a couple months back i had the opportunity to photograph ethan brown, CEO of beyond meat, and visit their corporate HQ and research facility under the auspices of a story for der spiegel. i saw that the story was posted online last week (i can’t understand german, but am able to recognize my own byline and photos), so here are some out-takes.
let me just state my position on the matter right off the bat: i’m an omnivore. i eat meat, have always eaten meat, and will very likely continue to eat meat unless something really drastic happens. i also love vegetables of nearly all varieties and nearly all preparations. i crave vegetables just as much as i crave meat. i’m always slightly disappointed by the sides at barbecue joints. i don’t care much for tofu, i’m very pro-gluten. i’m also pro-GMO. i acknowledge that the food industrial complex might be a necessary evil (for now) to deal with the sheer number of people who require feeding. i appreciate real food made in an artisanal fashion. i am anti instant mixes (oatmeal, brownies, cakes). pie is better than cake. butter is better than shortening. frosting weirds me out a little. creme fraiche is awesome and easy to make.
most importantly, i’ve long been against transmutation. that is, i don’t want my vegetables to try to look like/taste like meat. i want my meat to be meat and my veggies to be veggies.
however. . .
beyond meat’s burgers and sausages are pretty damn good. honestly, they’re good. the hot italian sausage is especially good.
ethan brown is a vegan. he’s excited about plant based proteins. unlike many other vegans he doesn’t seem to hold animosity for meat eaters. the driving philosophy of the company seems to very much be one of environmentalism rather than animal rights. they make every effort to publicize their positive environmental impact in relation to traditional livestock farming. ethan’s office is full of large poster boards containing early critical reviews of their product, reminding him of the naysayers constantly. he knows that it’s all a moot point if the things plain old don’t taste good. so, taste - and, yes, mouthfeel - are of paramount importance in their process. you can tell he’s excited about it. you can tell the people working there are excited about it. beyond meat feels very much like a tech startup in that regard. i have to say, i’m sold.
this week beyond meat will go public, estimating their IPO at $1.5 billion. that may be a drop in the bucket to the meat industry, but it’s a solid start.
the fascinating thing about being at beyond meat’s research facility is that it feels very much like a research facility. that is, it looks like a science lab rather than a kitchen. people are wearing white coats. they have pipettes and instrumentation that i would expect to see in a microbiology lab. the people working there are very much scientists, not chefs. to be fair there was also a separate proper kitchen area which i only got to peer into from the window. but the researchers i did meet were young, very enthusiastic and spoke excitedly about protein structures and beet extracts and mouthfeel. the only piece of equipment there that i would not expect to find in the middle of a bio lab was an electric griddle, which they were using to fry up a couple patties for testing. the patties were then put in what looked like a miniature hydraulic press (dubbed “the e-mouth”) that measured the bite resistance of the patty and how much juice was extracted under pressure. . . the mouthfeel, if you will.