What I’ve learned about eating animals — and what the future holds (Part Three)
“I’ll eat anything.” — the most socially acceptable phrase of 2018 when it comes to ordering at a restaurant with friends.
It is hard to believe it has been four years since I wrote my two-part series on this subject, and even harder to believe how fast the trend I predicted would take place has accelerated since then. Before you get too far in this post, if you would like to backtrack on why I decided not to eat animals and where I think the future was going to take us (an entrepreneurial prediction), you can read 2014’s Part One and Part Two of this series first. Those were my most popular blog posts of 2014 and the comments thread, especially in Part One, is very interesting. Every possible argument you can think of for eating animals is in those comments.
Four years later, the vat-grown meat trend that I predicted would be our future, due primarily to the relentless march of capitalism towards efficiency (and secondarily due to our growing ethical consciousness), has really accelerated — and the factory-farm-animal meat industry is now really rattled by the progress. Thanks to John Mackey, I got introduced to Bruce Friedrich, Co-founder and Executive Director of The Good Food Institute (GFI). GFI is advocating on behalf of the plant-based meat as well as the clean meat industry. They are currently suing the state of Missouri, as I’ll cover below. But first, what is “clean meat”? Well, that is where my branding brain was asleep in 2014 by calling it “vat-grown meat”. Clean meat is the new term and it signifies a lot in a few words: clean of antibiotics, clean of hormones, clean of environmental impact, clean of subsidies, clean of animal slaughter, clean of factory farming and the resulting treatment of factory-farm-to-slaughter-to-plate animals, clean of the human stress for animal slaughter migrant workers (which turn over at around 100% per year), and clean of potential diseases (such as Mad Cow disease and avian flu, which are the result of the proximity of factory farm animals in factory farm pens). Check out Bruce’s memo for their progress just in August alone here. Their progress is pretty stunning to say the least. This #EatForThePlanet podcast interview of Bruce is pretty telling — it covers a lot of ground.
In 2014, I also underestimated how good plant-based meat would become. The meat alternatives back then were not nearly as tasty as they are now. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are really leading the charge here. Beyond Meat is dominant in grocery stores, while Impossible Foods is dominant in restaurants. Personally, I prefer Beyond Meat and their burger and sausage products are just incredible (especially their sausage products). Whole Foods literally cannot keep their products in stock — they are that popular. I made a red-sauce pasta with their Italian sausage product recently and one of my friends couldn’t stop eating it — he ate about twice as much as he should. It really is that good. As far as Impossible Foods, it is good (but not as good) and I had a great dish at The Battery recently with it. There are also other brands that are more niche but incredibly delicious. For example, Memphis Meats seems very innovative (I personally haven’t had the pleasure of trying their product) and The Herbivorous Butcher artisanal vegan meat supplies niche grocery stores, like Rabbit Food Grocery here in Austin (a 100% vegan product grocery store). I had a sampler of artisanal, aged vegan cheese at TED earlier this year from Blue Heron Creamery and it was simply incredible. You can even buy delicious vegan jerky from Amazon, by Louisville Vegan Jerky (the best vegan jerky brand out of those I’ve tried). And, in a bit of a digression from this paragraph, Hampton Creek is the first to say they will evolve from 100% plant-based foods to some with clean meat (funny, this 2017 Business Insider article called it lab-grown meat, I guess that is how far we have come branding wise in just a year).
