Impossible foods just hired a new Chief Science Officer of all normally that would just be corporate inside baseball.
It gave us a chance to catch up with them to learn about some of the challenges or opportunities to get scientists into the food business a place they don't necessarily think of first for their careers, and also to find out how the plant based industry is seeing the next decade as it moves toward nothing less than saving the earth.
Let's start with impossible CEO, Pat Brown.
Before we meet the new chief science officer, Dr. John York, why I put so much science against changing food?
We are basically working on the most urgent and important science and engineering project.
I would argue in human history, because we are working to solve the two greatest threats that humans have ever faced, okay?
To our biosphere, climate change and a catastrophic clock collapse of global biodiversity And there is a solution to both of them and that is to replace the use of animals the food technology.
The use of animals of food technology is by far the most destructive technology in human history.
And we are working to develop an entirely new technology platform for producing the world's supply of meat, fish and dairy foods.
Because the demand for those foods isn't going to go away, but we can't keep producing them the way we are today.
And our r&d team has taken on the task of developing the technology platform and the way to produce products that do a better job of delivering everything consumers value from meat, fish and dairy foods.
It's a huge scientific challenge and an engineering challenge.
We need the best scientists and engineers in the world.
But why is it worth doing?
You could be as I was in academia, doing research, following your curiosity, making important discoveries and so forth But it doesn't matter if we destroy the biosphere and the only planet in the universe that we know that supports life.
So if you really want to do science that matters, as well as interesting science, because, we have to figure out a problem that no one's ever figured out before.
There's no better place to do it.>> I think we're all pretty well versed these days and the importance of managing the climate, You mentioned bio diversity.
Let me ask the stupid question and say why is that so important?
Suppose I told you that two thirds of the cells in your body okay?
have been replaced by cancer cells.
Well, that's what's happened.
Again, cows like I say how way every raining wild animal on earth by more than a factor of 10.
They're like a cancer in the biosphere that has.
Essentially replaced the diverse creatures that previously on earth the the animal agriculture is almost entirely responsible for the collapse of global biodiversity.
Just read the World Wildlife fund's annual report.
You get an interesting chart that you previewed for me earlier.
Let's bring that up and walk us through.
This is sort of your simplest graphical argument for those of us who aren't scientists On the importance of bringing forward a plant based Food Revolution, I think this is important for people to see who are Let's face it, the majority are still not buying it.
Okay, so this is a chart looking at atmospheric greenhouse gas levels historically, since 1750, which is sort of the pre industrial benchmark and you can see that today Relative to pre industrial they're 50%, roughly 50% higher.
This dashed line represents the current best projection for the trajectory of atmospheric greenhouse gases with all the frankly feeble attempts that the world is making to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Suppose that today, we could snap our fingers and make animal agriculture go away.
And I'll show you what happens to the trajectory and why.
So first of all, livestock greenhouse gas emissions, a substantial fraction of them are methane and methane is unusual as a greenhouse gas.
Because unlike carbon dioxide and and most of the other greenhouse gases, it decays spontaneously.
It's not permanent, and it decays with the half life of nine years.
That's just changing the trajectory.
Basically, you've turned out the clock by about eight years by getting rid of that industry, but there's an even bigger effect.
And that comes from the fact that 45% verse land area is currently currently being exploited by animal agriculture.
The amount of biomass on the land, exploiting family or culture is Is vastly reduced from what it had been and what it could be.
And that reduction is equivalent to about 16 meters worth of total current greenhouse gas emissions, there have been a number of scientific papers on this.
And the point is, the combined effect of those two things changes the trajectory, so that actually net greenhouse gases are negative.
And over the 20 years after you stop animal agriculture magically stop animal agriculture, you actually turn back the clock on climate change.
In 2040 atmospheric greenhouse gas levels we'll get back to what they were in 2015 a lot of the products that you use in your products, Use a lot of, agricultural land.
How does that factor into this?
Are they good guys or bad guys?
And all that got composed 45% where it's land area, the global soybean crop occupies 0.8%.
Various land area, but it contains 60% more total human usable protein than all the meat produced globally, okay, so you can actually reduce the amount of plant crops completely eliminate all the grazing land.
There's more protein, more calories, more essential nutrients.
In the plant crops on earth that are required for to meet nutritional needs of 10 billion people.
You mentioned that your chief science officer, dr.
John York is coming on board, largely as part of a recruitment effort, not just actually doing an overseeing science.
What is unique or perhaps harder about attracting technical and scientific people to food when they have an explosion of interesting industries to go into these days?
It's very interesting because when I got into this I never thought about food as a scientist, a data scientist my entire adult life.
Food to me was boring, okay?
It was like it's the most on innovative industry on earth.
That's really true and historically has been.
But what that means is that the opportunity is huge, but most people know scientists think food it's just it is what it is, okay?
There's it's not it's not an area for meaningful innovation.
And I think that's the obstacle we face.
And the way we break through that is basically saying, look, this is not about food.
Food is just a tool we use to save the planet.
This is something that involves work at every level from, from the molecular details, at every level of scale to the architecture on the micron scale, the millimeter scale, all the way up to the global scale.
And, innovative engineering as well as discovery research.
Was your epiphany about the environment that has brought you to where you are today?
