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Impossible Foods: Transforming The Food Industry


Video No. 1: Animal agriculture is ruining Earth

Hi, I'm Pat Brown. I'm the founder and CEO of Impossible Foods, a company with the mission of completely replacing the use of animals as a food production technology by 2035. ... The use of animals as our technology for transforming plants, into meat and fish and dairy foods, is by far the most destructive technology in human history.

Animal agriculture is responsible for as much greenhouse gas emissions as every form of power transportation combined.¹

It is by far the biggest user² of water of any industry on the planet and by very far the biggest polluter³ of water of any industry on the planet. And there's an even bigger problem, 45%⁴ of the entire land surface of earth, is actively being exploited by animals agriculture.⁵ 

To put that footprint in perspective, with all its infrastructure, every city on earth can fit on less than 1% of earth's land area.⁶ All the grains and fruits and vegetables that are directly consumed by humans, they contain essentially all the essential nutrients to feed the world's population and they occupy 7% of earth's land area compared to 45%.⁷

The world's soybean crop contains 50%more human usable protein⁸ ⁹, more of every essential amino acid than all the meat consumed globally¹⁰. And those soybeans are grown on less than 1% of earth's land area.¹¹

That land footprint basically underlies probably an even greater threat to the future of our planet, to future generations than climate change, an ongoing rapidly regressing catastrophic collapse in global biodiversity. 

The total populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish living on earth today are less than a third what they were just 50 years ago.¹² So in the past 50 years, almost entirely through the use of animals as a food production technology, we've wiped out more than two-thirds of the wild animal populations that previously lived on earth.

We have 1.5 billion¹³ cows being raised just to produce the world's supply of meat and milk, and those foods add up to only 12% of the human protein supply. Those cows outweigh every remaining wild terrestrial vertebrate, every mammal, bird, reptile, and amphibian, combined,¹⁴ ¹⁵ ¹⁶ ¹⁷ ¹⁸ ¹⁹ ²¹ ²² ²³ ²⁴ ²⁵ ²⁶ ²⁷ ²⁸ ²⁹ ³⁰ ³¹ ³² by more than a factor of 10. That's an environmental catastrophe. 

It’s that biodiversity is what keeps the ecosystems healthy, that keep our planet viable. 

And that land footprint is just getting bigger because the demand for meat is not getting smaller, it's growing. And when you see smoke coming from the Amazon, that's the second hand smoke from your burger because 80%³³ of Amazon deforestation is being done to expand the land for animal agriculture. ...

Most people, when they think of animals in the food system, they think, "Oh, it's just an animal. It's part of nature." We have not covered the world with cows and replaced biodiversity with cows because we love cows and they're part of nature. In the food system, a cow is just an incredibly inefficient prehistoric technology for turning plants into meat.

What consumers want is the meat. They actually don't want it to come from a cow. They just accept that that's the only way, historically, we've ever been able to produce meat that delivers what meat lovers want. So the engineering challenge is okay, here's this food, the demand for which is causing catastrophic damage to the global environment because of the prehistoric way we make today, can we figure out a way to make a food that delivers the same value to consumers, that specific deliciousness, juiciness, flavors, and aromas that consumers associate with meat, the protein and iron and other nutrient value that they get from it, and the convenience and affordability of meat. Can we figure out a way to do this that outperforms the cow?

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14 L. Ryszkowski & N. R. French.   Trophic Impact of Mammals in Terrestrial Ecosystems.  ACTA THERIOLOGICA.  Vol. 27, 1: 3—24, 1982.

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22  H. H. T. Prins and J. M. Reitsma.  Mammalian Biomass in an African Equatorial Rain Forest.  __Journal of Animal Ecology__. Vol. 58, No. 3 (Oct., 1989)

23 Jansen CH, Emmons L. 1990.  Ecological Structure of the Nonflying Mammal Community at Cocha Cashu Biological Station, Manu National Park, Peru. In book: Four Neotropical Rainforests, Chapter: 17, pp.314-338.

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27 L. Ryszkowski & N. R. French.   Trophic Impact of Mammals in Terrestrial Ecosystems.  ACTA THERIOLOGICA.  Vol. 27, 1: 3—24, 1982.

