Cellular agriculture is about to dramatically transform the way meat and other animal products are produced. This is because instead of raising, slaughtering and exploiting animals en masse for food, cellular agriculture, as the name suggests, uses a small sample of cells that can be grown on the outside of an animal to produce meat without any of the disadvantages of traditional agriculture.
And while preparing food this way has far-reaching potential, are consumers ready to embrace it? The results of the first market researches seem promising. In 2021, research published in scientific journal Foods surveyed 2,018 people in the US and 2,034 people in the UK about their attitudes towards cultured meat. They found that 40% said they were likely to try it, with the youngest participants showing the most openness.
What will it take to get the other 60 percent to try cultured meat? Research from payroll platform Paychex shows that, perhaps, more consumers will be impacted if a woman is involved. Her study found that people, particularly in the younger generation, rate female entrepreneurs as more trustworthy than men, which could have a big impact on public acceptance of cultured meat.
Therefore, bridging gender gaps at the top of the food innovation chain is an urgent issue that the Vegan Women Summit (VWS) is considering. Women are underrepresented at the top of most industries and VWS is working to change that through a multifaceted approach that supports women leaders at all levels to empower them to build a more sustainable food system.
This year’s VWS will be held in New York City in mid-May and will welcome a number of women-founded companies to showcase their innovations, including Ohayo Valley, a Berkeley, California-based cultured meat startup founded by Jess Krieger, PhD.
“Women will be key to building the future of food,” Kreiger tells VegNews. “We are consistently underappreciated and underappreciated in society, but these systemic obstacles make us creative and resilient problem solvers.”
“Women think differently, feel differently, do things differently, and that’s exactly what the world needs right now: different and unique approaches to solving our biggest challenges,” she says.
Ohayo Valley-grown wagyu beef
Krieger founded Ohayo Valley with a mission to change the way meat is produced and develop farmed products that are better than their animal counterparts. While the traditional animal agriculture industry, a heavily male-dominated industry, is limited by animal biology, Krieger explains, cellular agriculture can use technology to develop superior products.
And it’s starting with cultured wagyu beef, a coveted fatty meat from a specific breed of Japanese cattle.
“I don’t think if I had been born a man I would have grown up to be the person I am today, fighting to fix our food system,” Krieger says. “My life experiences as a woman are what made me want to fix our food system, which is something the traditional male-dominated meat world lacks.”
Krieger and his team have been working for more than a decade on the science behind Ohayo’s wagyu cultured beef. At VWS, Ohayo will sample cultured meat as part of WagyuMe burger blended with plant protein.
Unveiling his progress to the world at VWS, he says, seemed like the perfect solution.
“Holding the historic first Ohayo Valley public tasting at VWS aligns with our mission because VWS unites today’s and tomorrow’s women leaders to lead systemic and ethical change in society,” Krieger says. “Women change the world when we come together and support each other. The #MeToo movement and VWS are great examples.
“Women need to support each other for society to progress beyond the dysfunction we have today,” she says.
Tasting the future of food, made by women
In addition to Ohayo Valley, VWS will showcase breakthrough innovations powered by female entrepreneurs, which the global platform supports through its annual VWS Pathfinder competition.
At the conference in May, limited samples of these foods will be available to attendees with a raffle to win a tasting ticket.
On the signature menu will be vegan oysters from North Carolina-based Pearlita Foods. This female-led startup combines plant-based and cellular technologies, along with a proprietary mushroom and algae base and a new blend of flavors, to create its oysters, which are served on recycled shells for an authentic culinary experience.
Bosque Foods (a Pathfinder alumnus) will be showcasing its vegan chicken breasts, crafted with the magic of mycelium, the root system of fast-growing mushrooms. Founder Isabella Iglesias-Musachio turned to meat production this way after learning of the inhumane and unsustainable nature of animal agriculture. Bosque Foods can make vegan whole cuts in 10 days using the lei process, while saving resources.
VWS attendees will also be able to try vegan eggs from German Neggst (another Pathfinder alumnus); Impact Foods Vegan Bluefin Tuna of California; and insights from the 100 speakers scheduled to attend this year’s event.
“Not only are we proud to introduce these cutting-edge technologies to the public, but every single brand is led by women, in an industry filled with male CEOs,” said Jennifer Stojkovic, founder and CEO of VWS.
“Our attendees will have the opportunity to sample some of the newest and most exciting plant and animal cell culture alternatives from the women founders, some for the first time in history,” she said.
Cultured Meat Progress
Ohayo Valley is entering the spotlight at a time when the cultured meat industry has made great strides toward commercialization. Currently, the only place in the world where meat produced in this way is sold is Singapore, which granted Good Meat (a subsidiary of Just Egg-maker Eat Just) regulatory approval in 2020 for its cultured chicken.
Food on the rise
However, that may soon change as the United States, a major player in the advancement of the industry, is also getting in on the act. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted generally regarded as safe status (GRAS) to cultured chicken produced by Upside Foods.
In March, Good Meat also earned a GRAS letter, taking its farmed chicken one step closer to commercialization in the United States. Both companies are now working with the US Department of Agriculture to get its approval before finalizing their plans to go to market.
Meanwhile, Upside has reached another milestone in its journey of removing expensive animal-based ingredients from its growing media. Last week, the company announced it had developed a chicken cell line that doesn’t require platelet-derived growth factors (an expensive animal input).
As it looks to commercialization, Upside is also building its chicken portfolio. While it plans to launch with its chicken tenderloin, future products will include chicken sausages, chicken sandwiches, and dumplings.