The Chef and The Genomicist

Imagining a Food System Without Animals

Ryan Bethencourt
Sep 22, 2015 · 4 min read

Letter #2

Hi Miyoko,

It was great seeing you at the roundtable too, I still love the work you’re doing and of course your nut cheeses, they’re the best!

I hear where that dairy farmer is coming from, it sounds like what he’s describing is a way of life that is changing and he’d prefer that it didn’t, change is hard for all of us. However, I don’t think we’re that far away from the last days of the dairy farms, slaughter houses or the other uses of sentient animals for food and however hard change will be for that dairy farmer, it’s the inevitable drum beat of progress, we can no more stop that than printers could stop the printing presses, the luddites could stop the adoption of the looms or the post office could stop the use of emails and in this case, ending the use of animals in agriculture will stop large scale, industrial suffering, so sorry but not so sorry!

I don’t say this as a hopeful vegan (which as you know, I am) but I say this as a scientist, entrepreneur and investor. We’re going to use the tools of science and capitalism to dismantle the industries that enslave sentient animals in industrial agriculture and we’ll break the shackles, with science.

So, why am I so certain that we’re talking in terms of years rather than decades or lifetimes? Why should that dairy farmer start researching new, more productive uses for his land?

Because the future has already arrived, this isn’t science fiction, the tools of genetic engineering have matured over the last few years and dropped dramatically in cost, in fact, we’re seeing drops in the cost of biotech R&D of about 5–6x per year according to Joi Ito, the Director of MIT’s Media Lab, smoking Moore’s law in IT which changed our world dramatically in the last two decades, Biology will move faster!

The first wave of startups and scientists who are leading this tranformation are already working on making commercial products, from Mark Post’s first lab grown hamburger to Muufri’s brewed Milk (made with yeast) to Counter Culture Lab’s real vegan cheese, with the Casein cow protein inserted, Clara Food’s brewed Egg Whites, Impossible Foods plant based burgers that bleed (with iron rich haem), Hampton Creek’s plant based Mayo and Modern Meadow’s thin steak chips and lab grown leather.

And these are only the first wave of venture capital funded biotech startups backed by a broad range of venture capitalists and angel investors. These investors aren’t only funding these companies because they see a net benefit for the planet, animals and people but because they see the potential for outsized financial returns by creating anew paradigm in how we create nourishing, animal free foods.

So what does our world look like after the last factory farm is shut down? The last day when the humane meat myth is no longer necessary?

It means a day of food security for all 7+ billion people on this planet, we’ll be able to grow our raw feed stock (plants, most likely sugar cane and corn) and ferment or grow almost any food that consumers desire. Your breakfast of milk and eggs will probably come from an ultra clean factory, think of a clean, sleek beer brewery but instead of brewing beer, we’ll be producing, milk, eggs and meat.

We’ll also be using these new technologies to ensure that all of humanity has nourishing food, when the price of any food on this planet is little more than sugar water (which is transformed by fermentation into our products of choice), everyone should be able to eat well from the upper east side of Manhattan to the villages of Africa and Asia. This isn’t some high science but perpetually in the future idea, we do this every day, the beer, wine and cheese everyone eats is a product of the exact same process of fermentation, microorganisms, often yeast, transform one raw material into another often more nourishing food.

I’m writing this letter to you as I fly back from the Global Forum 2015, hosted in Manila by and for low to middle income countries and one of the biggest concerns in many of the emerging megacities across Asia and Africa are food security issues and ensuring that all of their citizens have access to safe and nourishing foods.

They see the future of their society’s wellbeing secured by harnessing technology to meet their needs. When many of your citizens are still food insecure, technology from satellite monitoring, biosensors or improved yield GMOs are incredibly important.

The post-animal bioeconomy we’re building isn’t just about a more humane way of producing our food, it’s a way of lifting over a billion people, 1 in 7, that are chronically undernourished, out of hunger.

Perhaps one day, that Dairy farmer that you spoke with will be proud to boast about how he’s now proud to be a 4th generation dairy farmer that converts plants to milk directly through fermentation, yields and profits are up and he’s got global contracts to feed one or two megacities with his farms brewed milks (Nut, Cow, Hemp and More). The future isn’t that far away!



This fall, Medium is exploring the future of food and what it means for us all. To get the latest and build on the conversation, you can follow Future of Food.

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Ryan Bethencourt

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#Biotech Program Director & VC Partner @indbio ; Fmr Head LifeSci @XPRIZE ; Co-Founder @lablaunch @berkeleybiolab @CountrCultrLabs @sudoroom and Vegan

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