Fake food: the tech companies working to revolutionise how we eat protein

Chicken and eggs made from plants, meat made in petri dishes – the Silicon Valley startups innovating for more sustainable food.

Ethan Brown likes the taste and texture of meat. He just doesn't like the morals of it. Until now, that left him with the choice of eating an animal and feeling guilty, or going vegetarian and missing out on the juicy taste of grilled chicken. Fungi-based substitutes such as Quorn don't tend to cut it with those who miss real meat.

But Brown, a former clean-energy executive, belongs to a new generation of tech entrepreneurs who are taking a new approach to protein. "Look at the impact of meat on the climate", he says. "Look at its impact on human health, the vast resources meat production consumes and how factory farming affects animal welfare. It's all pointing in the direction of a major change." Brown's solution is making plants taste like poultry. His Los Angeles-based company, Beyond Meat, produces protein that looks, tastes and feels like chicken – but is made entirely from plants.

Today's mass production of meat poses an acute threat to the environment. According to the World Watch Institute, livestock production accounts for 18% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. The FAO reports that it uses one third of all available land and nearly one tenth of all water. It is the world's leading source of both water pollution and deforestation. Between 1969 and 1999, worldwide meat production more than doubled, and as the world's population continues to grow, and adapt to a meat-based lifestyle, production is likely to grow to even more unsustainable levels.

Eggs, too, are part of this global circle of rising demand, factory farming, animal cruelty and environmental damage. And because we still want to eat them, Josh Tetrick has spotted a business and ethical opportunity: eggs made from plants. His two-year-old San Francisco-based company, Hampton Creek Foods, has investigated more than 1,500 plants and come up with a combination that tastes just like real eggs. It can be used in anything from mayonnaise to scrambled eggs. "Eggs are incredibly versatile, but so are plants", he explains. "We want to beat eggs! Right now our egg replacer is 18% cheaper than eggs as an ingredient in food. But we want it to be 60%, 90% cheaper."

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