Optimizing Meat 2.0

AP Photo/Nati Harnik

The most impossible sounding thing about the Impossible Burger isn’t the idea of a delicious meatless protein — some of us have been eating delicious meat substitutes for years — it’s hearing people talk about this food product in terms of scalability, optics, engineering, and “manufacturable prototypes.” The future has arrived, and it tastes better than it sounds. Chris Ip writes for Engadget about the brief history, challenges, and ambitions of Impossible Foods’ meat-free technology, and how its success relates to a planet that’s warming partly because of industrial beef production.

“Ethical consumerism is a failure and doesn’t really accomplish what we want it to accomplish,” said Michael Selden, CEO and founder of Finless Foods, a cell-based seafood startup. “What you need to do is create things that are ethical and moral as a baseline but make them compete on metrics of taste, price and convenience, which is what people actually buy food on, and Impossible has really embodied that.”

There’s a comparison to sustainable energy here: We all need it and we’re barely willing to curtail our electricity demands, but if there’s a price-competitive, clean alternative, then sure. With food, it’s an acknowledgement that — solely for the guaranteed sensory enjoyment that those who are food secure might enjoy each day — taste is the key driver to change our habits.

This leaves Impossible in a nice position. The global economic demand for meat combined with the swelling cultural-political urgency to curtail it could be great for business if you have a legitimate alternative. And the high-risk-high-reward venture capital system demands startups that can pitch themselves as limitlessly scalable. A worldwide problem of this degree means that Impossible can plausibly — and not disingenuously — bridge both a business goal of sky’s-the-limit growth and a messianic narrative. Brown’s social mission aligns with his profit-seeking obligation in ways that can make as much sense to private equity as to Katy Perry.

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