So, it has gotten much easier as a consumer, facing the decision of what to eat at least three times a day, to eat vegan or vegetarian. When I wrote Part Two of my series in 2014, the choices for alternative meats were pretty limited and not nearly as tasty. You may be thinking, “If you are a vegan or vegetarian, then why do you seek alternative meat, why not just eat the real thing?” My answer to that, very simply, is personal ethics. I made that choice for myself after I learned what I did, and that is why I wrote the original post in 2014 — to share what I had learned for all of those interested (I put all of the necessary disclaimers at the top of those posts, as I understand many would like to remain ignorant on this subject, an “ignorance is bliss” sort of feeling). I honestly don’t judge my factory-farm-animal meat eating friends. Everyone makes their own decisions and although I don’t personally like how we treat some animals versus our own pet dogs or cats (our dogs are especially spoiled), it is your decision to make. All I’m saying here is that alternative products have really evolved in the past four years, like I predicted they would, only faster than I predicted. So if you make the decision now, it is much easier than ever before. So, why not at least try these products (recommendation: start with Beyond Meat sausages)? And, for the record, I would have no ethical dilemma in eating clean meat. I’m all for a high omega steak (“designer steak”, with the omega equivalent of salmon) that never involved animal raising and slaughtering in the first place. People will call this Frankenmeat and other derogatory names, and some of them will be those same friends who tell you, “I’ll eat anything”, while you are dining at your favorite restaurant. But mark my words — these products will be superior to factory-farm-animal and sea-and-lake-farmed meat for all of the reasons I listed above when I defined the term “clean meat”. Capitalism will continue to become more conscious and march on in its relentless search for efficiency (e.g., we’ve crammed animals together in factory farms as much as animal-ly possible in this relentless search for efficiency, which explains why meat has remained so “affordable” over the decades).
How much money will be made by plant-grown and clean meat entrepreneurs? An incredible amount. These industries are absolutely massive — around $850 billion worth of land-and-water-raised meat is projected to be sold worldwide this year. Check out this recent interview in Entrepreneur magazine with Ethan Brown, the Founder and CEO of Beyond Meat:
“I’m very confident [the shift to my kids eating plant-based meat at fast-food restaurants is] going to happen, because I think the consumer is turning so quickly. We are not telling people not to eat meat — I think that would be a massive mistake — we’re simply suggesting that they have a new type of meat, just plant based,” says Brown, the founder and CEO of the El Segundo, Calif.-based company. “Once we break the code and get to the point where it’s indistinguishable from animal protein, I think you will see that shift.”
The factory-farm-animal meat industry is so big that the state of Missouri passed a bill in May to outlaw calling plant-based or clean meat, well, “meat”. The Good Food Institute and others are suing as a result, as the The New York Times covered here. This reminds me of when Splenda was in its epic rise in the early 2000s (they ended up settling out of court, but the claims were very different and I think GFI and others will win this Missouri battle). I thought the whole Splenda lawsuit was really ridiculous at the time, and this Missouri law is laughable (coconut meat and other plant-based meat terms have been around forever). But you know an industry is getting seriously worried about disruption when industry-protectionist laws are passed and the resulting lawsuits are initiated.
In my industry, Internet software, disruption really favors established industries. For example, Salesforce and Workday are two of the top three Software as a Service (SaaS) companies by market cap, weighing in at a market value of $113 billion and $33 billion, respectively. Both companies disrupted an industry enterprise software (i.e., not SaaS) incumbent that had already proven a huge market opportunity, those incumbents being Siebel and PeopleSoft, respectively. They disrupted other incumbents as well, but those are the main two. And in the meat industry, there is $850 billion of revenue potential to shift to alternatives. Wow. Siebel and PeopleSoft never grew beyond the single digit billions in revenue.
In the #EatForThePlanet podcast referenced above, Bruce and Nil refer to factory-farming and industrial agriculture in the same breath. They also refer to clean meat and cellular agriculture in the same breath. Cellular agriculture could do what industrial agriculture did to back-breaking-manual-work agriculture. Weren’t most of us farmers prior to the industrial revolution?
If I believe so much in this trend, am I playing the trend as an entrepreneur and investor? Not directly — I’m an Internet software entrepreneur and believe completely in what we are doing at data.world. But Debra and I are playing this trend indirectly, by supporting GFI (they are a non-profit) and being an LP/investor in both CAVU funds, which are primarily backing alternative food and beverage products, including vegetarian and vegan products. You can see their brand portfolio companies here, and some of my personal favorites (as a customer) are Kite Hill, Health-Ade Kombucha, Hippeas, Waterloo Sparkling Water, Skinny Dipped Almonds, WTRMLN WTR, and REBBL. Good Culture is also great if you consume diary — the best cottage cheese on the market.
So, what do you think about this trend? Have you tried these products yet? I would really love to hear from you in the comments below.
P.S., As I referenced the incredible book Eating Animals a lot in my 2014 posts, I wanted to let you know that a documentary based on the book is coming out and it looks really good: 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Note: this was originally posted on my blog at Lucky7.io, where I’ve been writing about primarily entrepreneurship since 2012.