Last night we hosted our second food tech meetup. Folks passionate about the future of meat mingled over some excellent grub from lunch subscription service MealPal. One lucky attendee even won a Joule from our sponsor, ChefSteps!
Panelists Isaac Emery (Good Food Institute), Christie Lagally (Seattle Food Tech), and Ethan Lowry (Crowd Cow) had a really thought-provoking discussion about our relationship with meat, why industrial farming is so unsustainable, and the alternatives we can turn towards. If you missed it, here are a few topics and points that stood out to us.
Meat labeling is frustrating.
“I hate labeling,” said Lowry. Factory-farmed meat companies can use clever labeling loopholes to make their products seem more ethical or high-quality. For example, beef can be called “grass-fed” even if it’s just fed pellets of grass in a small pen, and U.S. meat doesn’t have to disclose where it was farmed on the package. Which can be frustrating when companies like Crowd Cow try to show that their beef is truly grass-fed and local.
Of course, we also had to touch on the issue of labeling with regards to lab-grown meat. This topic has been popping up in the news as of late; from provisions in the proposed farm bill to Missouri’s declaration of what is and isn’t meat. People (and Big Beef) are wondering: will clean meat actually be considered meat?
We didn’t solve that problem in our 40-minute panel, sadly. But the panelists did agree that labeling really needed to be more accurate and transparent — for meat and meat alternatives.
Education is critical — sometimes.
People don’t always know very much about the meat they eat. In fact, they often don’t want to. “Nobody wants to see how the sausage is made — literally,” said Emery. Which is why education is such an important part of his, and Good Food Institute’s, mission. In order to promote meat alternatives, Emery and GFI work not only to inform consumers about the negative environmental effects of animal agriculture but also about new options, such as lab-grown meat.
Education is key to Crowd Cow as well. By giving their customers information about the farm where the meat was raised, they set themselves apart from the veiled sourcing of industrial meat — and justify their higher prices.
Interestingly, education — at least on the part of the consumer — is not all that important to Lagally’s mission at Seattle Food Tech. She’s marketing her plant-based chicken nuggets to institutions, such as schools and hospitals, as a healthy, easy-to-prepare option that costs the same as the meat alternative. So when kids go through the lunch line and get her plant-based nuggets instead of ones made of chicken, the point isn’t that they necessarily care that they’re eating something vegan. In fact, the point is that they don’t care — all they’ll notice is that it tastes good.
So, what’s the future of meat?
Lowry summed it up best when he said that the future of meat would be “complex.” If we learned anything at this meetup, it’s that there are a myriad of new ways to create and purchase meat (and meat alternatives), all of which are relatively new. (And, in the case of lab-grown meat, yet to be on the market.)
So as unsatisfying an answer as it is, the truth is that we don’t know what the future of meat will look like. But what we do know is that there will be a lot more options than there are now: more (and better, and cheaper) plant-based meat products, higher-quality meat with transparent supply chains, and, hopefully, clean meat as well.
- That’s a pretty rosy view of the future. But if we can make these alternatives convenient, affordable, and good-tasting, people will hopefully turn towards them and the amount of factory farmed meat will fall. “If we build it, they will come,” concluded Lagally. And that’s exactly what they’re working to do.
Thanks to everyone who came out for the meetup! See you on June 27th.