Of late, beef’s been making headlines because of the plant-based alternatives coming to market, but it’s not the only animal protein in need of a makeover. The seafood industry wouldn’t win top honors in terms of clean products, earth-friendly practices and ethical worker conditions.
New Wave Foods, a startup out of California, has responded to this situation by creating the world’s first plant-based shrimp alternative. Their product is derived from plants and algae and mimics the taste and texture of actual shrimp. Presumably, it also comes free of some of the health risks and ethical issues associated with shrimp.
Shrimp production, in particular, is plagued with issues that range from deforestation to antibiotic-tainted products to slavery. Shrimp fisheries represent only 2 percent of global fish catch. In and of itself, that’s not huge, but the shrimping industry is also responsible for one-third of the world’s bycatch—species that get caught up in the nets used to catch the shrimp. In the U.S., the bycatch-shrimp ratio is 3:1 by some estimates, and 15:1 by others.
None of those factors are, unfortunately, likely to diminish the public’s appetite for shrimp, though. Americans eat roughly four pounds of it per capita each year. Sounds like a measly figure until you multiply it by the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau population estimate, which is over 323 million people. Forrest Gump would be struck dumb at that amount of shrimp.
Farmed shrimp, which accounts for 55 percent of global shrimp production, comes with its own troubles. Many an ecologically sensitive area has been cleared for these shrimp farms, and the waters are often tainted with harmful bacteria, chemicals, and waste from other animals nearby.
When New Wave Foods cofounder Dominique Barnes talked to AlterNet, he summed up the complex problem by noting that, “no matter whether it’s wild-caught or farm-raised, you have huge environmental and social injustice problems.”
And those are the things he and his company are aiming to solve with their plant-and algae-based alternative. New Wave hasn’t yet been terribly specific about how it creates these little guys, stating only that it uses “natural ingredients and cutting-edge science.” Barnes told AlterNet that the algae aspect is especially important when it comes to mimicking the color and texture of actual shrimp. Algae is also packed with Omega 3s, so the nutritional aspect of real shrimp is also present.
The company currently sells to schools, resorts, universities and other business-to-business entities. It plans to start retailing in California and Nevada in early 2018, and later to the rest of the U.S.