28 Characteristics of a Mammalian Fauna from Forests in Patagonia, Southern Argentina Author(s): Oliver P. Pearson Source: Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Aug., 1983), pp. 476-492


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31 JENNIFER L. RUESINK & KAREN E. HODGES.  2001. Trophic Mass Flow Models of the Kluane Boreal Forest Ecosystem, Chapter 19 in Ecosystem Dynamics of the Boreal Forest: The Kluane Project: 

32 Grassland Ecosystems of the World: Analysis of Grasslands and Their Uses (1979) edited by R. T. Coupland

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Video No. 2: Only scientists can solve this problem

Hi, I'm Pat Brown. I'm the founder and CEO of Impossible Foods. And I'm here talking to the scientists and engineers of the world, if you’re like me, you went into science because you love hard problems. And there’s nothing more rewarding than working on the most challenging problems you can find. And this is it. Our mission at Impossible Foods is to completely replace the use of animals in food production technology. And what that will accomplish is this: it will enable us to reverse the catastrophic meltdown on global biodiversity, turn back the clock on climate change, and actually change the way earth looks from space. 

To understand how it's possible that by this approach we'll be able to avert catastrophic climate change and restore biodiversity, look at a movie of the burning Amazon. So more than 80% of the Amazon deforestation is and has been driven by the demand for land for animal agriculture. And historically, that land, you're looking at the Amazon, over the past 200 years, 45%³⁴ of its surface has been turned from its original natural state to animal agriculture. The difference in biomass on the land due to animal agriculture is equivalent to about 15 years³⁵ worth of fossil fuel emissions. So, what we're going to do effectively is take that movie of the burning Amazon and run it in reverse, and do the same for the hypothetical movie of deforestation, of all the other parts of the world that are now covered by cows. 

Does it bother you that in the Paris Climate Accord, representatives of countries around the world signed on to commitments that accept a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise in global average temperatures? That is absolutely insane, completely unacceptable. And on top of that, even today, those countries aren't even keeping their feeble commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is not a job for politicians anymore. This is a job for science. And that is where you come in.

You're probably thinking, "I'm a brilliant sientist or engineer. Why would I ever want to go work at a food company? What kind of scientific engineering challenges are there?" Well, 10 years ago, I was exactly like you, I wasn't even thinking about this problem. I had the best job in the world. My job was literally just to come into work, try to discover and invent things, follow my curiosity wherever it leads me, and help students learn how to do the same, and I absolutely loved it. It never remotely occurred to me to work at a company, much less a food company. I wasn't even interested in food. So I totally get it. Then I discovered the problem. And the problem is that the use of animals as a food production technology is by far the most destructive technology in human history. It's an environmental catastrophe.

So, this problem is incredibly important for the world, but it's also incredibly challenging. It's the kind of problem, who would have thought it? It's a kind of problem that scientists and engineers love. We have to figure out, from scratch, a brand new way to produce the foods that we use animals to produce today. Animals, this primitive technology for turning plants into meat, fish, and dairy foods, we need to figure out how far more efficiently to take ingredients from plants, and make foods that deliver everything that consumers value from meat, fish and dairy foods, more sustainably and affordably, and healthier. And those foods, the properties of those foods, are just defined by the molecules that make them up, and the way those molecules are assembled. It's basically just biochemistry, biophysics, material science, things that we know how to do, but it's not a solved problem. It's not enough for us to make meats that are just as good as the meat from an animal. That's not going to win in the marketplace. We have to make meat, fish, and dairy foods that outperform in deliciousness, nutrition and value. That's a hard problem, but it's biochemistry. It's molecular biology. Its genomics. It's genetics. It's biophysics. It's material science. It's fluidics. It's mechanical engineering. It's industrial engineering. Agronomics.

“The things that people love about meat are all emergent properties of the molecular structure of beef. The flavor and aroma, the juiciness, the textures, those all come from biomolecules, biomolecules just like the biomolecules that make up any cell that you might be studying. But the particular molecules and the way they're spatially arranged and so forth has this emergent property that is the sensory pleasure of beef. 

Understanding how that works, this is really not categorically different than, for example, understanding how RNA transport works or how a biosynthetic pathway works. It's all those biochemical approaches, all those molecular biological approaches that you would use to study how living cells work. 

