The challenge facing artificial meat manufacturers

Like a lot of people, I am aware of the ecological impact of my diet, and for that reason I’m eating a lot less meat now than I did a few years ago. I’ve also moved away from beef specifically, which is three or four times as ecologically costly as pork and chicken. But then there’s this …

It’s a small piece from a perfectly ordinary steak from yesterday: Fiona, Matthew and I went out to celebrate his graduation. It’s not especially good steak as it goes — it’s only Wetherspoons, and cost less than tenner including chips and a drink. And yet … there is just so much going on here. The gentle charring of the surface, with its characteristically intense flavour; the undercooked centre, tender and subtle; the complexity of the grain; the contrast of textures.

I really really want artificial meat companies like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and LightLife to succeed. I think their mission is important, and a key part of the necessary transition to more sustainable foods. It’s all very well going vegetarian or vegan yourself, but a lot of people will never be persuaded to do that — I may be one of them myself — and for those people, the way to go is food that is recognizably meat but that doesn’t come from animals.

To make this work, they need to do two things: they need their product to be cheaper than animal-based meat, and they need it to be better.

Cheaper, I hope, will be easy – although I’ve been disappointed that we don’t really seem to be seeing that so far. We can reasonably expect economies of scale to kick in eventually.

But better is going to be the real test. Up till now, artificial meat companies have been focussing on processed meat products: burgers and sausages. That’s the easy part, and a reasonable opening bid. But texture is a must for a lot of meats, and that’s going to need to be nailed, too. I will really believe in plant-based meat when I eat salmon nigiri, and can’t tell that the salmon is not from a fish.



11 responses to “The challenge facing artificial meat manufacturers

  1. I doubt I could go vegatarian myself as I do like my meat meals to give them up fully.

    My Partner tried to cut down on eating meat so she got some of the vegetarian burgers and sausages to try instead. Turns out they are horrible to eat. It’s not hard to cook good meals without meat but these alternatives are not a good option for us.

    While I would happily eat an annimal free meat, I agree that it needs to be cheap and good. Unfortunatly I think there’s a long way to go until that happens

  2. Well, I agree, Steve: there a lots of great meat-free meals (mushroom pasta, Mushroom soup, Marquise au Chocolat, Savoury tartlets — four different kinds, and many more, even if you’re just using my own recipes). But vegetarian substitutes for meat-based foods have traditionally been awful (veggie-burgers, vegetarian “sausages”).

    But the new breed of artificial-meat companies are trying to do something very different from, and much more ambitious than, just providing vegetarian substitutes. You may be right that there’s a long way to go, but I salute the initiative.

  3. Craig Macfarlane

    Hi Mike,

    I agree that cost is the main issue. As long as alternative meat products cost about the same as the equivalent traditional meat product, the average consumer will have no incentive to buy the alternative. I’ve noticed the similarity in pricing between the alternative and traditional versions of meat products in the past when I’ve experimented with them, and I suspect that it’s deliberate because the producers have worked out that it’s much more profitable to gouge a small number of consumers, who buy these products for health or moral reasons, than to try and increase market share by discounting. Essentially, it’s a high-margin, niche product.

    I’ve also heard people suggest that producers of alternative meat products are often owned by traditional meat producers, although I’ve never investigated this myself to verify or reject it. It’s not hard to believe that traditional meat producers would want to control the alternative meat industry in order to protect their main business from competition – and profit from its high margins at the same time. The traditional meat industry has deep pockets and could easily afford to do that. However, like I said, I’ve never looked deeply into it and that could just be a ‘conspiracy theory’ that some people circulate.

    I think that until alternative meat products are priced significantly cheaper than the traditional equivalent, all the other arguments surrounding their uptake by consumers are largely moot.

    Bon appétit.

  4. Craig, I think you’re right that we’re seeing a suspicious alignment in price between artificial and real meats. I’m not sure we need a conspiracy to explain in, though. I think it’s at least equally credible that the cost to manufacture artificial meat is still more than traditional meat, that the gap is being filled by venture capital, and the price is as high as it can be to reduce the dependency on continuing investment.

    I agree that the real breakthroughs will come when it’s cheaper than the real thing.

    BTW., I don’t know much about the background of most of these companies, but I do know a bit about Impossible Foods, and I know some of the ground-floor investors. That company definitively got started from a mission to change the way the world eats for ecological purposes. I’m not saying that mission might not have got diluted along the way, especially as more investors have become involved, but that’s the heart of it.

  5. Craig Macfarlane

    You should never pass up on a good conspiracy theory! :)

  6. Oh, the artificial stuff is still *much* more complex expensive than the animal-derived meat, and heavily subsidized, and even so it turns out this isn’t a good thing to make in a recession: lots of the manufacturers are in financial trouble.

    But yes, big industrial meat companies are definitely worried and have been trying to buy the competition out for a while. They’ve mostly said no, but now they’re running out of money I wonder if they still will (and if they’ll just get shut down as soon as they’re bought).

