A Look At Impossible Foods’ Founder and CEO Pat Brown’s Point Of View


By Kayla Sargent

At a recent conference titled, “The Future of Meat,” the Good Food Institute rounded up scientists, entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers and companies creating plant-based and cell-based proteins to discuss ways to progress the new industry in the coming years.  The event, which sold out for the second year in a row, gathered about 900 people to discuss alternative proteins and their potential impact on the environment, health, the marketplace and much more.

Concluding the two-day convention was a panel titled, “Public Health and Global Sustainability: Will Plant-Based and Clean Meat Save the World.”  This panel featured speakers from the Good Food Institute, the Environmental Working Group, a Registered Dietician and Impossible Foods Founder and CEO Pat Brown.  Brown has been referred to as the “father of this movement” as well as the man with the mission to end animal agriculture.  Here is a snapshot of his goals and thoughts on animal agriculture:

“Literally the reason I founded this company was to save the world from what is, right now, the biggest environmental catastrophe that has basically ever happened, which is the insanely destructive impact of our use of animals and food technology.

“Our mission is to completely replace animals in the food system by 2035, which we will certainly do.

“Right now, the land-based, animal-derived meat industry occupies about 50 percent of the land area of Earth – it’s either being grazed or growing feed crops.  That’s land that formally provided essential ecosystems services and supported biodiversity.  Now it is basically supporting an extremely monochromatic kind of ecosystem.  In fact, the total biomass of just the cows being raised for food, if you put them all on a scale, outweighs every remaining land vertebrate by more than a factor of ten.

“Effectively, right now, what we’ve done is taken the entire surface of Earth and pretty much replaced the biodiversity with either the animals that are being raised for food, or crops that we’re using to feed them.

“Suppose we reverse that, what do we get out of it?  For one thing, you can allow those ecosystems to recover and take the many species that are threatened with extinction due to habitat destruction and degradation and give them a chance to recover and survive and provide those ecosystem services that keep the entire biosphere functional, which depends not only on trees but all the species to make a healthy ecosystem.

“Secondly, the difference between the amount of biomass that formally existed on the lands that are being used to raise animals for food and the amount that is currently on that 50 percent of Earth’s land area is equivalent to about 15 years of fossil fuel burning at current rates.

“If you could snap your fingers and make that industry go away, which I would do in a heartbeat if I could, you would immediately reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations, not just stabilize them.  If you did nothing but step back, stop grazing, stop growing feed crops on that land, and just let the biomass recover, atmospheric CO2 concentrations would start going down.

“Let’s put it this way – 2035, mark it on your calendar, things will be much better,” Brown said. 

In a “snapshot” Life Cycle Analysis Impossible Foods found that, including fertilizer, water and land used for crops and “pretty much the entire system,” their product releases one-eighth the greenhouse gas emissions and uses one-quarter of the water and less than one-twentieth of land compared to beef production, according to Brown.

“Trying to make something that is as insanely destructive and inefficient as using animals in the food system a little bit better is a complete waste of effort as far as I’m concerned,” Brown continued.  “So, you get farmers to use slightly less insanely destructive practices, raising animals, I wouldn’t waste any time even talking about that.”

“The solution is not to educate people.  The only way to solve the problem is not ask people to change their behavior, let them behave the way they want, but reduce the destructive impact of their behavior by producing these foods in a way that doesn’t have all the destruction.  Give them meat, give them milk, give them fish, but make it directly from plants and they can think whatever the h*** they want.

“Meat lovers do not value the fact that meat is made from animals.  They value that it is delicious, it has a lot of protein and iron, it’s convenient, affordable, familiar in spite of the fact that we make it from animals.  So, there’s not this inherent psychological barrier to eating delicious meat that’s made directly from plants.  The barrier comes from the fact that historically most of the foods that have been purported to be meat replacements are barely palatable and people just expect that.

“It would hurt us in the plant-based meat world to obscure the fact that our products are made from plants.  We have a ton of data that, to people who love meat, who are just your daily middle-American meat lover, the fact that the meat they’re eating is made from animals is not an asset, it’s a liability.  They would actually value meat more if it was uncompromisingly delicious, nutritious, affordable and wasn’t made from the cadaver of an animal.  So, we’d only be hurting ourselves if we tried to obscure that fact.  It’s an asset to say you get everything you love about meat without the baggage of making it from an animal.

“This is really important for me to do because it’s the most important problem to solve in the world.  Relative to its importance, I mean there’s nothing more important to human survival, to the planet, to even quality of life than the food system, but as a topic for basic research it’s been like nonexistent.

“I realized seven or eight years ago that thee most important scientific question in the world is ‘what makes meat delicious?’.  Literally, it sounds crazy but it’s true, because answering that question is how you solve thee most important problem that the world faces.

“If you’re a basic scientist or molecular biologist like I was and thinking, ‘maybe I’m going to study cancer and maybe improve median survival of some cancer by 15 minutes,’ think about the possibility that there’s a tremendous amount of good you can do for the world by figuring out how to make a food system that functions in the world of going forward,” Brown concluded.

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