Meat is juicy and tender. It’s filling. It gives barbecues a
reason to exist. Without it, it’s almost impossible to imagine
sandwiches, pizzas, spaghetti, hot dogs, and burritos. So it’s
no surprise that the average person in the United States
consumed a whopping total of 211 pounds of red meat and
poultry last year. In 2014, the US industry was worth an
But a growing number of food entrepreneurs and scientists are
looking at meat through a Silicon Valley lens. Harmful for
health and the environment, they say, it’s due for a serious
21st-century overhaul. Red meats — beef, pork, and lamb — are
relatively high in
cholesterol and saturated fat compared to the leaner
alternatives of chicken, fish, and beans. Livestock
generates 14.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions,
according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization. And scientists and doctors are concerned about
safety issues in meat like heavy
antibiotics, which help livestock grow faster, but can
actually make them more susceptible to bacteria.
So a handful of startups are trying to reinvent meat from
scratch in labs, with the goal of cooking up products that are
very similar or even indistinguishable from the real thing
(unlike Tofurkey). But whether or not their creations will be
satisfactorily meaty to seduce carnivores and vegetarians alike
has yet to be seen.
This summer and fall, two of those companies — Beyond Meat and
Impossible Foods — are rolling out their competing meatless
burger patties across the nation. (Both of them even “bleed.”)
Just this week, the Impossible Burger made its
debut at the Momofuku Nishi restaurant in New York City.
Here are the “meats” coming to a grocery store or restaurant
near you in the near-to-distant future.
Beyond Meat spent more than seven years developing its patty,
the Beyond Burger, out of plant proteins (mostly pea), and the
result is soy-, gluten-, and GMO-free. When it went on sale in
one Whole Foods in Colorado this spring, they sold out in
an hour. The Los Angeles startup is backed by $17
million from bold-faced investors like Bill Gates, Kleiner
Perkins Caufield and Byers, and Obvious Ventures (co-founded by
Ev Williams, the co-founder and former CEO of Twitter).
Packages of two quarter-pound patties for $5.99 will be widely
available by the end of the year, according to the company.
We got an early taste — here’s what we thought.
Dr. Patrick Brown used to be a biochemistry professor at
Stanford University who made a name for himself studying gene
expression. Then in 2011, he decided to ditch academia and
dedicate himself full-time to a side project that became
Impossible Foods, a
Silicon Valley startup with
$182 million in venture capital. The company aims to create
meat as well as dairy products from plants, and its first
product is the Impossible Burger. Now available in New York
City ($12 at Momofuku) and coming to San Francisco in the fall,
the vegan burger’s made of wheat (so it’s not gluten-free),
coconut oil, potato protein, and heme protein.
Here’s what we thought of the burger.
Fun fact: Google tried to buy Impossible for $200 to $300
The Information reported in 2015 — but it didn’t work
out, because the company wanted more money.
Memphis Meats —
which is actually based in the San Francisco Bay Area, not
Tennessee — is also creating beef and pork from scratch. But
unlike Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, whose patties are made
of plants, its
approach is to grow cow and pig cells in a lab and harvest
the resulting skeletal muscle into hot dogs, meatballs,
burgers, and sausages. The startup told The Wall Street
Journal in February that it plans to go to market in three
to four years.
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Like Memphis Meats, Modern Meadow grows animal
cells. Its meat won’t end up in food, though, but in leather —
think a closet full of animal-friendly jackets. The New York
City startup announced last month that it had raised
$40 million, bringing its total raised to $53.5 million.
In 2013, Dutch professor Mark Post of Maastricht University
made global headlines for growing a burger in a lab with the
backing of $330,000 from Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Since
taste-test in London, Post has pressed on with the project
and co-founded Mosa Meat. He told the BBC
in October, “I am confident that we will have it on the market
in five years.”