2016: A Tipping Point for Food
2016 will be remembered as the year when healthy, humane, and sustainable foodtech moved into the mainstream. Allow us to take you for a trip down memory lane and celebrate some of this year’s biggest stories in food, including a few of our favorite moments at The Good Food Institute!    

Plant-Based Burgers Break the Internet 

“What I was experiencing was more than a clever meat substitute. It was a taste of the future of food.”
 – Bill Gates 

This fall, Beyond Meat forever changed the game for plant-based burgers by releasing their “raw” Beyond Burgers right in the meat counter at Whole Foods in Boulder, Colorado, where they sold out in a matter of hours. In another unprecedented move, Impossible Foods harnessed the science of acellular agriculture to produce heme and create a plant-based burger that “bleeds.” 2016 was the year that plant-based meats got their PR mojo on and became hotter tech than the latest iPhone. And with Hampton Creek putting its new robotics lab to work to discover fresh plant-based replacements for animal products, expect this trend to become even more pronounced in 2017!

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Big Food Looks Beyond Meat

“We intend to collaborate with promising food entrepreneurs who are pioneering new products and technology that are making meaningful changes and improvements to food systems.” 
– Monica McGurk, President of Foodservice, Tyson Foods.

Not only did these more sustainable foods begin courting new consumers, they also caught the eye of massive corporations. Some of the biggest players in the game woke up to the risks of factory farming and the promise of new and improved alternatives. In September, an investor coalition led by the Jeremy Coller Foundation and representing $1.2 trillion in assets jump-started this movement when it urged food companies to take these risks seriously and start exploring better options. Not long after, Tyson Foods, one of the largest meat producers in the world, bought a stake in Beyond Meat, and has since launched an entire $150 million venture capital fund to explore and invest in sustainable alternatives, from plant-based meats to clean meat. “Big Tech” is taking notice too, with the likes of Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin throwing their support behind new meat alternatives. Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google’s parent company, went as far as to call plant-based meat the number-one tech trend that will significantly improve the world. We’d call that a high point. 

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Clean Meat Comes of Age

“We plan to do to animal agriculture what the car did to the horse and buggy.” 
– Dr. Uma Valeti, CEO and co-founder of Memphis Meats 

In 2013, when former Harvard Medical School professor Mark Post, M.D., Ph.D., debuted the first hamburger created through cellular agriculture, the world was inspired by the idea of his vision for meat production, in which environmental harms were mitigated and animal suffering was eliminated. This year, with the cost of production rapidly falling and scientists hacking away at the barriers to mass production, clean meat moved from being a future-food to an imminent reality. Memphis Meats was awarded the title of “The Hottest Tech in Silicon Valley” and SuperMeat’s message of “100% meat, 0% percent animal suffering” went viral. Researchers from around the world met in The Netherlands and in San Francisco to accelerate (and celebrate) developments in clean meat and cellular agriculture. And three companies—Memphis Meats, Supermeat, and Mosa Meats—have all set a goal to get clean meat to the dinner table within five years. As if all of that weren’t enough, there’s even a documentary coming out—Meat the Future—that tracks this incredible moment in history as innovators race to use clean meat technology to solve some of the most dangerous and imminent threats to our planet, from food security and antibiotic resistance to environmental degradation and climate change. Click below to see the preview, which features Memphis Meats’ team and GFI executive director Bruce Friedrich! 

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Now let’s review a few moments from GFI, shall we? 

GFI launched in February with three staff and a world-changing vision. Today, our team of twelve has covered significant ground on the road toward a better food future, and we’re only speeding up! Expect to see fresh faces at GFI in the coming months. Our team is also bolstered by 25 advisors, including business guru Suzy Welch, both of the top experts on clean meat (Dr. Mark Post and Dr. Uma Valeti), and multiple top VC investors and chefs. We’re also incredibly grateful for the groundswell of support we’ve received on social media, where our our 114k-and-growing Facebook supporters are helping us spread the word about the good food future! 

The past ten months have been a whirlwind, and we’ve laid the groundwork for even bigger things to come just around the corner. Here are some of our favorite moments from 2016: 

Leveling the Playing Field for Plant-Based Foods

In 2016, GFI filed two lawsuits to help plant-based alternatives achieve maximum success in a market dominated by powerful animal-ag industries. First, we sued to receive records from the FDA regarding its inconsistent enforcement of soy milk labeling standards. Right now, the dairy industry is lobbying the FDA to crack down on plant-based milks and force them to modify their labels to remove the word “milk.” For plant-based alternatives to be successful, they need to face a clear regulatory landscape, not random and costly attacks on their branding. Next, we called out the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Services for failing to release full documentation related to the American Egg Board’s scandalous attacks on Hampton Creek. In the days following our second lawsuit, a federal investigation revealed that the Egg Board had indeed acted outside of its mandate and misused government funds in an attempt to quash their new, egg-free competition. To make sure checkoffs like the American Egg Board are never again allowed to pursue anti-competitive attacks against companies seeking to improve the food system, GFI is petitioning for broad checkoff reform.

