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Fermenting the Future
How wizard food scientists are harnessing the magic of microbes and creating a VEGAN WORLD NOW.
Food scientists don’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on education and research to sit around and debate non-vegans on why they should be Vegan. That’s my job. But there’s little money in changing hearts and minds one at a time, and there’s tons of money in disrupting multiple multi-billion dollar global “food” industries. In this post, my job is to redirect attention towards these disruptive food scientists because they are humbly and silently spearheading humanity’s 4th agricultural revolution, creating a Vegan world in the process. They deserve it, so let’s take a brief walk through history to understand why and how.
From early handiwork to autonomous biotech.
In the 1st agricultural revolution, neolithic humans realized that growing food was more efficient than hunting and gathering food, and thus, civilization began. In the 2nd, industrial humans used machinery extensively, leading to huge farms with huge production. In the 3rd agricultural revolution, modern humans harnessed the power of chemicals and genetics: GMOs, pesticides, and herbicides made us go from huge amounts of food to mega amounts of food. At this point in history, we could ethically feed the entire world, but capitalism moves faster than compassion. In this 4th agricultural revolution, however, the important interests finally align.
How we currently feed the world is morally and economically costly.
Previous social justice movements are defined by the victims standing up for themselves, but animals (victims) cannot do this. There may be Substacks like this one, but there will be no civil war for these caged beings. No violent revolution on their behalf, even though we all know animal agriculture is exploitative, oppressive, and ultimately unethical. Unfortunately, the dirtiest word in our capitalist society isn’t “unethical,” but unprofitable. Fortunately, that’s exactly where animal agriculture industries like dairy farming are heading— unprofitability.
Who would have guessed that taking the
middleman middlecow out of the equation would be not only more profitable, but more efficient too! Food scientists have already successfully taken the animals out of meat production with cell-based meat, and now they’ve successfully taken the animals out of milk, cheese, and even honey production too. A VEGAN WORLD isn’t just coming, it’s already here, NOW: food scientists have been fermenting our future using the magic of microbes. This wizardry is called precision fermentation.
Precision Fermentation the main driving force of this 4th agricultural revolution, and is a subcategory of Cellular Agriculture. I spoke a bit about the other subcategory, cell-based meat, in a previous post. In this post, I’ll go over the evolution of fermentation and how we got here, how precision fermentation works, why it is a highly disruptive technology, and where you can buy food made with precision fermentation NOW.
The evolution of fermentation.
So, how did we get to the point where we’re making and selling Vegan ice cream made from Cow’s milk, without the cow? First, we made beer. Some early human probably left some barley water around in a pot during the summer and then opened it in winter and found beer! Ever since, humans have been obsessed with alcohol. Beer was even a necessity for sailors who needed a safe (and carbohydrate rich) form of potable water for long voyages! This was only possible by learning to control the conditions that allowed this traditional fermentation to happen, refining those techniques, and passing them down generation to generation. It wasn’t until the 19th century that we learned it was the microbes doing the heavy lifting all along. These microbes are fungi, more specifically, yeast. In a nutshell, they eat the sugars found in fruit and barley, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide as a result. This is also how we get bread, cheese, yogurt, wine, etc.
Then, more recently, we made mushroom meats using biomass fermentation. Where traditional fermentation uses microbial metabolism to produce a secondary food component like alcohol, in biomass fermentation, the microbes themselves are the primary food component. This is how companies like Meati get that flesh-like, fibrous mouthfeel while still being 95% mushroom root.
How does precision fermentation work?
The thing about traditional and biomass fermentation is that you need specific microbes to get specific effects; e.g. ales are made with Saccharomyces cerveisiae and Meati’s products are made with Aspergillus oryzae. But what if that didn’t need to be the case?
What if you could play a guitar solo by using the drums? This would mean that you have to change something inside the drum so when you hit it, a plucking of a guitar string is heard. In precision fermentation, food scientists are doing exactly this by taking pieces of DNA strands from one organism, let’s say a cow, and inserting these DNA strands into a microbe, modifying the microbe’s DNA, so when it’s exposed to certain conditions, the microbe creates entirely new proteins based on this recombined DNA.