And the interesting thing is that, as a biologist, I mean, this is what I did. What you're interested in is the kind of molecular mechanisms that underlie life. How does the living cell work? How does the living organism work in molecular terms? Now, when you talk about meat, it's funny. Actually, those same molecules have a completely different function. The function of myosin in meat has nothing to do with its behavior as a motor protein and how it makes muscles move or anything like that. It has to do with the kinds of materials it makes, the material properties it confers when it unfolds. The unfolding transition of myosin is actually an important part of the process by which, when you cook meat, its texture changes from squishy to firm and it becomes juicy inside. Because it forms a gel that contracts and exudes the aqueous phase. So that's just one example. But all these things that we've studied for hundreds of years in the context of how do they make a cell work, we get a completely different view of them now. How do these molecules make food work?

And just to illustrate how an unexplored of frontier it is, eight or nine years ago when we started working on this problem, one of the things we wanted to understand is, what's the mechanism that accounts for this explosion of flavor and aroma when you cook meat? Well, it turns out that we discovered the answer. It's basically a molecule called heme, which if you're a biochemist, you would know exactly what heme is. That molecule catalyzes this explosion of chemical reactions that transform simple biomolecules like amino acids, vitamins, fats, simple sugars into hundreds of volatile compounds that we've learned to recognize as the flavor and aroma profile of meat. And yet, 10 years ago, nobody knew this. We have brilliant scientists and so forth. But it's not because we have brilliant scientists. It's because nobody bothered to look before. That's how unexplored this area is. And another way in which it's unexplored is, think of it this way. If you're a protein structural biologist, you're doing structure function studies, you are interested in how this enzyme works or this cytoskeletal protein works or whatever, you're studying the precisely folded structure of that protein and the things that it evolved to do.

“And you can take advantage of evolutionary conservation and so forth to kind of really distill out what are the essential features and use all those tools. Now, that same molecule may very well have an important role in food, in meat. It's a completely different role. And most likely, most of the proteins in the food we eat are unfolded. Their structure is completely different from the structure we've studied to try to understand how they work in cells. And the properties that matter are not the same properties that mattered in vivo. Very often, intramolecular interactions between proteins that create a material with long-range, physical properties, mechanical properties, things that affect the interactions with water and fat and so forth, there's a completely new material defined by a phase change in those proteins into a phase that basically has hardly been studied at all. So there are fundamental mechanisms still to be discovered about protein. You could say, "Well, if it's not the kind of thing that the protein evolves to keep the cell alive, why am I interested in it?" Well, here's a good reason. We could save our planet by understanding that. Good enough for you?

At Impossible Foods we're inventing all the time. Even, for example, the research instruments that we need to make the measurements and observations to guide our research, they're not available off the shelf. So we actually have electrical engineers and mechanical engineers and robotics experts working to build novel gadgets quickly, on the fly, so that we can make measurements or control a process precisely at the lab scale. That's never been done before. Okay? That's like the gadgeteering kind of invention. Of course, we're inventing a whole new system for producing foods. There's plenty of other inventive things that we need to do the same thing on a large scale.

“Here’s an engineering challenge...Suppose we were to say that actually a big part of the protein source for the future human diet is proteins extracted from leaves. Well, one thing about those proteins, I think, that's important to realize is unlike seed storage proteins, the proteins, the major proteins in leaves, are highly evolutionarily conserved. 

So that creates the possibility that we could isolate proteins that are functionally interchangeable from dozens or hundreds of different plant sources. It means that we can be much less dependent on a small number of crops as components of raw materials for the human diet. That's great for food security, we have plenty of ideas and plenty of important problems, but if you can think of things that we haven't thought of, and I'm sure there are a lot of people watching this that can, and maybe are already thinking about how they can do better, that's what we want. What we want is to bring in great scientific and engineering minds and not tell them what to do. We want to bring you in and tell you, "This is the big problem we need to solve," and effectively say, "Okay, here's the things we're doing already. Here's the things that we know are ready. What can you think of to do?" 

This is such a multifaceted problem, full of interesting challenges. And we can save the world and have fun doing it.

 And here's another fun aspect of it. When we're done, in 2035, you can look at a satellite picture of earth and compare it to a satellite picture from today and say, "I did that. It looks completely different."


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