The global population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050, and there is growing concern about how to feed that number of people with the resources available. Then there’s our reliance on foods that are resource intensive—especially meat and other animal-based foods. In response, a wave of new food companies has emerged. Food corporations haven’t always been the most responsible actors in respect to such concerns, but these innovative companies are helping to forge a new kind of economy, one that promises to be sustainable, and better for us and animals.
Here’s a rundown on four companies working with the paradigm of conscious capitalism, the business strategy that puts as much focus on higher purpose and meaning as on profit:
- Hampton Creek. “What would you do if you could not fail?” That’s the question that adorns the back of employees’ shirts. Founded in 2011 by Josh Tetrick and Josh Balk, Hampton Creek is working to make our food system more sustainable and affordable by replacing eggs in baked goods, mayonnaise and dressings with plant proteins. Hampton Creek is now providing pancake batters, cookies, salad dressing and mayonnaise to Compass Group, the world’s largest food service provider, as well as to Ivy League universities and corporate cafeterias. Hampton Creek products are also available at grocery stores and at giant outlets like The Dollar Tree, Walmart and Target. In 2015, the company reported that it saved 1.5 billion gallons of water, and helped Americans avoid 11.8 billion milligrams of sodium and 2.8 billion milligrams of cholesterol.
- New Wave. For decades, shrimp has been the number one seafood purchased around the world, only recently surpassed by salmon. Americans alone ate four pounds of shrimp per capita in 2014. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “The practice of shrimp trawling essentially means scraping a massive conical net along the ocean floor, taking not only shrimp, but important parts of the seabed with it. For each pound of shrimp caught, trawling results in up to 15 pounds of “bycatch,” the unintended capture of other species.” There are problems with factory farmed shrimp as well. New Wave, founded by Dominique Barnes, who has a master’s degree from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and biomedical engineer Michelle Wolf, has set its sights on the creation of a shrimp substitute. While working as a shark caretaker at Las Vegas’ Golden Nugget Hotel, Barnes began to think about the impact of dietary choice on preservation of the ocean and conservation of marine life. Barnes and Wolf plan to tackle the sustainability problems associated with the global fishery by creating plant-based seafood. Using algae and other plant proteins, the company is “inspired by mother nature to recreate what people have been eating for centuries, in a better and more sustainable way.”
- Impossible Foods. Stanford biochemist Pat Brown took a sabbatical in 2010 to extend his research and activity toward the goal of ending factory farming, which is damaging to the environment, resource-intensive, and a massive waste emitter. Brown decided to launch a food company that would create a nutritious and sustainable alternative to meat. Brown and the team at Impossible Foods look at “animal products at the molecular level, then select specific proteins and nutrients from greens, seeds and grains to recreate the wonderfully complex experience of meat and dairy products.” The result is a burger that’s so much like its animal-based counterpart that it actually bleeds. Impossible Foods has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in venture funding and Google reportedly tried to buy the company last year.
- Modern Meadow. Steak chips and leather made without the cow might sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, but that’s the goal of Modern Meadow, which is using laboratory science to reinvent traditional animal products. The steak chips are “a thinner version of beef jerky,” according to WIRED’s David Rowan. Modern Meadow hopes to situate its lab-grown leather as superior to animal leather not least because it can be created blemish-free and its color, thickness and texture can be customized.
It’s easy enough to point the finger at food companies and large corporations for many social ills. But the efforts of these four companies reflect a larger development and a greater synergy that links conscious capitalism, the harnessing of technology and innovation, and the inspiration of environmentalism and animal protection values. They exemplify a new, humane economy at work.
Kristie Middleton is the Senior Director of Food Policy for the Humane Society of the United States.