Well, I'm kind of embarrassed to say that, when I started on this I, I was at Stanford, I was on sabbatical, I decided I wanted to just figure out what's the most important problem in the world that contribute to solving And I figured out it had something to do with addressing the, you know, the big, urgent environmental issues we're facing.
But when I started educating myself on it, I was surprised to find that by far the most destructive technology on earth is not fossil fuels, which people commonly assume.
But it's the use of animals to meat, fish and dairy foods and
You know, just from a greenhouse gas perspective alone, this industry is responsible for more than four times the total greenhouse gas emissions from all the fuel produced by Exxon, shell.
Chevron and BP combined.
So when I started looking at all this stuff, it was, as you say, absolutely an epiphany and also realizing, as I should have known how dire situation we're in with respect to biodiversity, again, almost partly due to the use of animals in the food system When I had that realization, I felt like, okay, well, I had the best job in the world at Sanford.
I totally love my job.
I get to just follow my curiosity every day.
I gotta jump out of that job right away and start working on this problem.
And I won, and I know that other scientists like me.
If they really understood what was at stake would feel the same way.>> Now let's turn to impossibles new Chief Science Officer dr.
john York at Vanderbilt, at least for the time being as he transitions to working in the food business.
JOHN, why did you make this jump?
What's interesting about food to a scientist like you at this point in history?>> Firstly, I am a discovery scientist and curiosity driven researcher.
Who has been leading a department and recruiting people.
So that part is going to be a very important component of my position at the [UNKNOWN].
The other aspect of that My life that I've had since childhood is I've been a foodie and love the idea of the science of food.
And then thirdly the mission of possible is just an incredible place, to bring together biochemistry and use these methods and science to help with climate change, and so for me it's the perfect trio.
I know a lot of what your role is gonna involve is not just Overseeing the science but getting more scientists interested in bringing their skills to the food sector.
Let's face it, they got a lot of places to go if you're a technical or science trained person right now you've got everything from AI to sensors to electrification to robotics to AR and VR.
What a what a golden era.
It sounds like food might be an interesting and maybe a tough sell for some of them in this crowded marketplace of options.
What do you say to a scientist to convince them come over here
Well, first of all, the problem of [UNKNOWN] and, its contributions to, climate change is as big a problem as we face as And and I think that that's certainly one area that in addition to using a platform of science as discovery, to help that, I think those are the things that are gonna attract people and attracted someone like me.
You don't have to necessarily be a foodie.
You you want to use science and research as a way to help the planet that is an important mission that we will have.
You have so you have a long background in biochemistry that's the department you chair at Vanderbilt.
What particular, Techniques, maybe new ones maybe established ones in the biochemistry field do you think are going to be the most important to working on food that is plant based.
Specialist in science as an entry?
Science is broad and I'm a biochemist and a molecular biologist.
I've been interested in that my entire career.
Even when I was at Merck working on vampire bats as one of my first jobs, we, we use, science, molecular and biochemical approaches to Take the saliva of a vampire bat and find very important natural products that now have turned into our understand bettering our understanding of blood coagulation and anticoagulants.
So, for me, I've had a long standing interest in solving unknown problems.
My dad taught me early on that.
You know, solving problems was first identifying the problem and coming up with ways to solve it.
So I use that in my scientific career my whole life.
I'm going to guess that this shift you're taking on now into the food industry is interesting because so often scientists work on things that are hard to explain to friends and family and others and that those people often will not touch They'll not actually be able to experience them at retail, if you will.
This is a kind of an unusual area of science where it's something we eat, which is so primal.
> And I find it absolutely fascinating.
Like why do I like certain things and other tastes and the whole mysteries that are part of food.
I mean, there are so many Folks in the last few decades and maybe even centuries that have been interested in trying to dissect what it is about certain foods that are appealing not only from the standpoint of nutrition, but satisfaction.
And so if you consider the modernist movement in food, I mean, I remember getting In high school I got Mastering the Art of French cooking.
Julia Child Simone Beck and we Berto book and I wanted to understand how to do these things as a process it was very intriguing to me and as I got into this I mean when the article of how the GI came out in nature for all Crazy things that egg whites be better than a copper bowl because the copper has an influence on the protein that is chemistry that is that is a fascinating area.
And now fast forward to the modernist movement and not only understanding it by just putting pieces together if you look at the best chefs in the world They can distill things semi nosrat salt, acid and fat and heat.
I mean, it's really the building blocks that we're putting together and trying to understand and for every individual in my experience, that's a very wide spectrum in a scope that is almost infinite.
As a guy who clearly loves food and cooking.
You know that a lot of what makes us love different foods and their preparations is illogical.
We just like it.
It just tastes good.
It's it seems like a very different goal than a lot of other aspects of science that say these are the measurable, optimal criteria.
Let's engineer toward them.
Food is kind of weird in that respect.
It doesn't always follow the playbook of what is the best demonstrable, measurable outcome, right?
I agree with everything you said.
I mean, I can tell you my food fantasies have been as extreme as anyone's, in terms of trying to understand and reduce it.
As a scientist, where reduction is we take one variable away, we put something else in there.
Food is a multi variable calculation.
But I think if you consider the fact that we have a food source right now that is not sustainable, we are going to have to start making changes to what we accept and what we desire.
And that's not to say that I I think we won't I love trying new things and different combinations.
But it is a way for us to get behind a very important movement which is to create a sustainable food source that doesn't affect our planet and the current way food food has been for the past century.