Food Industry

McDonald’s Dips Toes in Plant-Based (Nordic) Waters

Originally published on

McDonald’s saw overwhelming success when it first tested its plant-based burger in Sweden and Finland last year. While there isn’t yet any news as to how soon the company may introduce something similar to its menus in the United States, the success of this burger overseas bodes well for us Americans who’d love nothing more than to enjoy a plant-based feast at the Golden Arches.

The head of McDonald’s food strategy in Sweden, Staffan Ekstam, stated that the test conducted in Finland blew all of their expectations out of the water, and that they were happy to have the patty on their menu for the 400,000 guests who visit every day. And impressively, they offered the burger at a competitively low price that was less than the average McDonald’s menu item and considerably cheaper than their Swedish rival Max.

Of course, the big question everyone’s asking: How does it taste? Reports indicate that the burger’s quite good. One friend of mine who enjoyed it even told me it was among the best plant-based burgers he’s had. It’s complemented by the classic ingredients of lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mustard, ketchup, and an eggless vegan “McFeast Sauce” served on a sesame seed bun, which no doubt helps.

Time will tell how soon we may be able to enjoy something like the McVegan in the U.S. Considering that the word “vegan” in the US is often a turnoff for mainstream consumers, let’s hope McDonald’s comes up with a better name but as great a burger.


Grub Street Goes Plant-Based in the Big Apple

Originally published on


The United Nations, headquartered in New York City, released disturbing news about our planet recently, warning that major changes must take place by 2030 to keep the earth from heating to a degree that could spell disaster for humanity. Some needed measures include reducing non-biodegradable products, cutting carbon emissions, and yes, eating less meat.

If you live the UN’s home city, or are just visiting the Big Apple, following those recommendations has never been easier, or more delicious. Grub Street recently profiled some of the city’s top plant-based dishes, so do your body a favor and be a conservationist at the same time with these six dishes inspired by New York chefs.


There’s no reason for someone wanting a vegan meal to give up a tasty platter of nachos at JaJaJa Plantas Mexicana. They smother tortilla chips with vegan chorizo, turmeric-nut queso fundido, fermented black beans, and spicy vegetable relish. They’re topped off with fresh corn and sour cream.

Mushroom Toast

Mushrooms make a delicious stand-in for meat in a breakfast dish created at NYC’s Two Hands restaurant. Roasted portobello mushrooms in a creamy cashew sauce top sourdough bread along with peppery arugula pesto and pepitas. This healthy, filling dish is served all day.

Zucchini Fritters

A platter of zucchini fritters at Samesa in Williamsburg, NYC is a healthy Middle Eastern dish that’s naturally vegan. They’re served with garlic sauce, avocado hummus, spice red zhug, and a crisp tomato-cucumber salad. You can also order this dish as a wrap.

Nasi Goreng

Selamat Pagi in Brooklyn is also owned by Van Leeuwen who owns a vegan ice cream shop. They feature Indian-inspired vegan dishes like nasi goreng, vegetable fried rice with deep-fried krupuk crackers and tempeh.

Vegan Caesar Salad

If you hate the thought of giving up bacon, Lotito’s Deli has the answer with their version of a Ceasar salad. Chef Gerardo Gonzalez created it with meaty cashews, blue-green spirulina, nutritional yeast, and dulse seaweed which will definitely remind you of the taste of bacon.

Tofu Scramble

Nix, New Yorker John Fraser’s veggie inspired restaurant, features Indian-inspired dishes that will please both vegans and non-vegans. You can’t go wrong with their tofu scramble spiced up with vadouvan curry and made with healthy black lentils and market squash.

Food Industry

‘Clean Seafood’ and Oceanic Conservation

Originally published on

From the viewpoint of nearby planets, our home looks like little more than a blue dot. We like to think of earth as a rocky planet since we live on those rocks, but to an impartial observer, we really seem like more of a big ball covered in blue water with relatively small solids floating on around. It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that we once believed the oceans were inexhaustible resources and that tiny land-dweller like homosapiens could hardly affect, let alone decimate.

