traditional meat the techies drag out all the same tired arguments about livestock, that they require lots of water, produce manure and, according to the UN, cattle produce 14.5% of climate-altering greenhouse gases. What they don’t say is that manure is fertilizer, the water is recycled and the cows must not be doing their job because there hasn’t been any global warming on this planet for the past 18 years!
More likely the geeks and nerds see the projections that we’ll have a couple billion more mouths to feed in the near future and the global demand for meat is hotter than the newest I-phone. And they want in on some of that action. “It’s the future,” says Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter and Jelly. Not having any stockman tools, they look to technology instead. The problem for them is technology doesn’t have taste buds and they are in way over their heads.
So far the lab meat has not proven taste-worthy. The world’s first lab-grown burger which was funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, cost $325,000. That’s per burger! For that kind of money you expect something pretty special.
It was not, to put it mildly.
This all seems like a good example of what happens when some folks get too much money. They write some computer code making it easier for people to match up, share their boring lives with everyone, or buy stuff, and next thing you know they think they have the answer to all the world’s ills.
Here are a few other tech supported outfits trying to put stockmen out of business:
Beyond Meat – This Los Angeles company makes chicken from soybeans and apples based on the recipes from a couple University of Missouri professors. They received seed money from Kleiner Perkins, Bill Gates, Twitter co-founders, and Seth Goldman, the founder of the Humane Society of the United States. The company says that in blind taste tests their fake chicken fooled people into thinking it was the real thing and its products are now carried in 4,000 stores.
Beyond Meat’s CEO Ethan Brown says, “You can see the change coming when you sit down and talk to a child. No child wants to hurt an animal. Would we continue to raise and eat animals in such staggering numbers if we could make the same thing from plants?”
Beyond Meat’s mission statement reads in part, “At Beyond Meat, we want to make the world a better place and we’re starting one delicious meal at a time.”
Pardon me for saying so but it doesn’t really look all that appetizing. On the firm’s web site are recipes for Flaky Biscuits with Beyond Meat herbed gravy made with herbs and tamari (whatever that is), feisty pumpkin charred corn and sage chili, and Beyond Beef pumpkin pasta casserole. If you want to see what the future looks like according to the geeks and nerds take a look at the photos. Be forewarned… it’s not a pretty picture
Modern Meadow – It’s not just meat these mad scientists are trying to replace but the hide too. This company was started in 2011 by Andras Forgacs and his biophysicist father, Gabor. They plan to replace the entire cow, right down to her hide which they call “cultured leather.” Says Andras Forgacs, “You don’t waste as much material with cultured leather because animals don’t come in the shape of a couch or a handbag.”
They are making the fake leather from stem cells and I’m sure that’s not exactly what folks had in mind when they were promoting stem cell research a few years back.
To make cultured beef, Modern Meadow takes muscle cells from a steer and places them in a soup of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and sugars. It takes about a week to grow a beef chip for less than $100!
Wow, and you thought beef was high in the grocery store!
“We’re in for a real revolution in the next decade or two,” says Forgacs.
Hamton Creek – This firm received $30 million in funding from Khosla Ventures and other techies to rid the world of roosters with their plant-based substitute for eggs called Beyond Eggs. (Khosla gets a large chunk of money from Bill Gates.) Unlike many other Silicon Valley food firms this company does have products on store shelves including a vegan mayonnaise called Just Mayo. Hamton Creek eggs, the firm says are 19% cheaper and have a longer shelf life.
Supposedly Bill Gates couldn’t tell the difference in muffins made with real eggs and those made with this company’s fake eggs. The ingredients in a Beyond Egg egg include peas, sunflower lecithin, canola, and natural gums extracted from tree sap.
According to Hamton Creek, “More sustainable solutions like Beyond Eggs reduce the need for chicken feed, including corn and soy, which means less carbon emissions.
We could go on and on like this citing one firm after another that wants to rid the world of livestock. Rich liberal ex-hippies are going to extreme lengths to get rid of the cow. But why are stock growers their hated enemy.? One reason is that you own land… lots of it. Why should you get to own land? Who do you think you are? You have no exclusive right to the outdoors. You are also the direct opposite from them personally.
They work inside, you work outside. They collect cars, you collect horses. They are Tomorrowland while you are Frontierland. They are intimidated by you, and you are bewildered by them. They are pale, pasty and soft from watching computer screens all the time while you are sunburned, strong and swarthy. They are urban, you are rural and this is a civil war. Or as one writer said, this is no less than vegan jihad. A religious-like war over food.
So, will Silicon Valley be the new Omaha or Amarillo? Will geeks and nerds in Google Glasses and wearing Apple watches replace the iconic cowboy?
I don’t think so. For one thing, a Pew survey found 80% of Americans would not eat meat grown in a lab. Although younger people would be more willing to try it, even they won’t eat it if its not as good as, or better, than the real thing. And that’s a tall order.
The lab cowboys have a tough task ahead of them to convince consumers that eating meat from a laboratory is a good thing. After all, we are talking about consumers who don’t trust GMO’s and call square tomatoes “Frankenfoods.” Will folks who want their food natural and organic eat meat grown in a petri dish or a burger of bioengineered beef?
These same millennials who are supposed to eat all this fake meat are the same folks lifestyle magazines call “foodies” because of their extreme interests in food, how it is prepared, where it originated and how it was grown or raised. If this is true then I don’t think they are going to want to eat something manufactured in some chemistry experiment gone horribly wrong.