  7. Hi Mike. Great post, I just want to add that you don’t touch on the nutritional aspects of artificial meat. Perhaps the steps taken by these companies to make their meat real food could be an interesting post if you have the time to look into it . I am a person with life threatening auto-immune issues, much like Mikhaela Peterson. And like her I have successfully put the problem into remission by eating only meat and dairy products. It is a little scary for me when I see a trend where knowledgeable elders which I hope would not seem like an insult to you, beginning now to talk about and investigate a “meat free” world. I personally imagine a situation where my only source of food will become artificial and has vitamins and minerals artificially added to it which are not absorbed correctly like vitamin pills. Even with meds I cannot handle a normal diet. The climate science pushed by multinational companies and federal bureaucracies seems suspect to me and while I believe eating animals is terrible and would not be against the institutions pushing suspect science to move the society into a more enlightened and morally cleaner position, I fear that the fungicides, pesticides, herbicides etc both created by plants to stop us eating them and by companies whom spray them with this stuff, is responsible for the increasing auto immune diseases prevalent in our society and unfortunately this is just the way the world is, we are naturally meat eaters and designed / meant to eat meat. Herbivore animals with multiple stomachs such as cows should probably be reframed as important filters against these poisons and their meat our preferred diet. I believe artificial meat while passed as a moral requirement of sorts for us to aim for , is actually more of a political position of many people and those whom influence them and their social circle. Cows eating grass and farting and such is destroying the atmosphere, a lot of the science and talking points seem very questionable. So I leave it there, if these artificial meats are nutritionally similiar to real meat I will in 20, 30 years time if forced to eat them attempt to over look that they are essentially self duplicating cancer cells grown in labs and at least rejoice in the knowledge I dont need to eat animals anymore.

  8. Lots of interesting stuff there, thepianochallenge, and I’m sorry to hear about your autoimmune condition.

    Just one thing to pick up on:

    The climate science pushed by multinational companies and federal bureaucracies seems suspect to me.

    Which one? The “climate science” pushed by multinational petro companies most certainly is suspect; the science pushed by federal bureaucracies and governments mostly is not. It isn’t too hard to determine this: you just need to look at what scientists without a conflict of interests are saying, and the evidence is overwhelming — just as it was for the damage caused by smoking cigarettes, which multinationals successfully filibustered for decades by introducing a tiny amount of doubt from their compromised in-house “scientists”.

  9. Thanks Mike, it appears the auto immune problem was caused by gluten damage to the gut, causing ulcers and for it to leak. Its why most auto immune conditions seem to come in 2s and 3s and most of them involve intolerance to gluten. I’m mostly on top of it now. It is lovely to interact with you. On your reply, I suppose the main concern that crosses my mind is how can we determine there is not a universal conflict of interest across the institutions …. and that no such thing is undermining the individual contributors in these institutions and what they feel they can publish.

    There is questionable “evidence” presented in other areas by these same institutions that could signal maliciousness. Todays equivalent to the cigarette problem that you mentioned , is perhaps the consumption of high speed internet porn. An equally bad habit that seems very dangerous with the explosion in users on Reddit joining Nofap and other help pages complaining of a myriad of symptoms. To me all related to hormonal problems and dopamine. It is dependent on usage frequency but chronic masturbation in a person seems to lead to social awkwardness, confidence issues and things like a monotone or high pitched voice (lacking the normal tonality or the quality of “sexiness”). I am not a Raeto West type of person , I will not go too far with this whole thing, but the institutions of today, I assume a default position of negligence on their part not maliciousness , are actively pushing false harmlessness theories regarding porn.
    Harvard for example published “research” recommending men should masturbate 20 times per month to lower the risk of prostate cancer. It is not an anti truth to say this, it could very well be true that masturbation lowers the risk of cancer, but to use your platform to give instructions for every man to self castrate regardless of the other effects , is quite something, all is not right. To have this advice propagated downwards through the various mens fitness journals and magazines to the population, on respected websites like WebMD, and have other institutions parroting it and such without any controls, debate , and without any objections or warnings from the other institutions…. signals a very weak platform to be pointing towards for evidence regarding other important matters like the validity of “climate science” in my humble opinion (sex, diet, sleep, aren’t these the fundamental things we need to get right?). Their advice seems so dangerous, and when the various institutions in the West have previously got the food pyramid so wrong (USA populations obesity, diabetes, heart attack rates) … they could not be messing people up more if they tried. I am sure you know that too much dopaminergic activities like listening to music or playing video games for hours can lead to a lack of “interestingness sensations” in that persons brain when partaking in less stimulating but more productive and healthier activities like reading books or programming. Orgasms and Empathy (Love) are XOR’ed in the brain in much the same way pleasure and interest are. If most of the population are encouraged to enjoy this free lunch of porn and masturbation (they recommended 20 ejaculations a month to a society which is increasingly sexless and masturbating) we need to keep an open mind they may actually know what they are doing with all this, and be trying to get people to lose the ability to feel empathy and become more ghoulish.

