Back in the early 1980s, Clara Peller was asking, “Where’s the beef?”
But that same question is being asked today – and not just because of portion size.
In some previous posts, I have referenced the thoughts of Vinod Khosla on the future of medicine. The most recent reference is here (But where is the doctor?).
But Khosla has interests that range beyond medicine. In this brief Atlantic piece, he talks about food. First, I’ll print Khosla’s comments about food as they originally appeared in the Atlantic piece:
We also have a company trying to create [synthetic] meat that tastes as good as the real thing and may be many times more energy- and plant-protein-efficient. We call it “meat 2.0.”
Now as you know, when you see material within brackets within a quote, it is something that was not said by the original speaker, but something that was subsequently added (or edited) by the person reporting the quote. The intent of the bracketed text is to provide context that otherwise wouldn’t be there.
So this may be what Khosla actually said:
We also have a company trying to create meat that tastes as good as the real thing and may be many times more energy- and plant-protein-efficient. We call it “meat 2.0.”
Someone at the Atlantic thought that it was misleading to refer to the company’s products as “meat,” and therefore added the word “synthetic” to add context. But according to TechCrunch, Khosla himself sees no such distinction.
Khosla is backing Hampton Creek Foods, which has a product called “Beyond Eggs.” It’s also backing a few other food and agricultural companies, including artificial salt company Nu-Tek Salt and fake meat company Sand Hill Foods. Last year at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco Khosla went so far as to say that the artificial beef, which is made from soy protein, is still “beef.”
So while some people are worrying about the evil East Coast companies like Monsanto that are altering food, there are West Coast companies in Silicon Valley that are willing to convince consumers that meat doesn’t have to come from an animal.
Will these companies label their products to disclose their non-animal origin? Perhaps – there may, after all, be a market among vegetarians and semi-vegetarians for “meat” that does not require the death of animals. Or perhaps not – we’ll see.
But why would people spend so much venture capital and research money to create non-animal “meat”? They may be looking to the future:
The venture capitalists behind these startups believe that climate change and the planet’s dwindling natural resources will put more pressure on the food chain and that the food industry will require sustainable alternatives.
In essence, the argument is that Thomas Malthus was partly right. We have certainly increased food production over the last few centuries by using so-called “natural” means. But perhaps our food production techniques – irrigation of deserts, breeding of special varieties of plants and animals, artificial fertilizers to increase crop yield, and the like – may not be enough. In that case, as long as the population continues to increase at a rapid rate, we may need Monsanto plants and petri-dish meats to continue to meet the population demand for food.
But is something from a soy plant still “meat”?
Is a diagnosis from a computer still “health care”?
Is a horseless carriage still a carriage?
P.S. If you think this post is too long, Larry Rosenthal has encapsulated the same thought in two words: