Plant-based meat has only been getting better. Long gone are the days when BYO-veggie burgers were the norm for vegans at barbecues – and UC Berkeley wants to ensure that the trend continues.
The university has launched the world’s first semester-long Challenge Lab focused on plant-based meat, with a tempting chance for students to win $5,000 in the process.
Why Plant-Based Meat?
In the past few years, we’ve seen the sales of plant-based milk skyrocket; almond milk alone accounts for five percent of total milk sales in the U.S.
Plant-based meat, on the other hand, hasn’t enjoyed quite the same success, representing only 0.25 percent of the total meat sales in this country and growing just 3.8 percent between 2015 and 2016 according to market analysis firm Spins.
That said, there is an undeniable increase in investment opportunities in the market, with high-profile startups like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the development of plant-based burger patties in recent years.
But the possible payoff isn’t the only reason students – and professors – are so excited about the class. Ricardo San Martin, a chemical engineering professor participating in the class, notes that the the ethical complexity of plant-based meat made it the ideal topic for a Challenge Lab.
The second session, taught by Christie Lagally, a senior scientist for the Good Food Institute, highlighted the effects of factory farming on the environment, animal welfare, human health, and associated issues such as antibiotic use, all of which are salient reasons why attention should be paid to the continued development of plant-based alternatives.
Learning About Plant-Based Meat
Lagally and the GFI helped design the course, in cooperation with several industry experts and the Berkeley Sutardja Center for Technology and Entrepreneurship.
“[The Center] is an organization that works with students to teach them social entrepreneurship, and they outline a number of specific areas that they think affect the world in a positive way,” she says.
Each week, students have four hours of lectures from industry experts and eight hours of team project development, for which they can focus on any aspect of the supply chain of plant-based meat. At the end of the semester, a panel of plant-based meat experts will judge the proposals and pick $5,000 winner.
The 45 students in the class come from a wide range of backgrounds and majors, from nutrition to chemical engineering to mechanical engineering to business.
Lagally expects “some pretty novel ideas” to come out of the course, citing everything from new types of plant-based proteins to a less processed plant-based meat that could garner even more mass appeal.
Etisha Lewis, a business major who has been a vegetarian for 14 years, told the San Francisco Chronicle about her goal to use the class’s resources to “make a plant-based diet accessible to working-class people and people from underserved communities.”
“The field of plant-based meat has been an incredible example of innovation of late,” says Lagally. “I imagine the students will be able to come up really interesting opportunities.”