We now know better.

With increasing concerns about the sustainability of seafood, is it time to rethink our relationship with our planet’s oceans? What once seemed like an inexhaustible now we realize is far more fragile than we ever imagined. And humanity’s seemingly never-ending appetite for fish is chief among the problems our oceans face.

Today, half of the world’s consumption of seafood comes from (unsurprisingly) oceans, seas, and rivers, which leads to massive overfishing with little regulation of both the numbers and the work conditions of those catching all those fish. With little hope of restoring sea life populations to their pre-industrial revolution numbers in the near-term, can another solution to the problem be found?

In short: yes. The solution today is in the hands of those making seafood without the sea animals. The companies that are at the forefront of this movement are finding innovative ways of reducing the consumption of seafood, and meat overall, in order to improve the environmental, ethical, and economic hardships that result from consuming so much meat.

Plant-based seafood manufacturers are coming up with ways to recreate the taste, texture, and nutrients of seafood. And new discoveries are helping producers come up with some of the best products today.

The plant-based seafood industry is letting customers decide what tastes best on different sample-testing occasions. An example of this is the plant-based tuna from Good Catch Foods, made from a blend of various legumes. As someone who’s tried their product, it seemed pretty hard to me to distinguish the difference between tuna and their eco-friendlier alternative.

And in the near future, perhaps we’ll be eating real fish grown from fish cells rather than fish slaughter. As I’ve written before, such “clean fish” would carry on the biblical legacy of Jesus’s multiplication of the fish to feed the multitudes.

While newer sources of clean meat are being developed, we may need to start asking ourselves whether purchasing so many animal-based products is worth the cost, both literally and figuratively. Though the market for alternatives is not completely developed yet, there are existing plant-based alternatives that can pave the way to a cleaner future for our blue dot of a planet and all its inhabitants, both water- and land-based alike.


Kosher Bacon Cheeseburgers? You Bet.

Originally published on

For years, kosher Jews have abstained from bacon, and of course pretty much all things pig. They also refuse to mix meat and dairy, rendering cheeseburgers not simply sinful delights, but rather just simply sinful in the literal sense.Kosher_certification_logo-768x743

But as the New York Times reported recently, some rabbis are suggesting this may all change in the near future. In fact, kosher Jews may soon be able to eat all the bacon cheeseburgers their hearts and stomachs desire.

The reason: cellular agriculture. Growing real meat without animals–also known as clean meat–is a way to produce meat that just may be considered kosher by rabbinic authorities. Yes, that includes meat from pig cells (aka pork) since the original cell is such a minuscule part of the actual pig.

Companies like Mission Barns, profiled in the New York Times piece, are working hard to grow not necessarily meat, but a single part of meat responsible for making it taste so good: fat. Unlike others in the space growing animal muscle cells, Mission Barns is growing real fat–including duck fat–that I can personally attest tastes, well, fat-tastic. (Sorry.)

These pioneers’ work will of course be good news for kosher Jews. But considering just how important such alternatives are for curbing climate change, food insecurity, animal cruelty, and other pressing social ills, their work may also help us usher in a world a little bit closer to Eden that the one we have today.

Food Industry

Meet the startup that makes milk—without cows

My guest article originally published on Quartz –

Three young entrepreneurs in their mid-twenties sat nervously in the Hong Kong office of Solina Chau, one of the world’s most powerful women. Chau, founder of Horizons Ventures, oversees investments for multibillionaire Li Ka-Shing, focusing those investments on disruptive technologies she thinks the world needs.

She’d been introduced to Ryan Pandya, Perumal Gandhi, and Isha Datar by Horizons consultant Josh Balk, who himself had co-founded food tech start-up Hampton Creek just a few years earlier. Now, all four of them sat anxiously before Chau as they discussed the new start-up Perfect Day’s big idea: producing real milk without cows.

Only weeks prior, these three young idealists had hatched their business plan via online video chats. No, they weren’t interested in producing alternatives to milk, such as soy or almond milk. Instead, Perfect Day wanted to use a process called microbial fermentation to produce actual cow’s milk—but without any cows at all.

