Are meat alternatives the right direction?

I want to take a step back, and question the very posing of the problem by the Prize organizers. Half to most of the question is answered, without any deliberation or thought, by simply unilaterally declaring the problem to be one of devising plant based manufactured alternatives to meat, white or otherwise.

I cannot see how devising white meat alternatives is the first, or third or eighth, priority. What is the thinking behind it?

We have [a) known solution](, that has been shown to simultaneously lower drastically resource use by food while enhancing quite dramatically the intake of known protective nutrients while reducing markedly intake of nutrients with adverse effects. That solution is: eat plants. my colleagues and I have shown that in the above linked paper and too many earlier ones to recount here, as have others.

To that, most objections focus on palatability. Something like “raise your hands if you want to eat buckwheat”, or the like. This appears like a nice rhetorical move, until you stop and think about it.

People flock to Middle Eastern restaurants, and most of what you get there is, well, plants. People likewise love Indian, and much of it is based on lentils. People love Vietnamese food, and much of it is soba, basil, cilantro, and lime. People love Chinese, and real Chinese is by and large plants.

So the axiom that people are unable to eat plants and therefore require a manufactured alternative is a false one. Sadly, it sits at the very foundation of the Prize: people can’t and never will eat plants, and therefore tech must devise meat-like stuff. Has this been demonstrated rigorously? No. Has it been deliberated? No. Has it been contrasted with viable alternatives? No. The whole thing is a logical house of cards that withstand no scrutiny.

To the organizers, I say: rethink from the ground up this competition, you stand to waste your resources in devising answers to the wrong question, that will waste ours. Worse, these answers will most likely squander whatever little bit of voluntary good will people may have toward reducing the environmental impacts of their diet.

Down the road, there may be some role meat alternatives will play. This may well be one arrow in our ultimate quiver. But we are so not there, that the rush to devise a competition under this banner is not only unhelpful, it may undermine existing efforts.

We need to first answer the broader question: What is it that make people eat as much meat as they do? Given that they obviously do love plant, as the above ethnic cuisine examples demonstrate, why is there so much resistance to the obvious idea that we can either perpetuate our current diet and keep our resource use needlessly high, or we can reduce our environmental impacts by shifting our diet, but we cannot have both.

The solution will come from a collaboration between nutritionists and optimization guys like myself, guided—most importantly—by research psychologists explaining to us how people make dietary decisions, what prompts may impact those decisions, and—very importantly—what doesn’t stand a chance.

Thank you for starting this discussion, @geshel! I moved it into General.

@Caroline, @cnatan and/or @Kathleen_Hamrick can speak to the rationale behind this Prize Design.

OK, thank you, I am listening!

Hi @geshel, thank you for posing your question and for your thoughts! We think that when addressing global food supply challenges, solutions may come from not one, but multiple areas.

When we are designing a prize, though, we need to make a determination as to where XPRIZE can best add its unique value. Not every problem lends itself to an incentivized prize competition, but there are also more problems than XPRIZE can solve.

Given the projected global increase in meat consumption and its negative impact on deforestation, biodiversity loss, and climate change, we believe XPRIZE can do the most good by incentivizing innovation in areas that are directly tied to the problem.

We hope this will be the first XPRIZE in the food domain. We are also currently in the process of finalizing the Future of Food Impact Roadmap, which will serve as a springboard for more prize competitions.

We would be interested to hear your thoughts in two related areas:

  • Given that a large percentage of the world incorporates meat into diets, what will it take to get more consumers to eat more plants at scale?
  • What are the unintended consequences of eating plants at scale?

@Kathleen_Hamrick to your questions, true cost accounting is how we will do it; integrated informatics. For the survival of humanity, we have to make sure the projections are wrong. As Peter Diamandis points out often, technology has solved the scarcity issues throughout the history of time.
Diabetes, heart disease and cancer are largely food related. Animal proteins are a major factor. More people are dying from obesity related illness than starvation now. Consumption of meat has been seen as a sign of affluence, and we have trained ourselves. Same for sweet and salty in the Western world.
I think just about all of the unintended consequences of eating plants at scale will be positive, except for the economics of the animal agriculture groups. It will drive a massive shift. Animal agriculture is inefficient. Companies like Modern Meadows producing synthetic leather from collagen will put the nail in the beef coffin. Andras Forgacs is a genius… and I think SU alumni. (

I agree with @geshel and think that this thread requires more attention.

@Kathleen_Hamrick, I understand that XPRIZE needs to focus on one problem. Unsustainable animal consumption definitely is an important one.
Every problem, however, has many levels of causality. I believe the level in which you anchored the prize (“create meat alternatives that feel like meat”) to be too shallow and already receiving significant funding and attention (i.e., Beyond Meat).

If you go down a level of causality, you find, as geshel stated, that nature itself already has all that we need to live healthy lives, and that the massive presence of meat into contemporary diets is mostly the product of marketing and taste manipulation. Most people are stuck in the vicious circle of heavily processed foods, which disturbs dietary balance, and creates cravings for fat foods such as meat. The overconsumption of meat then becomes more of a psychological issue, than a nutritional need.

To create fake meat is basically to try to mute the symptoms of the problem, instead of attacking its root: people do not know how to eat, are disconnected from their physical body because of psychological (marketing) and biological (additives) manipulation.

I ask you to consider changing the goal of this prize towards an educational goal, which to answer your question I believe is what it will take to “get more consumers to eat more plants at scale.” Ecological awareness is rising, more people are ready to change every day. They want to learn a responsible way of eating, but too many do not know where to start. They feel overwhelmed. Imo, that’s the deeper problem.

Full disclosure: I am starting a lifestyle CO2 footprint tracker app, with a barcode scanner and object recognition AI, that allows customers to easily know the footprint of any product at the grocery store. It’s like Fitbit for people to quantify their relationship with our planet, and take action from there. We’re going to offer in app carbon offsetting options, as well as a credit card that plants trees for every purchase. We want people to have as much ecological awareness as they have financial awareness. Everybody should know their impact on the environment as well as the money in their bank.

I agree with @geshel and @louison, I believe that the most effective way to affect change in meat consumption habits will be through nutrition education. Since the pervasiveness of meat in the Western diet is the result of marketing, a campaign to decrease meat consumption would be similar to those that sought to reduce other habits such as tobacco use.

The CDC found that, among other interventions, there was strong evidence that mass health communication campaigns were associated with lower prevalence of tobacco use (Tobacco Control Interventions | Health Impact in 5 Years | Health System Transformation | AD for Policy | CDC).

Innovations that achieve global outreach and participation in reduced meat consumption should be the goal.

@geshel has raised a very interesting point. And I agree with @louison education is required and is key.

As a plantbased chef, I am consistently surprised by the attitude of meat-eaters towards giving up their meats. My understanding is that the idea behind meat replacement products are to appease the meat eater who does not want to give up the meat flavour and textures but is willing to try a meat alternative to improve their health and possibly assist their carbon footprint. Many of the meat eaters who have tried and replaced their meat with these alternatives would not replace their meats with the classic veggie burger or vegetable substitution.

I too believe that the solution is to eat more vegetables, unfortunately, there are not enough vegetables being grown, on the planet today, for human consumption, not enough to meet the populations recommended 5 servings.