Like cracking digital codes on security locks or cracking deadbolts guarding well-protected safes or buildings, unlocking the secrets of plant-based meat and other animal-based food options requires a large set of keys. it occurs. At UC Berkeley’s Alternative Meets X-Lab, scholars, researchers, students and entrepreneur-led incubator partners arrive at the front door of the growing food sector with a variety of credentials and a range of inspirations, interests, and expertise.
Originally launched to investigate the imitation of animal meat with plant-based resources, the Alt Meat Lab, located at the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology in the College of Engineering, is also developing alternatives to egg, dairy and seafood. The courses available to undergraduate and graduate students of many disciplines feature practical, rigorous, science-based projects. In addition, the laboratory serves as a hub connecting students with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and industry leaders working in the field.
Lab co-director Celia Homyak’s original relationship with plant-based eating began 10 years ago, when she eliminated animal-based foods during a self-imposed, 100-day, no-processed-foods experiment. Had done it.
“I stuck with it for health reasons and eventually learned about the agricultural and animal effects of eating meat,” she said. “Understand: I grew up on a farm in the Midwest with the meat we raised. My main drivers are the environment and my health.”
Co-director Ricardo San Martín wanted to better understand his two children, both of whom are vegetarians. He began to wonder what the world he had inherited would look like.
“I wanted to know why my kids thought going vegetarian would help the planet,” he said.
Although many factors energize the field – the climate crisis, human health, animal welfare, sustainable agriculture, the fascination for food culture, entrepreneurial innovation, interest in chemistry, the economics involved and more – Homyak believes that animals Environmental concerns about the impact of -based agriculture and easy access to plant-based foods for the general public are the primary drivers.
“Now, it is the climate crisis – and it is easy to introduce plant-based foods into your life. You can go to any grocery story and try it.”
San Martin presents a more complex, global situation.
“Energy is geo-dependent depending on where you are on the planet. In the Americas or Africa and other countries and regions, the motivation is different. For people in orbit[at UC Berkeley]it is often related to the sense that the planet will soon collapse. There is an imperative. But again, it depends on where you are. In some countries like (in) Mexico, you’re better off eating beans and rice because you won’t find plant-based processed foods.
Courses equip students with information covering a range of topics and applications: nutritional comparison of plant-based protein sources to animal-based, key ingredients and how components in a product perform; chemical processing, cost analysis; prototype development; developing FDA guidelines; marketing and packaging; And business ethics related to transparency, to name a few.
The directors say that students should not only learn the methods by which peas are ground into flour and processed into an isolate or the building block of plant protein that separates them from animal muscles, they are also called science. , the ultimate of their craft and industry should be respected. customer consumer.
Students come to the lab from business, economics and other fields – not just from biology, chemistry, technology, agriculture or environmental science. San Martin states that misconceptions about the nutritional value and cost of production of plant-based products should be dispelled and that some MBA students believe it to be “an amazing PowerPoint and a convincing pitch to gain investors.” would be enough for that.”
The course work emphasizes understanding the limits of science and the limits of what is true and what is not.
“They may get money, but the science is getting too complicated. It is easiest to start with someone with a high technical knowledge base and then teach them about marketing and scaling,” he says.
Homyak says the project-driven lab has students partnering with people in industry, a practice that effectively exposes a lab expert to interface with investors and the market because they are a very complex Make the product understandable. As the lab moves beyond plant-based meat alternatives, a market-savvy approach is the framework of reference.
“The beverage and milk line is crowded and growing at a slower pace than other regions,” says Homyak, explaining why expansion into new ingredients for plant-based dairy items such as cheese offers more potential. -based cheese has drawbacks that leave it far from melting textured (dairy) cheese into burgers or sauces.”
Plant-based products lack the creamy saltiness and flavor of dairy cheese.
“One cheese I sampled tasted like ice. The other had a chemical taste, the other a buttery one. Parmesan has the closest flavor so they put it in Cheddar, which means it no longer tastes like Cheddar,” Homyak says.
Harnessing nature by identifying how plant proteins are altered during fermentation—a natural process—or other means can turn less processed techniques into the mix-and-match game. San Martin, however, insists that a major “enemy” for innovative advancements is America’s super-sized, fast-food preoccupation.
“Here, you have the biggest drink, Whopper’s Tower. Everything is huge. With that culture, how can plant-based products affect the general sustainability of the food industry? The culture is not sustainable. You go to McDonald’s and Let’s take a vegetarian burger, but you have the same plastic wrapping, with everything thrown in.
The World Resources Institute, as reported in Time Magazine, states that “reducing beef intake to 1.5 hamburgers per week per person in high-consumption countries could yield significant climate benefits.”
At the present time, under the super-size scenario, San Martín predicts that plant-based foods will have limited impact on the environment and health. He says his hope will be restored, however, if the food industry at large changes and respects the health of humans, animals and the planet. A cultural shift could mean that projects that incubate in the laboratory are the key to opening the front door and the full potential of equitable, sustainable, plant-based food to feed the world.
Lou Fancher is a freelance writer. Contact him at [email protected].