Others such as the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is backed by the food and beverage industry, have launched campaigns decrying so-called “fake meat” as loaded with chemicals.
Proponents counter that burgers have always been laden with fat and sodium and were never exactly considered health food.
The new generation of proteins are also less processed, said Thomas Jonas, CEO of Sustainable Bioproducts whose protein is based on microbes found in volcanic hot springs at Yellowstone National Park.
In that barren, other-worldly and dangerous landscape, researchers “discovered a bunch of life forms that across millennia evolved to survive in this environment,” he said.
Having raised $33 million in February, the company plans to produce “a hamburger equivalent” next year through a “novel fermentation” of the microbes.
At full capacity its 35,000-square-feet (3,250 square metres) plant in Chicago could produce burgers equivalent to those made from cows grazing on 15,000 acres (6,100 hectares) of land, Jonas said.
For investors like Altschuler Malek, alternative proteins are all about options for consumers, with three essential caveats:
“It needs to taste great, it needs to meet certain price points and it needs to be able to be manufactured in large volume,” he said.
“There are amazing chefs all over the world that are doing plant-based products. But If you cannot convert that into mass manufacturing it’s really hard to see how that can actually make a change in the world.”
It is also an opportunity for a radical shift in agriculture which, despite incremental improvements, has remained much the same for centuries, Jonas said.
“Fundamentally we are surviving on this planet based on an agricultural system that has barely changed in the past 11,000 years . . . when we domesticated a handful of plants and animals.”
“New technologies are really giving us tools for a second domestication – things that we didn’t even know were there.”