Food or Fraud?

I thought I would start this series with reviewing specific food products, but as I poked around on the Interwebs, things got really complicated.

While processed foods that are substitutes for other foods have been around for years, there are many that are brand new to the market, and still more that are in the startup phase, awaiting approval and launch.

I found that there are so many new food technologies being developed that are likely to wind up on store shelves in the next year or two that you really need to become aware of, since the health effects of the newest food products have yet to be evaluated.

Since I’m just getting my head around the dizzying array of lab-engineered foods coming in (and a few already on the market), I’ll kick off Fake Food or Fine Food Fridays with a quick overview of the categories of processed vegan food items as I’m organizing them for this project. Even the term “vegan” may not apply to lab-grown meats and “animal-free” dairy. I’m on a mission to learn and share my findings with you.

This week’s entry is really just my raw notes to date, since I’m still getting my head around the new food industry terminology. If I need to make a correction, I’ll let you know in future blogs. There is a lot more to this new frontier of food than I’d expected!

The Old – on the market for at least 15 years – made in a factory

  • margarine (1869) and shortening (1909) – I think we all know by now that these are unhealthy, but I may do an article on just how bad they are for you.
  • vegan meat substitutes
    • e.g., Tofurky, Soyrizo, textured vegetable protein, vital wheat protein, etc.
  • newer vegan meat substitutes
    • e.g., Quorn (1993) – a mycoprotein – “”the processed cellular mass that is obtained from the filamentous fungus Fusarium venenatum strain PTA-2684.” (from the patent)
  • vegan dairy substitutes
    • e.g., cheeses, yogurts, various soy/nut/grain/seed milks, etc.
  • There are some good and some questionable products in this mix. We’ll do an overview of the categories over the next few weeks. Is “vegan” always healthy? No. “Whole-food, plant-based,” on the other hand, is the healthy version of vegan eating.

The New – have been on shelves for a few years

  • Impossible Burger (first sold in 2016) – the key ingredient, leghemoglobin, is a genetically engineered ingredient that has never been in the food supply and was put on the market without any demonstration of safety. The FDA warned that this ingredient may not be safe but allowed the product to be sold anyway.
  • Beyond Meat (first sold in 2012) – better ingredients than Impossible, but there have been some food safety issues at the factory.
  • Just Egg (first sold in 2013)
  • Do some of these foods fall under synthetic biology or precision fermentation (see next section) or are they different? We’ll learn this in the weeks to come.

2020 and Beyond – made in a laboratory

  • These are some new terms for me, and probably are new to you as well:
    • Synthetic biology (“synbio”)
      • synthetic meats (aka cell-cultured meats, cell-based, cultivated, lab-grown)
      • Milestones
        • 2020 – Eat Just’s cultivated chicken approved for sale in Singapore (the first country in the world to commercialize cell-based meat products)
        • Nov. 2022 – In pre-market consultation, US FDA judges UPSIDE Foods’s cell-based chicken to be safe for sale to the public. FDA approval is not complete as of March 2023.
          • UPDATE, March 21, 2023: Two companies, UPSIDE Foods and GOOD Meat have both received FDA approval to offer cell-cultured meat for the U.S. market. Both companies are awaiting a “grant of inspection” from the USDA, the final hurdle before they can sell their lab-grown chicken products to people in the U.S.
      • more than 70 startup companies, including:
        – Impossible Foods
        – Beyond Meat
        – Innocent Meat
        – New Age Meats
        – Change Foods
        – Eat Just
        – Good Chicken
        – Upside Foods
    • Precision fermentation
      • “animal-free” dairy (aka “biosynthetic dairy proteins”)
        • (2020) Perfect Day “animal-free” whey used in several brands of “animal-free” dairy products:
          • (on the market 2020) Brave Robot ice cream (Urgent Co.)
          • (2020) Graeter’s ice cream (Graeter’s)
          • (2020) N’ice Cream (Smitten Ice Cream)
          • (2021) Modern Kitchen cream cheese (Perfect Day)
          • (2021) California Performance Co. whey protein powders (Perfect Day)
          • (2022) Bored Cow (Tomorrow Farms) – chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry milk
        • Other companies using precision fermentation:
          • Change Foods
          • The EVERY Co.
          • Helaina
          • Imagindairy
          • Motif FoodWorks
          • New Culture
          • Onego Bio
          • Remilk

The health effects of such synthetic foods remain to be evaluated. We’ll learn more about this in future weeks.

I personally prefer to eat whole, fresh foods as close to nature as possible, so when it comes to animal-free dairy, lab-grown meats, etc., I’ll be learning right along with you!

What foods are you most interested in learning more about?