I Attended a College Class About Fake Meat. It Didn’t Disappoint.

The latest episode of Bite podcast journeys into the brave new world of better-tasting veggie burgers.

Photo by Jenny Luna

Burgers that bleed. Eggless mayo. Chicken strips without the bird. In the last few years, a handful of California companies have transformed fake meat as we know it—and earned a ton of press.

But can these Silicon Valley startups take on the multibillion-dollar meat industry? On a recent episode of Mother Jones‘ food politics podcast, Bite, we looked at fake-meat makers that are trying to scale up—and I attended a college class about making meat alternatives. Listen here: 

Impossible Foods has big plans for its wheat, coconut oil, and potato patties—the burgers that bleed. Right now, just 22 restaurants serve them. But last spring, Impossible Foods unveiled its weapon of mass production—a 67,000-square-foot warehouse in Oakland, California. The company’s chief operating officer, David Lee, said the factory will allow Impossible Foods to pump out 4 million burgers every month—that’s 250 times current production.

“We know our demand is waiting for us,” Lee said. “Not just in fine dining, but in more accessible restaurants around the world.”

Although these companies may not yet have the financial power of the meat industry, their products appeal to a growing number of eaters concerned about their health and that of the environment. Indeed, in 2015 the World Health Organization declared red meat a probable carcinogen. Animal agriculture across the globe is responsible for a whopping 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

The increasing interest in fake meat has attracted the attention of major companies. Last fall, meat industry giant Tyson Foods bought a 5 percent stake in Beyond Meat, a plant-based protein company based in Southern California. Google reportedly tried to buy Impossible Foods for somewhere in the ballpark of $200-$300 million. (Brown refused the offer.)

For the podcast episode, I visited a class on the business of meat alternatives at the University of California-Berkeley’s Sudartja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, where undergraduates were tasked with inventing new fake meat products. The class was taught by professionals in the emerging field, food scientists, and acclaimed chefs.

On the day I visited, students reflected on a recent homework assignment to buy and cook fake meat at home. They described the plant-based proteins’ textures and flavors—and overwhelmingly concluded that telling the fake stuff apart from animal protein was easy.  

Vegan chef David Anderson, one of the guest lecturers, warned the students about how tricky it is to make a substance look, cook, and taste just like animal flesh. “It’s like a Rubik’s Cube,” he said. “Once you mess with one ingredient, it throws the whole thing off.” 

To hear more about the class and the pioneers in the field of fake meat, listen to this week’s episode of Bite. Also included: Doctors are changing their beliefs about vegan diets.

Bite is Mother Jones’ food politics podcast. Listen to all our episodes here, or by subscribing in iTunes or Stitcher or via RSS.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.