    I think of a dystopian situation. Perhaps there really are controllers in the society, who control the flow of information from the top, that set guidelines for the institutions, and they want people acting like robots, on behalf of their corporations and they would like very much the destruction of Christian values. To make our people more Russian like, I mention them only because they were kept under communism for so long so successfully and they are in general a little colder or just different in personality to Westerners ….to ever implement such a social program in Western Countries would be very difficult (Where the peoples personalities are more warm and Christian. To get them to imprison and turn against themselves) but there is a possibility they want too , that they really exist , and they are already testing out multiple versions in China awaiting changes to our society. I will branch back to “Climate Science” soon.

    I would just say before doing that, the difference between a child who feels genuine and strong emotion and whom really enjoys life vs an adult who is more stoic and depressed .. is not just a change made from intelligence or experience in years… it is that first orgasm that the child has around age 11 or 12 …. this transforms the childs brain into an adult and the same mechanism can be used to turn the adult into more of a robot lacking even more empathy. The child falls out of the heaven state and will become quite a lot of the time a moody teenager residing in hell, the same way a holy celibate priest will become an angry man if he did the same. There is a fluid that builds up in a gland in the head (not just the groin area) and the longer a person goes without an orgasm the more filled it becomes. The level and positioning of this fluid in the gland results in all these changes in the person. The more orgasms.. the lower this fluid becomes. Porn pulls the fluid down from the head , making a bigger more enjoyable orgasm, and does much more damage too. The level of this fluid is the most important variable inside a human being that can be influenced by a social program enacted evasively by the prevalent institutions in the society. The churches in the past tried to preserve the fluid and make the people behave correctly and more holy, now we possibly have a satanic controller doing the opposite. Orgasms lower the capacity to feel real empathy (the love sensations just do not appear as strongly in the persons lived experience after many orgasms).

    I think there is an unresolved universal conflict of interest at this moment responsible for this and for other components of the social program such as the “Climate Science” and its changes on society. Do humans exist to work for the institutions (i.e the universe)?

    We evidently see that most people in our society are corporate slaves. They are wage slaves at present. And that most jobs exist just to provide for the sustenance of the people and the people seem to exist just to do these jobs. They are doing nothing much important , but working , and a lot of them are suffering. The peoples lives are pointless and only a few people in humanity as a whole are contributing anything of real meaning.

    Humans could rightly be considered “useless eaters” in the eyes of those who control the institutions, if such controllers exist, and a more communistic program should be implemented for the good of the planet.

    In the best case the people are there to support those at the top of the human hierarchy , like us programmers , who contribute things that stand the test of time, and allow our species to make progress.

    However, do the institutions (our API to the universe), instead exist for man to exploit and enjoy? Is the universe there for us to subjugate?

    I think there is the possibility certain actions taken by the various institutions, governments, corporations signal they are pretending to help and support humanity at this moment but they are binding their time and increasing their own power … by weakening the population in every way they can , be that with removing empathy through Porn, becoming obese and sick through poisoned food and false guidelines on what to eat, removing the protections provided by our countries by removing borders, destroying the family unit by implementing laws that entice one gender to betray the other, going so far as to tell us there is no such thing as gender under the guise of equality …

    So Mike I just think one dystopic possibility is that there are controllers and they want us to be raceless, genderless, country-less, porn zombified, food poisoned zombies … and they want the population to just work for them and get very little in return (using “Climate Science” here to remove our spoils)… and it doesint matter who “they” are… “they” are just a representation of this universal problem, as a sort of fitness test or stimulant for humanity to evolve and if we dont we should not be using up resources.

    False “Climate Science” specifically is pushed I think because it may allow them to outlaw healthy food like meat, remove property rights, limit our usage of things like plastics , have the society switch to electric cars that can be turned off , it is to be used as an excuse to block us from using oil and gas in the home, to make us poorer… without causing riots and people trying to overthrow the institutions…. policies and changes that make the controller’s soft laggy power into hard immediate power.

    It matters not if the controllers are the owners of the banks, money system or are communists or are the people Kanye West has been pointing towards or the supposed NWO or the old time Royal Families trying to reassert their dominance – whoever it is, it is a fitness test I think.

    Well that is what I think is happening and why I don’t trust mainstream “climate science”.


  10. Hello again, thepianochallenge. I’m sorry to say that much of what you wrote in that last comment seems rather paranoid and irrational to me. I’m not keen on hosting such content on my blog, so I’m going to ask you leave it there. Hope you understand.

  11. Thanks for taking the time to read it Mike and acting as a sound board of sorts. I’ll indeed not be mentioning any of these points again in general I think. I had been keen to run them by someone with your intelligence but whom I do not know in real life , but I’m going to keep my focus on computing now. The ideas stemmed from reading Henry Fords book The international Jew and C H Douglas’s archive of work on international finance “The tragedy of human effort” and such.

    The effect porn has was from my own personal experience (here is my pictures with a ten month timeframe ) and from seeing reports that 90% of men are now watching it today and seeing many young men on the street in real life displaying similar symptoms. I’ll disable the link to the picture in a few days time and please feel free to delete these comments and points , thank you for reading them, I’ll keep it to computers here in the future.

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