Cattle command our attention. Their flesh gives utums steak and burgers, and their milk is drunk worldwide and turned into countless varieties of cheese and ice cream. They also command a substantial pool of resources: three-fifths of the world’s farmland is dedicated to cows. 1,000 calories’ worth of beef requires 36,000 calories in feed. With numbers like these, cattle possess the bull’s share of greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs) attributable to all livestock, which itself is estimated by the Worldwatch Institute as 51% of the globe’s total GHGs.
Southern Californian company Beyond Meat believes it has a competitor product that sidesteps all of these capital concerns and ecological worries, and it’s called the Beast Burger. Considering just 3% of plants consumed by cows turn into edible meat, Beyond figured they may as well skip the middleman with their all-veggie patty. Replicating the familiar beef flavor is easy, and the nutrition is leaps and bounds beyond its farmyard inspiration; it’s approximating a burger’s oh-so chewable texture that’s the real challenge. One reviewer described the current iteration of the product as inferior to “any mid grade or better beef counterpart,” but “more meat-like than a bottom-of-the-barrel grey slab of fast food ‘real’ burger.”
On the other end of the cow spectrum is an in-development project called Real Vegan Cheese. Unlike the Beast Burger, the goal is not to replace the composition of the original food, but rather its production. Counter Culture Labs is working to “hack” baker’s yeast with the DNA needed to synthesize milk proteins. If they pull it off, the resulting process would be special yeast that ferment milk, chemically indistinguishable from the stuff straight out of the udder, instead of beer. In theory, the milk (and subsequent cheese) of any animal could be synthesized using the right DNA.
While the full critical reception of these products remains to be seen, they may not need to impress the gourmets. If they can get close while undercutting the significant cost of cattle, the future of agriculture may be increasingly green.