For the second year in a row I had the pleasure of talking with Pat Brown, CEO and founder of Impossible Foods (I.F.). Impossible Foods started roughly seven years ago and makes meat using plants. The principle ingredient that Impossible Foods uses to do what they do – “Heme.” In simple terms, “heme is what makes meat taste like meat.” Heme is found in both animals and plants and Impossible Foods is able to make as much of it as they want through a fermentation process using soy roots.
Prior to starting the company, Pat was a professor of biochemistry at Stanford University School of Medicine. Pat said he would only leave Stanford if he could work on a super challenging problem that he believed would make the world better. After analyzing several different societal problems, Pat decided to create a sustainable food that would be better for the environment and would no longer require slaughtering animals.
According to Impossible Foods, “animal farming occupies about half of all vegetated land (at the expense of forests and grasslands that store carbon), uses about one third of all freshwater, contributes about one seventh of global greenhouse gases and generates nutrient pollution (which creates enormous ‘dead zones’ in coastal ecosystems). In the US, beef provides just 3% of our calories but generates half of agricultural greenhouse gases and uses nearly half of the contiguous land area.”
As Pat puts it, when Impossible Foods was just getting off the ground they faced incredible pressure and pushback from the livestock industry to stop doing what they were doing. Fast forward to the present, and companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat still face this same pressure. Recently advocates for the beef and farming industry have tried to persuade lawmakers in several states around the country to ban (or make it illegal for) companies to call their products “meat” especially if it doesn’t come from an animal or if “meat” is produced in a lab. When I looked up the definition of meat in the dictionary the top two definitions were “the flesh of animals as used for food” and “the edible part of anything, as a fruit or nut.” Impossible Food is redefining and expanding what meat is and the beef and livestock industry is trembling in their boots.
I tasted my first Impossible burger in May 2018 at a conference in San Francisco where Pat was one of the featured entrepreneurs. After Pat’s talk was over I was eager to try the burger to see if I could tell the difference between the Impossible Burger and a cow burger. I have eaten nothing but cow burgers my whole life so I was confident that I’d be able to tell the difference. Once I tried the burger I not only couldn’t tell the difference but I thought the Impossible Burger was better. It had the same texture as a cow burger but it was leaner and packed full of flavor.
The most interesting part of the conversation with Pat was hearing his explanation on why people eat meat in the first place. In spite of the harm that livestock production does to the environment and that millions of animals are killed every year, people still eat meat because they like the way it tastes, it’s a good source of protein, and it’s relatively inexpensive. People eat meat because of these benefits, not because they don’t care about animals or the environment. Based on this logic Pat and his team created a new (and better) version of meat that has all the characteristics of animal meat except that is good for the environment and doesn’t require killing animals.
Talking with Pat is always fun. He’s a big thinker and is a perfect example of someone who didn’t just set out to simply start a company; he set out to change the world. If you haven’t yet tried the Impossible burger, I encourage you to try it. The burger is actually good! Pat said they plan to start selling their burger in grocery stores soon and they just rolled them out at select Burger King restaurants around the country. If you’re interested in the Impossible burger, Burger King taste test video, click here. It’s hilarious!
Cheers – KM