We discuss and comment on the role agriculture will play in the containment of the CO2 problem and address protocols for terraforming the planet Earth.
A model farm template is imagined as the central methodology. A broad range of timely science news and other topics of interest are commented on.
Saturday, August 17, 2019
This Is the Beginning of the End of the Beef Industry
Possibly, but not quite. The agricultural need for animal husbandry is never going to go away and that does mean meat and by product production. What has never properly been exploited is the fermentation of ground meat what produces a savory mince meat product(s).
In fact the agricultural need will ultimately expand to include all ruminants in particular as herd management is becoming critical. Again fermented products allow us to process meats and fats not otherwise not salable as quality cuts.
The globe is entering full modernity and that means a large global expansion for quality foods. There is ample room for quality meant products and quality meat imitators and similar products.
This Is the Beginning of the End of the Beef Industry
Jul 31, 2019 .
Alt meat isn't going to stay alt for long, and cattle are looking more and more like stranded assets
There’s a famous Gandhi aphorism about how movements
progress: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they
fight you, then you win.” That was actually written by the Workshop on Nonviolence Instituteas
a summary of Gandhi’s philosophy, but regardless, it’s remarkable how
often it accurately describes the evolution of causes, fromlegal cannabis to gay marriage. I’ve been thinking about that quote since I wrote my first piece about plant-based meat (or alt meat, as I like to call it) for Outside
in 2014. Back then, we were firmly in the “laugh at you” stage. Beyond
Meat, the first of the Silicon Valley startups to use advanced
technology to produce extremely meat-like burgers, had been ignored for
its first few years, but in 2014, it released its Beast Burger, which
was treated by the press and public as a slightly off-putting curiosity.
What was this stuff? Would anyone actually eat it? Ewwww.
That product wasn’t very good—I compared it to Salisbury steak—and when Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat’s
founder, announced his intention to end livestock production, you could
almost hear the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association laughing in the
But I didn’t laugh. I knew it would keep getting better and beef
wouldn’t. And I thought the bar was pretty low. Sure, steak is great,
but ground beef makes up 60 percent of beef sales, and most of it is
more Salisbury than salutary, a greasy vehicle for the yummy stuff:
ketchup, mushrooms, pickles, bacon, sriracha mayo. I knew I wouldn’t
object if my central puck came from a plant, as long as it chewed right
and tasted right. I suspected others might feel the same.
In the following years, Beyond Meat was joined by Impossible Foods,
a more sophisticated startup with even more venture capital.
Its Impossible Burger was way better than Salisbury steak. All the cool
cats started serving it, from David Chang in New York to Traci Des
Jardins in San Francisco. My conviction grew.
Part of the appeal of the new burgers is their smaller environmental
footprint. Beef is the most wasteful food on the planet. Cows are not
optimized to make meat; they’re optimized to be cows. It takes 36,000
calories of feed to produce 1,000 calories of beef. In the process, it
uses more than 430 gallons of water and 1,500 square feet of land, and
it generates nearly ten kilograms of greenhouse-gas emissions. In
comparison, an Impossible Burger uses 87
percent less water, 96 percent less land, and produces 89 percent fewer
greenhouse-gas emissions. Beyond Meat’s footprint is similarly svelte.
Yes, a good argument can be made that small-farm, grass-fed beef
production (in places that can grow abundant grass) has a very different
ethical and environmental landscape, but unfortunately, that’s just not
a significant factor. America gets 97 percent of its beef from
feedlots. And feedlots are irredeemable.
By 2018, sales of both the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger
were surging, and the companies began to ink deals with restaurant
chains. Beyond Meat got Carl’s Jr. and A&W (as well as supermarket
chains like Food Lion and Safeway), while Impossible got White Castle.
I tracked down a White Castle shortly after the Impossible Slider
arrived in the spring of 2018. I’d never been to a White Castle, so I
ordered an Impossible Slider and a regular slider. The Impossible
was...fine. About what you’d expect. White Castle steams all its meat,
which is hard to get past, but with plenty of cheese, it went down
The regular slider, on the other hand, was horrific. I peeled back
the pasty bun and stared at the fetid shingle inside. It was appallingly
thin and grimy. It made the Impossible Slider look lush and juicy. The
bar for fast-food burgers is even lower than I thought. Nobody will miss
these shitty little brown things when they’re gone.
Perhaps this explains why the chains are latching on to plant-based
burgers as if they were life rings. White Castle initially tested its
Impossible Slider in just a few locations in New York, New Jersey, and
Chicago in April 2018. It was such a hit that the company quickly
expanded the program to all 380 outlets. “People are coming back for it
again and again,” White Castle’s vice president, Jamie Richardson, said with a touch of astonishment.
