Talk to Al Jazeera – Beyond meat: The end of food as we know it?


With the latest breakthroughs in artificial intelligence a whole new concept of food may soon radically change what we eat. And at the same time, some experts believe, it could reduce global warming.
No longer based on animal ingredients, this is a food entirely based on plants – although it looks and tastes like the classic food based on ingredients derived from animals.

This is not a new idea, it has been around for about 10 years.

But the breakthrough has been delayed, perhaps one of the reasons is that many consumers still prefer locally produced food, they want to trust the supply chain, and not simply depend on big manufacturers.

However, a group of young scientists in Chile are working on alternatives for a sustainable and meatless future.

Commercial engineer Matias Muchnick and Harvard research associate Karim Pichara are two of the founders of the Not Company.Together with biochemist Isidora Silva they are developing new plant-based food and are determined to bring it to people in their local market.

Part of what motivates them is what they consider to be the biggest drawback of classic animal farming: It requires massive amounts of land and it affects global warming.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock contributes both directly and indirectly to climate change through the emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Livestock is also a major driver of deforestation, desertification, as well as the release of carbon from cultivated soils. Overall the livestock sector is contributing 2.7 billion tonnes of CO2 emission according to the UN.

“When you get behind the scenes of the food industry, you don’t like what you see. There is a lot of things that we should be knowing… but we are blindsided by a whole industry that is making it really hard for us to see what we are really eating,” says Matias Muchnick.

The main scientist of the Not Company team is a computer, an artificial intelligence algorithm programmed to become the smartest food scientist in the world.

It uses deep learning parameters to understand food at a molecular level, helping the team to deliver tasty and affordable nutrition while using less water, less land, less energy, and without the need to cultivate harmful bio systems like animals.

It’s a complicated process but it’s designed to understand human perception of taste and texture which allows it to suggest clever recipes for sustainable and tasty plant-based foods. And it even understands the availability and use of resources for every single plant in the company’s database.

“We want people to eat better, but without even knowing, that’s the main objective of the Not Company,” Muchnick says.

But does the new model of food production really work? Will it be popular among consumers? What does it mean for the future of food? Are we at the tipping point of a food revolution?

The team behind the Not Company talks to Al Jazeera to discuss their work, their goals and their vision for the future of the food industry.

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  1. I watched a documentary recently about a guy in Africa who is an expert on desertification and land management. Decades ago he advocated that elephants should be culled as they were devastating the plant life and increasing the pace of desertification of grasslands, but now he has completely rethought his approach, and has proven that grasslands need large animals to provide fertile soil with their dung. When the elephants were culled the soil only got worse. He has experimented on a number of wasteland sites over the last decade that were on the verge of becoming desert and has revived them by allowing grazing livestock to graze for short periods of time and move on. It seems that the key to PREVENTING desertification is to have large herds of grazing animals working their way across the land and revififying the soil with their excrement, which is the opposite of what many of us think. I wonder how this can fit into the leftist paradigm of vegetarianism as the future. I don't eat animals and hate the thought of it, but I wonder if some raising of livestock is the only way to prevent the soil from drying out.

  2. Really sceptic about how much people will benefit form this … Ya global warming will be less and all but thousand of people will lose their jobs and the corporates can automate their production so no new jobs also … they will definitely make these products expensive and also copyright the formulas making it hard for other to make the product.

  3. Tell this to my Vietnamese people how we're gonna revolutionize pho broth from beyond meat products. Pho broth is mostly classic beef bones and pork bones. And so, if they could make broth for the resturant industry, that will make further steps to change how we go out and eat as well as eatting at home.

  4. – uhm…patterns ehm… happening in …uhm in this molecular components… that ah create the percept – the speicial perception of flavor and texture on every different product so is, is learning how, how to build.. traditional food..yeah…only getting together different kind of plants
    – So you're saying a computer decides how to make all this?
    – Yeah! Yeah…yeah…yes…surprisingly the computer is being a finding very impressive formulas…

    Sorry, people. This is a scam…

  5. This is such great news, im already vegan.. been vegan just a few short months and have never felt better, best decision I have ever made. Gary Yourofsky did a speech titles The Most Important Speech You Will Ever Hear. I recommend to check it out 🙂

  6. This is stunning, great work and I hope it can be accelerated, focusing on supporting local, small farmers, sustainable agriculture and ethical standards. Go global, this is a great climate change solution!

  7. This technology will be good for Nasa space voyage and also if this company become bigger it can feeds many countries like India and China and part of Africa and Asia suffering from foods shortage. However, I will not propose that it replace the foods production system of today, but it has a promising future and I like it… So long that it does not become like big companies GMO who play with DNA of foods that God knows where it will end. This system has a achilles heel because with climate change the plants of earth are dying faster than the animals that feed us…Anyway i will invest my money in this company because it propose an alternative system of foods system than this unsustainable foods system with the rate of population grew in this planet.

  8. Eating sentient beings is absolutely evil. We don't need it anymore. It's detrimental to our health and for the planet. It makes monsters of us all. veganism is the future, veganism is our only hope.

  9. So the focus from what I glean is to replace 90%-100% of our present animal based products. okay let us take the NOTmilk how much plant material would it take to match the present production of milk…alone ? What would the farming demands be? What nutrients and minerals would be required? Would we have to produce those synthetically? etc. I think its a great initiative and will definitely have a space in the market, but 50% just from me spit balling is more realistic in my mind. But even that is a step in the right direction I suppose.

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