Impossible Burgers, cell-cultured ice cream, & goldfish crackers––& goldfish crackers may scare the animal-based food industry most of all
EMERYVILLE, California––Now you can order vegan Impossible Burgers to be delivered for a midnight meal, as thousands of people have already done.
As of July 11, 2019, you could have real vegan ice cream for desert, cell-cultured from yeast with no use of animal cells, if you were willing to pay twenty bucks a pint for it and were among the first few hundred people to place an order.
You can even eat vegetarian goldfish crackers. The original saltine version was sold in Europe since 1958 and in the U.S. since 1962, before the more popular gold-colored cheddar cheese-flavored version hit supermarket shelves.
You just can’t call your vegetarian goldfish crackers “goldfish crackers,” according to the letter of the law in the states of Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Oklahoma and both South Carolina and North Carolina, as well as the whole of the European Union.
Similar legislation is expected to soon be introduced in many other jurisdictions.
The idea, according to the legislative sponsors, is to ensure that consumers of vegetarian goldfish crackers understand they are not really swallowing goldfish.
“State of the Plate”
Vegans around the U.S. were encouraged in late June 2019 by the “State of the Plate” report released annually by the GrubHub online platform for arranging food deliveries from restaurants. Founded in 1999, GrubHub now serves nearly 20 million customers, ordering from 115,000 restaurants nationwide.
GrubHub reported that vegan food orders increased by 25% from the first six months of 2018 through the first six months of 2019, driven by an 82% surge in orders for Impossible Burgers, the single most ordered food item for late night delivery.
Do you like veg burgers? Yeah! Yeah!
Impossible Burgers jumped 529% in the first half of 2019, GrubHub added, as availability of the vegan burgers expanded from White Castle, initially the only fast food chain to offer them, to many others, including Burger King, “the king of them all, y’all.”
Served by about 7,000 restaurants at the end of 2018, Impossible Burgers picked up orders from another 7,300 restaurants in April 2019 just by gaining Burger King as a client.
Impossible Burgers enjoyed a 326% rise in popularity in the Midwest, the Chicago-based GrubHub noted, becoming the most ordered food in the region overall, after an explosively successful introduction at 59 Burger King franchises in St. Louis.
Cell-cultured ice cream sells out
But the runaway success of the Impossible Burger may soon be eclipsed by that of cell-cultured Perfect Day ice cream. Introduced for ordering online on July 11, 2019, at a whopping $60 for bundled pints of three flavors––Salted Vanilla Fudge, Milky Chocolate, and Vanilla Blackberry Toffee––the first thousand pints sold out within 24 hours.
There is not, as yet, a timetable for scaling up Perfect Day ice cream production, and scaling down the price to the normal range for premium ice creams, to meet mass demand.
However, the first taste tests of Perfect Day cell-cultured ice cream won rave reviews from a selected few journalists who cover food and technology. Most reported tasting no difference between Perfect Day ice cream and ice cream made from whey and casein proteins derived from actual cow’s milk.
This is because Perfect Day ice cream is made from whey and casein proteins that are chemically the same as those derived from actual cow’s milk, except that they are brewed from yeast in a process comparable to making beer, or the artificial rennet that long since displaced rennet from calves’ stomachs in cheese-making.
More products coming
“Perfect Day founders, biochemists, and vegans Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi use flora fermentation to make milk without the cow,” explained LiveKindly senior editor Kat Smith. “It started with obtaining a strain of yeast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as reported by Forbes. They then 3D-printed a cow’s DNA sequence and inserted it into a specific location of the yeast.”
This caused the yeast to “ferment sugar, creating whey and casein that are molecularly identical to the real thing,” Smith wrote.
“In addition to ice cream, Perfect Day also plans to take on dairy-free milk, yogurt, and cheese,” Smith added. “Some future products may use Perfect Day [vegan proteins], but not the brand’s label, thanks to a partnership with global ingredients giant Archer Daniels Midland.”
Archer Daniels Midland backing
All of this, and the likelihood that cell-cultured vegan meats chemically identical to meat from slaughtered animals will also soon be on the market, scares the greenhouse gasses and solid effluent out of animal agribusiness.
Once a product manufacturing process is perfected, as Perfect Day appears to have accomplished with ice cream brewed from yeast, there is no more mystery about how to scale it up than there is about brewing enough beer to supply supermarkets as well as the premium taps at a local beer pub. The major problem to be solved is simply raising enough investment capital to do it.
And Perfect Day, with a reported $60 million in Archer Daniels Midland backing, appears to have already leaped that hurdle.
Advertising vs. labeling laws
Archer Daniels Midland advertising clout can probably also overcome whatever obstacles legislation presents to selling ice cream brewed from yeast. The ice cream sections of supermarkets have already been crowded for years with ever-expanding selections of “non-dairy frozen desserts,” which are still “ice cream” to most consumers, regardless of the labels on the packaging.
Nonetheless, the Good Food Institute, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, and Tofurky, a leading maker of plant-based alternatives to meat products, are pressing ahead with a lawsuit seeking to overturn Missouri SB 627.
Missouri SB 627, adopted in early 2018, was the first of the many U.S. state laws that seek to prevent plant-based, cell-cultured, and yeast-brewed food product labels from including terminology traditionally associated most often with meat products.
Tofurky & Cheesy Mac
“Under the law, Tofurky and other plant-based producers must either upend their entire marketing and packaging practices or risk criminal prosecution and jail time,” explained Animal Legal Defense Fund publicist Natalie Lima when the lawsuit against Missouri SB 627 was first filed in August 2018.
“The lawsuit argues,” explained Lima, “that the law violates Tofurky’s and other plant-based meat producers’ First Amendment right to free speech.”
The Plant Based Food Association and member company Upton’s Naturals, maker of vegan products sold as “Cheesy Mac” and “Cheesy Bacon Mac,” recently filed a similar lawsuit against enforcement of Mississippi SB 2922.
Explained Good Food Institute policy director Jessica Almy to Elaine Watson of Food Navigator, “There is no evidence that consumers are confused by plant-based turkey slices or veggie burger labels. Further, misbranding is already prohibited by federal law. The [legislative] intent here is to go further: to censor plant-based food labels whose meaning is clear to consumers.”
This is where vegetarian goldfish crackers may run afoul of the new legislation––and, perhaps, of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, if several members of Congress from states with major fishing and fish-farming industries have their way.
Reported Avery Yale Kamila, vegan kitchen columnist for the Portland Press Herald in Portland, Maine, “Congressman Jared Golden, a Democrat who represents Maine’s second district, recently joined colleagues in the House of Representatives in signing a letter to the Food and Drug Administration asking that it ban vegan foods from using seafood terms on their packaging. The letter, dated April 22, 2019, calls on the Food & Drug Administration ‘to enforce its labeling requirements to protect public health and avoid consumer deception’ by “products that are labeled ‘fishless fish.’”
The real threat
The Food & Drug Administration has yet to respond.
Pepperidge Farm, the Campbell Soup Company subsidiary that makes goldfish crackers, is also as yet unconcerned.
But as Elizabeth Sulis Kim of The Independent summarized in September 2018, “Today, around 90% of the world’s fish stocks are exploited. About 41% of assessed fish stocks are subject to overfishing in the northeast Atlantic. It’s estimated that we kill between 1 to 2.8 trillion fish each year, more than all the humans that have ever existed.”
All of which signifies that the fishing industry is ecologically and economically unsustainable, regardless of competition from either plant-based, cell-cultured, and yeast-brewed products, or the longtime popularity of goldfish crackers, even in vegan variants.