Humanity’s procurement of animal-based foods has remained stagnant for a long time. In the case of milk, we grow massive amount of crops using large swaths of land and other resources. We then raise cows, feed them those crops, medicate them, impregnate them, milk them, and eventually slaughter them. It’s intensive, requiring huge quantities of land, water, fossil fuels, and other resources.

Perfect Day’s plan was to make milk using the exact dairy proteins cows create, but with designer yeast instead of cows—and in a matter of mere days.

In other words, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

Well, maybe not free, but certainly far more efficiently—and thus far more profitably. In a process similar to how baker’s yeast produces CO2 to make bread rise and brewer’s yeast produces alcohol, Perfect Day’s yeast produces actual dairy proteins (like casein and whey). Food scientists program the genetic code into the yeast, and that yeast starts pumping out the desired proteins. The yeast never makes it into the final product, enabling the final product to be labeled GMO-free.

The entrepreneurs unceremoniously unveiled their prototype in a plastic water bottle they’d transported with them, pouring Perfect Day’s milk into Chau’s cup. Minutes later, they had a deal.

These twenty-somethings who hardly knew each other had walked into the meeting with a mere $30,000 in the bank account of their embryonic startup. They walked out with $2 million.

* * *

Four years later, Perfect Day has now raised millions more and has attracted talent from some of the world’s largest dairy companies. They plan to start by selling dairy proteins as functional ingredients for food manufacturers, with other dairy products not far behind. Having personally eaten from their early batches of yogurt, I’m convinced that they’re onto something big.

The company is part of a group of promising start-ups pioneering the field of “clean” animal products: real animal products grown without raising and slaughtering animals. The terminology is a nod to “clean energy,” but in addition to lightening the “food-prints” of animal products, clean milk and meat are also just, well, cleaner.

We’re warned to treat raw meat in our kitchens with extreme caution because it can carry E. Coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and other intestinal pathogens. But when growing clean meat, there are no intestines to speak of. Instead, from a tiny biopsy of an animal’s muscle, we can grow the meat we want to eat without the rest of the animal.

Just how much meat could we grow? When MIT Technology Review profiled Marie Gibbons—a fellow at the nonprofit Good Food Institute, which is working to hasten clean meat’s rise—they made it clear why venture capitalists like Chau are salivating: by taking a sesame seed-sized sample of turkey muscle, Gibbons just might feed the world.

“In theory, the growth potential is enormous,” MIT reported. “Assuming unlimited nutrients and room to grow, a single satellite cell from one single turkey can undergo seventy-five generations of division during three months. That means one cell could turn into enough muscle to manufacture over twenty trillion turkey nuggets.”

The venture capitalists pouring money into clean meat companies are betting that theory becomes fact. One company, Memphis Meats, has attracted capital from billionaires like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Jack and Suzy Welch.

But this isn’t all simply a product of Silicon Valley; even Big Meat has taken notice. Just last August, Cargill became the first large meat producer to invest in clean meat. In a Fox Business interview, Cargill CEO David MacLennan discussed his new investment, boasting that Memphis Meats “produces chicken or duck in a way that doesn’t use the resources that traditional meat uses. So it’s all about sustainability. Call it ‘clean meat’ if you will. It’s a way to produce meat in a different alternative that isn’t as resource-intensive.”

* * *

For millennia, animals have satisfied humanity’s desire for meat, leather, and other forms of sustenance. But as our population and demand for animal products increases, continuing to funnel more and more resources through more and more animals poses serious challenges.

The plant-based protein revolution is already underway, with major investment from Tyson Foods and others in start-ups like Beyond Meat that are producing amazingly meaty plant-based meats. These plant-based meat companies are extremely promising—and their products are gaining traction. One need look no further than the explosion of plant-based milks to see what might soon happen with plant-based meats. But they’re not making actual meat from animal cells, like Memphis Meats or actual dairy proteins, like Perfect Day.

For consumers who feel wedded to actual animal products, this nascent industry may soon allow us to have our meat and eat it too.