Thinking Beyond the Farm: The Future of Food

Thinking Beyond the Farm: The Future of Food

Last week, Unilever went after a small San Francisco-based company called Hampton Creek for allegedly deceiving consumers with its eggless mayo and claims that it’s surreptitiously stealing away market share from the global food behemoth.

November 19, 2014
Last week, Unilever went after a small San Francisco-based company called Hampton Creek for allegedly deceiving consumers with its eggless mayo and claims that it’s surreptitiously stealing away market share from the global food behemoth.

Unilever might have to eat its own mayo-laden words, though—it was caught labeling some of its own products as containing “mayo” even though they technically don’t and then changing the content of their website in an about face. And Hampton Creek is expected to counter sue.


It’s clearly a case of the egg calling the mayo fat.

Is Hampton Creek’s product, Just Mayo, a bait and switch? Its label features a silhouette of an egg with a plant reaching for the sky where a round yolk would normally be expected. And it clearly states, “egg free.”

But the unfolding food fight still begs the question: what is “real” food?

Can a real hamburger start in a petri-dish? Is it possible to make meringue without eggs?

And will any of it taste good?

Several companies, including Hampton Creek, say the answer is a resounding yes.

“The fact that a plant can scramble and coagulate like an egg blows my mind,” Chris Jones, Hampton Creek’s director of culinary innovation, told Chefs Feed. “It tastes dead on and it works.”

Made from pea protein, its egg-replacement comes in a liquid form and is currently only available to the public via its two market ready products: Just Mayo and Just Cookies.

“I feel like there are so many more discoveries waiting to be found,” Jones said. “We’re gonna make the food system better.”

Since news broke of Unilever’s lawsuit, taste tests have been popping up across the web. Rowen Jacobsen reviewed it for Mother Jones: “It tastes like it was made from real ingredients in a way that Hellmann's salty white gloop doesn't.” Staff at the Wall Street Journal preferred Kraft. And during a blind taste test at Chefs Feed headquarters earlier this week, Just Mayo beat out three other varieties, including Best Foods and even a homemade batch.


Ultimately, the success of any food product relies on the whims of taste buds. But Hampton Creek’s team of chefs and food scientists aren’t just trying to make good food, they’re addressing issues of sustainability.

“Our food system is broken, and as a chef I realized that I could affect a lot more people here (at Hampton Creek) than at just my one restaurant,” Jones said. “(We’re) looking for sustainable alternatives with plants and making food better.”

While Hampton Creek is focused on plant-based alternatives, Brooklyn-based Modern Meadow is developing technology to culture animal protein in a lab.

Instead of raising and slaughtering large numbers of cattle, the idea is to collect cells from small, well-managed herds and then culture those cells in a lab to create products that chefs can use.

“The idea of culturing food isn’t new. There’s been a long, long history of using bacteria, yeast and other cells to culture food,” Modern Meadow founder and Chief Executive Andras Forgacs told Chefs Feed. “It’s basically a different type of brewery.”

Participants at the reThinkFood conference in Napa got to sample Modern Meadow’s jerky-style “beef chips” earlier this month, but the company’s focus isn’t on finished products or even “perfect biomimicry.”


“We want to create high end products that chefs can work with,” Forgacs said. “We’re not necessarily creating a finished and packaged product. And we’re working with chefs who understand where the product can go.”

The potential of this technology isn’t limited to beef. It could also be applied to other protein such as chicken and fish, he said.

Modern Meadow’s products are still in the early stages of research and development—they’re also working on a cultured leather alternative—but it’s only a matter of time before we encounter cultured beef and leather in our daily lives.

When that day comes, will Big Beef respond in a similar fashion as Big Mayo? We’ll have to wait and see.

At least we can rest assured that Soylent will always remain science fiction. Oh wait, that actually happened.

By Sara Bloomberg