How innovation will end meat production

“Twitter co-founders invest big in vegan meat company.” It’s an anomalous, almost delightfully silly headline, just strange enough to make it in with the other fluff news pieces at six. A plot device made painfully cookie-cutterish, the excitement chalked up to a large sprinkling of eccentric billionaire behavior. After all, it seems clear that nothing can really become of it. Vegans make up less than one per cent of the American population, and many have expressed on message boards an aversion to the taste of animal products. On top of this, most omnivores are turned off by the notion of faux meat, that’s just a given. It feels like an inherently bad idea, and yet the closer you look into the particulars of the buy, the more compelling the situation becomes.

Take the company in question, Beyond Meat, for starters; reports state that they’ve managed to create a product so eerily meat like that the average American, and even notable food critics, can’t tell the difference. This June, supermarkets in California went through weeks worth of stock in as little as two days. It is also noted that their blend of soy and vegetables, is cheap and environmentally conscious to produce, almost totally void of saturated fats and is on schedule to become significantly cheaper when mass produced, in comparison to actual animal proteins.

If all that weren’t enough, the caliber of investors is raising some eyebrows. Evan Williams and ‘Biz’ Stone have made most of their money on strange financial bets that have become ubiquitous in nature. Twitter was initially deemed utterly ridiculous, and yet businesses, news organizations, communities and even individuals consider it an indispensable tool. Williams, who cofounded Blogger, created a platform that is still a top ten website. It’s kind of an ominous and exciting blend, one that has the potential to set off a storm of change.

The hope of the new investors is that restaurants, fast food outlets and supermarkets will see the financial benefits and abandon actual meat products happily for this new product. Institutions like McDonalds, KFC and Burger King, who have long been loathed and lobbied against by the vegan and vegetarian community, will delightedly change, or so the theory goes. Does this seem very likely? From a business perspective, this is where the story gets hot; the roundabout answer is yes.

Meat, as it turns out, is exceptionally expensive, dangerous and messy to create, especially when corners are cut. Cramped battery cages, illegal waste dumping, hedgy fattening methods and debeaking are only some of the unsavory yet capitalistically savvy means to an end, and yet with regulations tightening and an Internet generation and inspectors able to see the effects of these missteps (including environmental ruin and possible food safety issues like e-coli from quick and unsanitary slaughter methods) the stakes are constantly on the rise. Williams and Stone are predicting that corporations, facing a reduction in meat accessibility and feasibility, will not act as the immoral monsters animal rights protestors believe they are, but rather as amoral profit-seekers: a much more desirable position in this case.

And yet, even with all of this, it still feels utterly futuristic and impossible. Meat has been such a strong North American staple, so much so that the idea of tossing it aside without a second thought just feels ridiculous. More likely, the new product will simply be adopted under the table in key locations and expanded from there. Believe that’s immoral? Currently meat producers and therefore, complicit distributers, are doing far worse. The BPI this year admitted that approximately 15 per cent of beef is filler or ‘pink slime,’ which is basically leftover slaughter scraps ground into a paste. Chicken, according to a UK county council, is routinely injected with salt water, up to 15 per cent is made of just this alone. The reason for these measures is solely monetary, so the idea that an identical, yet cheaper, vegan version might be passed up is looking less and less likely.

The last field of resistance will be the major meat producers like Tyson Foods and the large Cattle and Poultry lobbies. In the end though, the numbers suggest that they simply won’t be able to compete. The prices they dictate now are already as low as they can possibly manage, with conditions on the very cusp of legality, and prices are expected to skyrocket in the next year. Droughts, controversy created by the ‘pink slime’ scandal and a real legislative threat present after Europe banned battery cages, won’t help the titans of the industry. However, it’ll leave remarkable room for a revolutionary product like Beyond Meat to slip in. It’s an idea so peculiar, so eerily simple and so chalked full of mutual benefits, that it seems destined to make strange bedfellows out of the most passionate enemies in this fight, and maybe even alienate the producers, who until this time, have seemed utterly untouchable.

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