Why was impossible meat created?

Story behind why Impossible meat founder- Pat Brown creates food from plant that looks and tastes like meat.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Transformation can come from the small decisions you make to lead a better life, and it can also transpire when gurus make grand plans to get everyone involved. Two visionaries – who approach sustainability from different perspectives – tell us their ideas.
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Pat Brown is the CEO and founder of Impossible Foods. The company makes – from plants – food that looks and tastes like meat. And it does so with a much smaller carbon footprint than land-based agriculture.

He tells us how he got working on one of the planet’s biggest environmental problems:

“When I had my sabbatical (as professor of biochemistry, Stanford University School of Medicine), I basically decided I was going to look for the most important problem I could be solving.

“I did my research and very quickly realised that the greatest threat to the viability of our planet is the catastrophic impact of our use of animals in our food system. Not only is it a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, it’s the biggest user and polluter of water in any industry in the world.

“It has a huge land footprint, and is also stripmining the ocean. It has pushed us to the brink, a catastrophic meltdown of our biodiversity. In 40 years, we’ve cut the total number of wild animals, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish by half. And the cause of that, almost entirely, is due to our use of animals to produce food. That was the problem when I started looking into this. I also realised that you’re not going to accomplish anything by trying to educate people or persuade them to change their diets.

“I was at a conference in Paris a couple of years ago, where hundreds of the world’s most knowledgeableand dedicated environmentalists came together, and they acknowledged that this was the biggest environmental problem. But they all said that first of all, education doesn’t solve the problem. Even understanding its importance doesn’t solve the problem because people don’t care.

“Second, in China, a few years ago, the government urged citizens to cut their meat consumption by half, and what happened? Nothing.

“So education and persuasion don’t work, and that means the only way to solve the problem is to give consumers what they want, and make it our job to find a better way to produce it – with better technology.

“Since this has to be consumer-driven, it means we give them an option, and they vote based on what they want from food. We had a new business: It’s not just an exercise, because there is no business model based on non-profit that works, basically, from feeding all these people.

“So that’s why I founded Impossible Foods seven and a half years ago, and what I told the scientists that I was recruiting was (and I find it absolutely ridiculous) that the most important and urgent scientific question in the world today is, ‘why doesn’t it [plant] taste more like meat?’.

“And we started looking at it.”

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Durreen Shahnaz is the founder of Impact Investment Exchange (IIX). The company invests in enterprises  that are innovating solutions for women’s empowerment and climate action. Her work with IIX spans 46 countries and has unlocked nearly $94 million of private-sector capital to support more than 140 enterprises. It has also avoided more than one million metric tons of CO2 emissions and impacted nearly 24 million lives. For her accomplishments, Shahnaz has received global recognition in the form of several awards, including the 2017 Oslo Business for Peace Award – often referred to as the “Nobel Peace Prize for Business”. She tells us how she uses her platforms to create an effective social and sustainable financial market, because she believes that conflicts create inequality – and without equality or stability, there can be no sustainability:

“At the heart of sustainability lies the question of value – how do we create a system that values people and planet? Impact investing brings exciting opportunities to shift deeply embedded inequalities, and to make financial systems work for everyone.

“I founded Impact Investment Exchange 10 years ago as a reaction to the global financial meltdown of 2008. At the time, the impact economy was just emerging out of the dust of two worlds – the growing limitations of the development world, and the post-crisis financial world – and there were few pathways for those who were looking for sustainable solutions to the world’s environmental problems.

“We believe that to build sustainable peace, we must address the root causes of inequality that lead to confl ict by valuing and empowering underserved communities and the climate.

“Trade wars and ineffective financial markets grow disparities in income and widen gaps in the right to livelihoods. They create inequalities in meeting basic needs such as clean water, housing, energy and health, and subsequently create invisible petri dishes breeding future conflict. In addition to the heavy human toll, conflict further isolates vulnerable communities and traps them in a cycle of inequality and conflict.

“I also created the Women’s Livelihood Bond to tackle one of the toughest challenges in the world – the systematic exclusion of women from financial markets. With a US$320 billion (S$433 billion) global credit gap for women, and an average gender wage gap of 30-40 per cent in Asia, women and girls face structural barriers that trap them in subsistence living, and are disproportionately affected by economic and environmental downturns. If existing gender gaps are closed, we have the potential to add 30 per cent to GDP growth in Asia by 2025.”


Text David FuhrmannLim & Ben Chin