They’re coming back at Del Taco, too, which launched a Beyond Meat
taco in April. Within two months, it had sold two million, one of the
most successful product launches in its history, so it decided to add
Beyond Meat burritos as well.
And then there’s Burger King. The second-largest fast-food chain in the world rattled big beef’s cage by testing an Impossible Whopper in St. Louis in April. Resultingfoot
traffic was so strong that Burger King decided to serve the Impossible
Whopper in all 7,200 restaurants, marking the moment when alt meat
stopped being alt.
That was enough to get the meat industry to snap to attention. “About
a year and a half ago, this wasn’t on my radar whatsoever,” said Mark
Dopp, head of regulatory affairs for the North American Meat
Association, to The New York Times.“All of a sudden, this is getting closer.”
The strategy, predictably yet pathetically, was to engage in an ontological battle over the term meat itself. Big beef successfully lobbied
for a labeling law in Missouri banning any products from identifying
themselves as meat unless they are “derived from harvested production
livestock or poultry.” (But this is wrong; the word simply meant
sustenance for the first thousand years of its existence.) Similar
labeling laws have passed or are pending in a dozen more states, most of
them big ranching ones.
Obviously, none of this has stemmed the rise of alt meat. But it did
make me think again of Gandhi (a staunch vegetarian, FYI). They ignored,
they laughed, and now they werefighting.
This stuff, I thought, just might win.
This year is shaping up to be the inflection point when this becomes
obvious to everybody else. Beyond Meat’s products are in 15,000 grocery
stores in the U.S., and its sales have more than doubled each year. On
May 2, it held its IPO, offering stock at $25, which turned out to be a
wild underestimation of what investors thought the company was worth. It
immediately leaped to $46 and closed the day at $65.75. That one-day
pop of 163 percent was one of the best in decades, putting to shame such
2019 IPOs as Lyft (21 percent) and Pinterest (25 percent), to say
nothing of Uber (negative 3 percent). In the following days, it kept
ripping, climbing above $150, where it has stayed. The market currently
estimates Beyond Meat’s worth at close to $10 billion.
Not to be outdone, that same month, Impossible Foods raised an
additional $300 million dollars from private investors (for a running
total of $740 million and a valuation of $2 billion) and announced it
would be joining Beyond Meat in America’s grocery stores later this
year. These companies are no longer little mammals scurrying around the
feet of the big-beef dinosaurs. And they are gearing up for an epic
Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods recently released new, improved
versions of their meat. For the past week, I’ve subsisted on little
else. It feels great. Both have the same amount of protein as ground
beef (about 20 grams per quarter-pound serving) and less fat. Being
plant-based, they also provide a healthy shot of fiber. Both get their
unctuousness from coconut oil.
But the core of each formula is very different. Beyond uses pea
protein, while Impossible uses soy. Beyond gets its bloody color from beet juice;
Impossible uses heme—the same molecule that makes our blood red—to
achieve its meaty color and flavor. This is its killer app. Beef gets
its beefiness from heme. When you cook heme, it produces the distinctive
savory, metallic flavor of meat. Since heme is normally found in blood,
no veggie concoction has ever used it. Soy plants do make microscopic
amounts of it, but not enough to ever use. Impossible Foods’
breakthrough was to genetically engineer yeast to produce soy heme in a
tank, like beer. This GMO process is a deal breaker for some people, but
it makes all the difference. The Impossible Burger is incredible, the
Beyond Burger merely passable.
The Beyond Burger comes as two premade four-ounce patties (packaged
in a plastic tray wrapped in more plastic—strike one). They don’t quite
pass as hamburgers. They’re too wet and too pink. They almost resemble
finely ground salmon burgers. They cook to a satisfying toothinesson
either a grill or a griddle, but there’s an inexplicable cellulose
quality to the texture. (This is even more pronounced in the Beyond
Sausage.) The flavor is also slightly off. There’s a hint of fake
smoke and an earthiness I’m guessing comes from the beet juice. (My wife
would argue that it’s more than slightly off; she has to leave the room
when the Beyond Burger is cooking. But she also hates beets.) It’s not
an unpleasant experience, just don’t expect the burgergasm you get from a
quarter pound of USDA prime.