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Making our Mark at Maastricht

GFI’s scientific team is hard at work identifying the opportunities and challenges in clean meat R&D, and October’s International Cultured Meat Conference at Maastricht University in The Netherlands gave them a chance to present their findings to the top researchers in the field. Senior scientist Christie Lagally unveiled the team’s seminal work on Technological Readiness Assessments: an open-source tool for the entire industry that maps out clean meat’s path forward toward commercialization, grounded in specific technological stepping stones. Senior scientist Dr. Liz Specht presented on the formulation of animal-free media for the mass production of clean meat. And our executive director, Bruce Friedrich, answered the question we get asked more frequently than any involving clean meat’s technological elements: will people actually eat it? Based on current studies and future projections, GFI is convinced that once clean meat is accessible and affordable, people will gladly choose it over the products of factory farming. We’re proud to have been such an integral part of the world’s foremost conference on this technology and to join the ranks as one of the most influential organizations in our field. 

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Earning ACE’s Top Charity Status

Each year, Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) researches and determines the most effective tactics for helping animals. In 2016, ACE recognized GFI’s focus on market- and tech-based solutions as a highly effective method for transforming the food system away from its current reliance on factory farming. By focusing on the factors that actually govern consumer’s eating decisions – taste, price, and convenience – GFI is working to make better alternatives the default choice for consumers. We’re thrilled to be recognized for the impact of our work and the tremendous potential of the five-year strategic roadmap we’ve put into place.

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ACE’s Evaluation (be sure to check out the “Comprehensive Review” & “Documents”) 

Launching New Good-Food Companies

Overhauling the food system is a monumental task. That’s why we take a strategic, four part approach  Our first program area involves fostering innovation. In order to launch the next generation of innovators, we identify “white space”—areas of the plant-based and cellular market sectors that are not yet active but should be—and actually start companies from scratch. We also reach out to tissue engineers, synthetic biologists, plant scientists, and entrepreneurs, to educate them about the amount of good they can do in the world and how well they can do for themselves by shifting vocationally into plant-based and cellular agriculture. This year, we visited MIT, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and many other top business and science schools. We also spoke at some of the top technology and food conferences in the world, all with a focus on creating a robust plant-based and cellular market sector, as an alternative to conventional animal agriculture. And we’ll let you in on secret: in just our first ten months, we’ve already launched two new companies—stay tuned to hear all of the juicy details in the coming days! Hint: Think plant-based alternatives to fish and price-competitive plant-based chicken and mutton in India! 

Spreading the Word

At GFI, we want to tell the whole world about these incredible, game-changing developments in food. The modern version of “shouting it from the mountaintop” is, of course, getting the word out in the media. Check out just a few of our top media hits from 2016:

  • Washington Post Sunday Magazine: “Meet the Guy Who Envisions a ‘Meat Brewery’ to Help Solve a Global Problem.” In this Q&A, GFI executive director Bruce Friedrich talks clean meat and its potential to restructure the food system in favor of healthy, humane, and sustainable alternatives to factory-farmed meat. 
  • LA Times: “Will Adding a Veggie Burger to the Menu at In-N-Out Destroy the Country?” Remember when the whole world went crazy after we petitioned In-N-Out to include one plant-based entree on its menu? We’ll never forget. In an op-ed that topped the LA Times’ most-read list even in the midst of a presidential debate, GFI communications manager Emily Byrd responded to the hoopla. 
  • New York Times: “Bill Gates Explains How to Make Climate Progress in a World Eating Meat and Guzzling Gas.” This was the time that Bill Gates quoted and directly responded to our executive director’s letter-to-the-editor asking Gates about his commitment to plant-based meats. In Gates words, “I’m hopeful that our meat production is a completely different path than how that’s been done traditionally.”
  • Wall Street Journal: Calling for a “Beast Burger, and not a real one, on every plate in America.” In this op-ed, our executive director responds to Tyson Foods’ investment in plant-based startup Beyond Meat, and makes the case for why the good-food movement should get behind this spirit of collaboration over competition. 
  • Quartz: “A fresh face is about to bring a new flavor of foodie influence to the U.S. capitol.” After Quartz profiled GFI’s policy work, Politico Influence shared it with its network of politicians and lobbyists, and the story topped Reddit’s homepage for an entire day, where it generated some truly awesome conversations about the future of food. 
  • Vox: “Ethical Arguments Won’t End Factory Farming. Technology Might.” In this article, a conflicted, meat-eating reporter finds hope in GFI’s work to make ethical eating the default choice. 
  • Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls: “Meet Dr. Liz Specht, Senior Scientist at The Good Food Institute.” This is one of our personal favorites. Dr. Specht is such a fantastic example of all of the good that can be accomplished by putting your skills to use to address global problems. By reaching out to the young women reading Amy Poehler’s blog, we’re encouraging future world-changers to pursue STEM, food, and their personal missions to do some good for the planet. 
  • a16z: “Old Food, New Tech, Clean Meat.” On this episode of the Andreessen Horowitz podcast, our executive director joined the CEO of Memphis Meats and the COO of Impossible Foods to talk about shifting paradigms in food production. Andreessen Horowitz is one of the best-known venture capital firms in tech, and it’s interest in food tech is further proof that Silicon Valley is recognizing the potential of world-changing food companies. 

2016, it’s been fun. And while this year was full of high points, we at GFI are looking forward to reaching even greater heights in 2017 by continuing to push plant-based foods and clean meat closer to achieving their world-changing potential. 

Now go grab a Beyond Burger at Veggie Grill and celebrate just how far we’ve come!

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