Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods: Can A Burger Help Save The Planet? – The Rich Roll Podcast

Check out The Rich Roll Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Impossible Foods hopes to completely replace animals in the food system by 2035
  • “The use of animals as a food technology is, by a huge margin, the most destructive technology on Earth and really posses a catastrophic threat” – Pat Brown 
    • Cultivating animals for food is the world’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (more than all forms of transportation combined)
  • Pat believes that once Impossible Foods achieves scale, their plant-based meat will taste even better than animal meat AND be much more affordable
  • It’s largely a myth that animal protein > plant protein


The State of Affairs & the Mission of Impossible Foods

  • The mission of Impossible Foods is to completely replace animals in the food system by 2035. Why?
    • “The use of animals as a food technology is, by a huge margin, the most destructive technology on Earth and really posses a catastrophic threat” – Pat Brown 
      • “It’s a major source of greenhouse gases, more than all forms of transportation combined… It’s the biggest user of freshwater in the world, and the biggest polluter by far… It occupies a huge land area.”
        • About 50% of all land is used for growing feed crops or for grazing livestock (this comes at the expense of all the biodiversity that previously inhabited that land)
  • The demand for meat and fish is growing faster than their population–this isn’t sustainable and is setting us up for failure
  • It’s REALLY difficult to get people to change their diet to consume more plants
    • China tried to tell its citizens to eat less meat – nothing changed
    • Pat is hoping that it will be easier to get people to try plant-based meat instead of switching their diet completely

Why Impossible Foods?

  • As a professor at Stanford, Pat tried to get a group of researchers together to show politicians the serious threat of the declining animal population. He soon realized it was a complete waste of time.
    • Policies aren’t going to change fast enough, people’s diets are going to change fast enough, etc.
  • To change the world, you need to be better than the current solution in the marketplace.
    • In other words, provide plant-based meat that tastes like meat but has a much greener environmental footprint – that’s where Impossible Foods comes in

The Science Behind Making Meat Delicious

  • “The question, ‘Why does meat taste delicious?’ – in molecular terms – is by far the most important scientific question in the world” – Pat Brown
    • If someone can figure out what makes meat taste so good, and then goes on to make a “greener” version of it, they can save the world from an environmental catastrophe
    • Two things that make meat different from other foods: its flavor and aroma profile (which transform during cooking)
  • Impossible Foods’ scientists discovered that heme is a key factor in how meat behaves. Heme is the molecule that gives blood its red color and helps carry oxygen in living organisms. Heme is abundant in animal muscle tissue and is also found naturally in all living organisms.
    • Heme can also be found in certain plants
  • Impossible Foods makes their plant-based meat using a genetically modified yeast
    • Yeast makes its own heme – Impossible Foods simply amplified the genetic system for producing it (they also gave the yeast a soybean protein to allow it to hold on to more heme)
    • Their plant-based meat also uses:
      • Sunflower oil for unsaturated fats
      • Coconut oil to modulate the melting temperature
      • Potato protein for texture properties
  • Pat believes that once Impossible Foods achieves scale, their plant-based meat will taste just as good as animal meat but be much more affordable

More on Impossible Foods

  • The way to recruit the best scientists in the world is to give them a very important problem that also highly challenging
    • Impossible Foods is currently hiring a lot more scientists – learn more here
  • Why does Pat believe Impossible Foods will become more popular than animal meat?
    • Cows aren’t working on making their meat taste better, but Pat’s company is constantly making improvements
      • Think of it like this: In 1835, a horse could beat a locomotive train in a race. Today, a train can easily go faster than a horse.
    • Impossible meat also has no cholesterol AND has a lower saturated fat content than animal meat
  • Pat and his team hired trained tasters who have the ability to discriminate particular features in food products
    • They’re also trained in a particular vocabulary to better communicate taste to scientists
  • Impossible Foods is currently working on a plant-based fish product!
    • Why fish?
      • The global fish population is down by 50%
      • The demand for fish outweighs the population’s ability to reproduce
  • Impossible Foods go-to-market strategy was similar to Tesla’s:
    • Start by targeting high-end customers. Then, as economies of scale grow and you can make the product more affordable, expand to the middle class.
  • Impossible Foods is currently in about 10,000 restaurants including Burger King, White Castle, and Red Robin
    • They’re also working on a sausage product for the pizza chain, Little Cesear’s

Animal Protein > Plant Protein: True or False?

  • Is animal protein better than protein from plants?
    • “It’s complete bullsh*t” – Pat Brown
      • From a nutritional standpoint, protein depends on amino acids and their proportions – this is what defines the nutritional value of a protein
        • “There are lots of plant-based proteins that, from the standpoint of amino acid proportion, are better than beef. That’s simple and demonstrable.”
      • There are hundreds of millions of people who have never eaten meat in their lives and are still thriving

2035 Goal

  • The mission of Impossible Foods is to completely replace animals in the food system by 2035
  • As a result of doing this:
    • 17 years worth of carbon dioxide will be pulled out of the atmosphere (as there will be more plants on Earth than farm animals)
    • There will be a vast reduction on the demands of our water supply
    • Waterways will have much less pollution
    • There will be less dead zones in river deltas
    • There will be a lowered risk of an influenza epidemic 
      • Most influenza epidemics start at poultry or pig farms (fewer animals equates to a lower chance of something spreading)

Additional Notes

  • Asia, as a continent, accounts for about 46% of all meat consumption
  • “The pigs on Earth today outweigh every remaining wild animal on land by more than a factor of two” – Pat Brown
    • Chickens outweigh every remaining wild bird by more than a factor of two
  • Protein and iron deficiency are the two most common nutritional deficiencies in the world:
    • About a billion people aren’t getting enough protein
    • About two billion people aren’t getting enough iron
  • The current market for foods made from animals is about $1.5 trillion dollars!
    • By 2030, that market is expected to reach $3 trillion
  • “We’re just at the beginning of what I think will be a continuing and accelerating surge toward plant-based products replacing animal-derived products” – Pat Brown
    • People love their meat because it’s delicious, a good source of nutrition, and affordable, but many don’t like the fact that it comes from an animal 
      • Pat firmly believes that “The most delicious meat in the world can come from plants”
  • The make or break component of a company is who they hire
    • “If you hire great people, then they want to hire other great people” – Pat Brown
      • If you want to hire great people, give them a challenge and empower them
  • Plant-based meat has a herbicide footprint that’s 10x lower than that of beef from a cow
    • Cows are fed corn, soybeans, and other feed crops that are treated with herbicides

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Notes By Alex Wiec

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