Impossible Foods, on the other hand, has delivered burgergasm after
burgergasm. It’s shine-up-the-Nobel-Prize good. Not only does it taste
like ground beef, it looks and acts like it, too. It’s truly plug and
That wasn’t true for the previous version. When I first wrote about
Impossible Foods three years ago, I had to beg the company to send me
one patty. It was hesitant. Back then, the burger was fussy. It didn’t
work well on a grill, so you had to pan-fry it just right. The
company made me do a Skype tutorial first, and when the micropatty
arrived in a refrigerated box, with a special bun and special sauce, it
was accompanied by pages of printed instructions. The burger was good,
certainly the most meat-like plant patty up to that point, but it still
tasted like a lite product—a little cleaner, a little less decadent, a
little bit like filler.
This time, when I asked the company to send me a burger, a five-pound
block of meat—clearly what it normally ships to food-service
companies—arrived on my doorstep. No instructions, no hand-holding. It
looked identical to ground beef, so that’s how I treated it. And that’s
how it performed. I made sliders, kebabs, nachos, chili, Bolognese
sauce, even a little tartare (note: the company frowns hard on this).
If I’m being honest, I find that I slightly prefer it to real beef.
It’s rich and juicy, more savory, but still somehow cleaner and less
cloying. Now when I go back to regular beef, I notice a whiff of the
charnel house in it, something musty and gray that I don’t like and
In the coming years, expect a lot of other omnivores to have similar epiphanies. Impossible Foods has performed more than 26,000 blind taste tests
on its burger, which is on track to surpass ground beef in those
tests in the near future. What happens then? Impossible has been laser
focused on creating the perfect simulacrum of ground beef. But why? The
cow never had a lock on gastronomic perfection. It was just the best we
could do given the limitations of the natural material. Firelight was
fine until electricity came along. Then things got really interesting.
Look for something similar to happen with alt meat. For now, it’s
necessary to make people comfortable with the familiar, the way Steve
Jobs loaded the early iPhones with faux felt and wood grain. But once people stop expecting burgers to refer to a hunk of flesh, the brakes on deliciousness will be released.
This will be generational. All change is. Most Baby Boomers are going
to stick with their beef, right up to the point where their dentures
can’t take it anymore. But Gen Z will find the stuff as embarrassing as
Def Leppard and dad jeans.
As this shift accelerates, the beef industry will lose its last
advantage—price. Most offerings made with Beyond Meat and Impossible
Foods are about a buck a burger more expensive. But it’s inherently
cheaper to make a burger directly out of plants than it is to feed those
plants to an animal first. Beef is currently cheaper because of scale.
Big food companies can negotiate tremendously reduced prices for feed,
and gigantic factories and supply chains are much more efficient to run.
But the playing field is leveling fast. Last week, Dunkin’ announced a
new Beyond Sausage breakfast sandwich that will be just 14 cents more
than the meat version. But more than anything Beyond Meat or Impossible
Foods has accomplished, the true death knell for the cattlemen is how
the mainstream food industry has embracedalt meat. Whole Foods just announced it will start selling burgers from the UK-based startup the Meatless Farm in all of its stores. Nestlé is launching its Awesome Burger
this fall. Tyson Foods, America’s largest meat producer, just
debuted its own plant-based nuggets, with more products to come.
Tyson CEO Noel Whitesaid he expects Tyson “to be a
market leader in alternative protein, which is experiencing double-digit
growth and could someday be a billion-dollar business for our company.”
If that quote isn’t enough to send chills down the spine of any meat
producer, try this one from Perdue Farms chairman Jim Perdue: “Our
vision is to be the most trusted name in premium protein. It doesn’t say
premium meat protein, just premium protein. That’s where consumers are
And that’s where these companies will go. Beef is a headache. It
comes with a lot of baggage to worry about: antibiotic resistance, E. coli
outbreaks, animal welfare, climate change. It’s the kind of icky
biological variable that corporate America would love to leave
behind—and as soon as beef becomes less profitable, it will.
Recent projections suggest that 60
percent of the meat eaten in 2040 will be alt, a figure I think may
actually be too conservative. An estimated 95 percent of the people
buying alt burgers are meat-eaters. This is not about making vegetarians
happy. It’s not even about climate change. This is a battle for
America’s flame-broiled soul. Meat is about to break free from its
animal past. As traditional meat companies embrace alt meat with the
fervor of the just converted, making it cheap and ubiquitious, it’s
unclear if Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods can survive the feeding
frenzy(though Impossible’s patents on its core IP may help), but
at least they’ll be able to comfort themselves with a modern take on
First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they sue you.
Then they try to buy you.
Then they copy you.
Then they steal your shelf space.
Then they put you out of business.
Then you’ve won.