The microbe is the drum, the DNA strands are the guitar strings, and the proteins are the new sounds they make together. There are more steps beyond this, such as purifying and drying the finished product, but this modified DNA alone is the real foundation for precision fermentation, and is formally called recombinant DNA. With it, we can move from a society of oppression and extraction to one of freedom and creation. Before this technology, people with Type 1 Diabetes relied on >50,000 pigs to produce 1kg of insulin… Then, precision fermentation had its big debut in 1982. Pigs were saved by the recombined DNA of non-sentient E. Coli bacteria, and for the first time ever, type 1 diabetics could get a more consistent, less costly, and more ethical form of the hormone.
The world is
our oyster any food we want it to be.
Fast forward to 2023, and we are now sitting on an enormous library of genetic information from a plethora of sources that allows us to create virtually infinite combinations of food components. WAY too many to test individually! But by leveraging the skills of AI, and by extension, the deep neural networks of machine learning, we can rapidly predict and simulate optimal combinations of DNA for almost anything. I’d never thought I’d ever say this, but food as a software is becoming our reality.
Now, instead of using the drums to play the guitar, we’re using a synthesizer to play music of all types! Yes, precision fermentation isn’t just for creating dairy, eggs, and honey, but can also be used for other things like coffee, chocolate, collagen, natural flavorings, vitamins, cannabinoids, and the list of possibilities are truly endless: wherever there are proteins involved, precision fermentation has a place to thrive. And proteins are the building blocks of life! Proteins are in everything. Everywhere. All at once.
Don’t believe me? just google, “precision fermentation [insert any food product here]” and you’ll likely get a relevant result.
There are likely a handful of companies still using proteins derived from animals in their growth media to create their cell-based meats. This is a rights violation, as obtaining these proteins usually requires innocent animals to be murdered. With precision fermentation, as you now know, these specific proteins can be produced by a genetically engineered microbe. It’s only a matter of time before these two industries fully integrate their technology into each other’s processes. At least it’s happening in plant-based meat production already! Ever wondered how Impossible Foods’ burgers seem to “bleed?” That’s Leghemoglobin, a soy-based version of hemoglobin, one of the main proteins in blood, but created by precision fermentation.
So how about that Vegan cow’s protein ice cream? Let’s speak the language of capitalism again so we can really grasp just how disruptive this post-cow ice cream is. Cow farming isn’t just raping mothers and stealing babies, but it’s emptying farmers’ wallets and spinning their wheels. I’ll make an entire post on this in the future, but what you need to know for now is that the entire US dairy industry is propped up by government subsidies, and because the process is so inefficient, it can often cost more to produce a gallon of milk than it does to sell it, and even the grocery stores sell the white poison at a loss just to get customers through their doors. These cow secretions are roughly 90% water, 2% fat, 0.5% vitamins and minerals, 5% lactose, and 3.5% protein in the form of casein and whey. Precision fermentation only really needs to replace those 3.5% milk proteins to significantly disrupt the dairy industry, and it’s already happening. Perfect Day’s partner brand, Brave Robot, sells cow’s protein ice cream made from precision fermentation and can be found on the shelves of supermarkets all across the US (and it tastes identical)!
Precision fermentation also promises cheaper costs (As of 2023, Brave Robot ice cream sells for around $6.50/pint) and increased customizability of their animal-based counterparts, but as the proteins inherently originated from living beings, it’ll still come with at least some of the many nutritional downsides. But if you’re eating ice cream, nutrition isn’t your main focus, at least for those few minutes anyways.
Microbially generated cow’s milk proteins are just one part of the many low hanging
fruit udders of precision fermentation, which explains why they, along with a great deal of others, are already here and in use. If we can make milk and ice cream, we can make yogurt, butter, and cheese. More difficult foods to replicate are egg yolks or intricate coffees, as these are highly complex, so they require specific methods that food scientists are still developing. I’d say it’s less than 5 years until laggards replace their excuse of “I just love cheese so much” with “I just love eggs so much.” Then, when the hen’s cloaca is also bypassed, reluctant omnivores will jump to increasingly obscure and unethical animal products, until there are no more left to legally jump to for their already poor excuses. These food scientists, the companies they are a part of, and the investors who believe in them aren’t going to politely ask for consent to use precision fermentation in our food system. An industry that can provide identical tastes, aromas, and mouthfeels of food products made with 10x more efficiency, 10x less water use, 5x less energy use, and 100x less land use doesn’t need our permission. The profits, the planet, and the animals already gave it to them.
The 4th agricultural revolution has begun, and precision fermentation will finally move us from a system of scarcity to one of abundance. Much like the world of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, you can either be on the side of the ambitious food scientist embodied as Flint Lockwood, or his stubborn sardine selling dad, Tim.
So, which side are you on?