Do We Really Need To Reinvent Food?

There are two basic approaches to diminishing or eliminating the environmental, health and animal welfare impacts of easting animal protein.

One is to reinvent meat and animal protein by creating plant-based substitutes, and Kate Murphy in the New York Times takes a look at all the venture capital and brainpower that Silicon Valley is throwing into this approach:

Call it Food 2.0.

Following Steve Jobs’s credo that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” a handful of high-tech start-ups are out to revolutionize the food system by engineering “meat” and “eggs” from pulverized plant compounds or cultured snippets of animal tissue. One company imagines doing away with grocery shopping, cooking and even chewing, with a liquid meal made from algae byproducts….

Venture capital firms like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Closed Loop Capital, Khosla Ventures and Collaborative Fund have poured money into Food 2.0 projects. Backing has also come from a hit parade of tech-world notables including Sergey Brin of Google, Biz Stone of Twitter, Peter Thiel of PayPal and Bill Gates of Microsoft, as well as Li Ka-shing, Asia’s wealthiest man, who bought early stakes in Facebook and Spotify.

“We’re looking for wholesale reinvention of this crazy, perverse food system that makes people do the wrong thing,” said Josh Tetrick, the vegan chief executive of San Francisco-based Hampton Creek. His company has created an egg substitute using protein extracted from the Canadian yellow pea, incorporating it into Just Scramble, Just Mayo and Just Cookie Dough, which are starting to find their way onto grocery store shelves nationwide.

I’m pretty much down with anything that can help people move away from meat and animal protein. But replacing the flavor and texture of meat or dairy is very, very hard to do. I’ve tried most of the Food 2.0 alternatives that are for sale and while some aren’t revolting, or have a bland, neutral taste and feel, none taste anything like the thing they are trying to replace. And they are highly processed and packaged.

The second approach is to simply move on from meat and animal protein without trying to replace it. There is a world of good food out there that is all-natural vegan and vegetarian. When I went vegetarian, and then vegan,  I missed meat and I missed Half and Half in my coffee. I quickly discovered that there were no true substitutes, and that instead of vainly seeking to find a perfect substitute I would waste less time, and experience less disappointment, if I simply adopted new cuisines and recipes (Indian, Asian, Latino) that don’t rely on meat or animal protein. They are out there, folks. And they are delicious.

And you know what happened? I stopped missing meat and cream, and started craving two things: vegetables (though my wife can’t believe that I sometimes want to eat brussels sprouts for breakfast) and unprocessed food. And that makes eating pretty enjoyable and easy.

And sorry Silicon Valley: no Frankenfoods are required.

%d bloggers like this: