We’re excited to introduce you to our speakers for the 2016 Change Food Fest through a series of personal Q&A’s. Our third speaker in this series is Bruce Friedrich of the Good Food Institute.
Bruce Friedrich is founding trustee of New Crop Capital (NCC), a $25 million venture capital fund that makes angel, seed, and Series A investments in companies that are producing plant-based and cultured alternatives to meat, dairy, and eggs, as well to tech startups that are focused on promoting alternatives to animal agriculture. He is also executive director of The Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit organization that promotes market-based and technological solutions to the problems of animal product consumption.
What’s one thing everyone can do to help the good food movement?
Eating less animal-based meat and more plant-based meat is one obvious answer, but even more important is to encourage others to do the same and to encourage restaurants and grocery stores to offer and promote plant-based alternatives.
How is the Good Food Institute cultivating change in our food system?
GFI is focused on transforming animal agriculture by promoting the commercial success of plant-based and “clean meat” (i.e., meat grown in a culture) alternatives. People make their food choices based on convenience, taste, and price, so that’s our mandate—to make the alternatives to animal products more convenient, delicious, and price-competitive.
Why were you inspired to work on alternative protein sources?
Our current system of protein production involves cycling crops through animals and then eating those animals, or the dairy or eggs they produce. That system is absurdly inefficient, and it’s also a primary cause of climate change and other forms of pollution. And it also creates a product that is bad for human health and animals.
Unfortunately, most people are just too busy with their lives to spend a lot of time on the ethical implications of what they eat. We formed GFI to create products that can compete with animal-based meat, dairy, and eggs on their own terms—using markets and food technology to make products that are cost and taste-competitive, so that it’s easier for people to consume good food.
What’s the biggest challenge we face in moving away from meat-based diets and farming?
I am incredibly optimistic that we will move away from meat-based diets and farming—we know what we need to do already. The biggest challenge is probably just scaling up. Right now, meat is cheap, both because of subsidies and because it’s produced on such a massive scale. So we’re going to need to work on the policy side to make sure plant-based alternatives have a level playing field for competition—that’s a key focus of GFI’s policy director. And we’re going to need to scale up plant based and clean meat alternatives, so that they are competitively priced—that’s a key focus of our entrepreneur in residence and scientists. We’ll get there, but it will take a few years.
How do we motivate and support both farmers and consumers to make this shift?
Our hope is that we’ll simply make the shift inevitable through the use of markets – making it so that profits for farmers and prices for consumers will be such that the shift will simply happen. That said, it helps a lot that environmental, global hunger, and health charities are, more and more, encouraging their members and supporters to eat fewer animal products and more plant-based products.
What’s the most innovative plant-based protein initiative you’ve seen?
The technology that makes plant-based meat hasn’t changed much in 30 years, but a few months ago, we saw a Couette Cell that can make plant based meat that is closer in texture to animal-based meat, and that uses a fraction of the energy that’s used by extruders (the principal technology used now). We’re actively encouraging the big plant-based meat companies to investigate this technology, which is so far not used to any significant degree.
There’s something about the idea of a farm that inevitably includes a few chickens, a cow, and other barn animals. What does the plant-based protein movement mean for the role these animals play in our culture?
Very few farms today have “a few chickens, a cow, and other barn animals.” They have millions of chickens or thousands of cows. In the short and medium term, the plant-based protein movement will mean that farm animals will be better treated. Right now, the vast majority of these animals are treated abysmally. In the long term, we’d like to see farm animals phased out as a protein source, so that animals on farms have the same role as dogs and cats in households that respect them and treat them well.
Do you have any new projects that you’re excited about?
We’ve just hired two scientists and a policy director, and those folks will be figuring out the best and quickest path forward for plant based and clean meat alternatives to the current animal-based system. So far, no one has taken a close look at the path forward for clean meat—what are the precise hurdles, and what’s the best way to clear them? Similarly, no one has pulled together all the best research on plant-based proteins as meat alternatives. We’ll be doing that and putting our analysis online, along with a bunch of other white papers that we think will be invaluable for everyone working in this space.
How can people learn more about your work?
The Change Food Fest “Growing the Good Food Movement” will take place in New York City on November 12 and 13, 2016. We will explore and celebrate change happening in the food system. Rather than simply talk about problems, we will actively look at solutions that are leading us to the sustainable food system we wish to see. Our focus will be on both real and visionary change and will include an exploration into seafood, plant based vs meat diets, possible impacts of new businesses and investment money coming into the food space – and much more. Join us! You can purchase a ticket or host a viewing party of the live webcast in your local community.