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Reinventing How To Feed The World

By March 22, 2015January 18th, 20243 Comments

“The single most important thing you can do as a consumer is change out those 3 or 4 ounces of meat in the center of your plate.”

Ethan Brown, CEO of Beyond Meat

Right now this spinning land mass we call Earth is host to over 7 billion hungry human mouths to feed. Our current set up for handling this relentless, growing need isn’t just problematic, it’s broken, outdated technology that is making us sick and decimating the planet at an unfathomable rate.

If we want to preserve a vibrant planet for future generations, it is imperative we find better, more innovative, more economic, more compassionate, more sustainable ways to sate the population.

This is a long way of saying it’s high time for a paradigm shift.

If you listened to my podcast with Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn – the guys behind the highly compelling documentary Cowspiracy  (I implore you to check out both the podcast and the film if you haven’t already), then you already know that industrialized animal agriculture is our #1 environmental threat — far more deleterious to planetary health than transportation or fracking and the current leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction.

Adopting a plant-based diet is the single most powerful thing we can do as consumers to take a stand against this insanity. But to truly solve this problem we need to first acknowledge that we have a serious protein fixation. Facilitating a mass cultural shift away from our strong preference towards an animal-centric diet requires more than a simple plea to go vegan. To truly break the paradigm we need phenomenal food alternatives with mainstream appeal. Products that aren’t just more sustainable and consciously harvested, but inventive products that rival, if not altogether outdo our appetite for beef, chicken, fish and eggs in not just nutritional content, but in flavor, taste and texture as well.

The good news is that there are super intelligent, highly motivated people hard at work on just this — innovating brand new ways to improve human health, positively impact climate change, address global resource constraints and improve animal welfare with products, which for lack of a better phrase, simply taste good.

Ethan Brown is one such innovator.

Conceived in 2009 as a potential solution to problems he saw with the meat industry, Ethan founded Beyond Meat with a singular goal — to produce plant-based food products that would essentially replicate meat in an effort to render some of the downsides of the meat industry obsolete.

In the same way last week’s podcast guest Joshua Katcher  implicitly understands that ethically manufactured garments must outmatch their less sustainable comparisons in fashion flair, Ethan understands that to win mainstream hearts and minds, his food products need more than satisfy the palates of enthusiastic carnivores.

Backed by heavy hitters like Bill Gates and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, it’s not a stretch to say Ethan is well on his way to achieving this goal. Food impresario Alton Brown called Beyond Meat’s Chicken Strips  “more like meat than anything I’ve ever seen that wasn’t meat.” Legendary New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman allegedly couldn’t tell the difference between Ethan’s product and the real thing. And Beyond Meat’s newest Beast Burger offering tastes remarkably good while also boasting more protein and iron than beef, more omegas than salmon and plenty of calcium, antioxidants and vitamin B.

A disclaimer — I’m a whole food plant-based guy. I’ve never been a big fan of so-called “fake meat” products, most of which are rife with gluten and less than healthy preservatives. However, I recognize the crucial importance of forward thinking, tech style innovation in this space, particularly when it comes to the Herculean task of recruiting dubious tofu-phobic naysayers to the appeal of plant-based alternatives.

I won’t say the products are perfect. Ethan’s the first to acknowledge they’re not. It’s an ongoing development process. But they do taste pretty darn good.

There is great power in the attempt to disrupt our highly flawed food system from the inside out. I have great respect for what Ethan is trying to accomplish. So I was pumped to visit his facility in El Segundo to learn more about his mission.

This is a great discussion — a conversation that not only tackles the ills of our current food system and how we can forge a better way but also a fascinating look into the entrepreneurship required to steward a compelling idea into a reality that just might change the world.

I sincerely hope you enjoy the offering.

Peace + Plants,


P.S. – If you are intrigued by Ethan and the Beyond Meat mission, this Outside Magazine piece  is a great read.

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Production, music & sound design by Tyler Piatt. Additional production by Chris Swan. Graphic art by Shawn Patterson. Thanks boys!


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  • Tommy F says:

    It’s becoming increasingly obvious in public discourse, that antiquated thinking concerning animal products being the only way to receive protein into our bodies, is like thinking Santa Clause is the only way to receive Christmas presents into our living room. Pure mythological nonsense.
    Beyond Meat is such a great product. Like you Rich.. I try to avoid the over-processed “fake” stuff out there. But this product is a superior plant-based option. I always add it in my burrito at the Whole Foods deli. Damn good! And it’s so realistic to meat, that the first time I ordered it, I took a bite and thought they accidentally put chicken in by mistake. I almost threw it away, until I regrouped and dissected it a bit.. It shredded, just like chicken! There is no sacrifice for the most discerning carnivorous eater in this product.
    I feel like we’re entering a new earth, slowly, but steadily. The fast-food behemoths haven’t caught on just yet, but the more mindful establishments now offer at least one vegan plant-based option for us growing 1%ers. Like you mentioned, Sofritas at Chipotle, Daiya Vegan Cheese and Soy Italian Sausage on Gluten Free crust at PizzaRev, an entire Gardein menu at Yard House (skip the booze), Tofu in everything, GMO-free and Organic at Sharky’s. We’re entering a more mindful stage of humanity, and you my friend are doing some heavy lifting! Keep up the noble work.. you’re only gaining steam.

  • NateM says:

    Fantastic podcast. I’m thrilled to have followed Ethan and Beyond Meat’s journey over the years. From a small news story with dreams of expanding operations and some retail sales to the shelves of Target and Safeway….amazing.

  • Sylvo says:

    I genuinely look forward to each episode, and I still smile when I listen to the first episode – the quality shift is incredible, but starting it is what matters. Being in the UK, hearing what Ethan Brown is doing is perhaps light years away from where we are, but I’m sure we will get there too. I’m no plant based athlete, but I’m here to listen, learn and put into practice any tips or ideas I get from this podcast. Keep up the fine work Rich, it’s very much appreciated.

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