How Fungi Can Be a Better Meat Source with Paul Shapiro

Paul is an authority figure on food and agricultural sustainability. He has been invited on hundreds of news outlets, including StarTalk Radio with Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Rich Roll Podcast, and CNN. He’s also published hundreds of articles ranging from daily newspapers such as The Washington Post to pop-sci publications like Scientific American as well as magazines like FORTUNE and academic journals.

As the “Better Meat” CEO, a TEDx Speaker, and Food Sustainability Expert, Paul Shapiro shares with us how he developed a meat like product out of fungi and how it can change the meat industry.

How did the Better Meat Company come about?

The planet just isn’t getting bigger but humanity’s footprint on the planet is getting a lot bigger. One of the primary ways we leave that footprint is through our food print.

In the same way we are getting better at creating energy without fossil fuels, we are getting better at producing meat without animals. The question is how can we satisfy humanity’s meat tooth without the need to destroy the planet, raising and destroying animals in the process?

I think if we divorce meat production from the raising and slaughtering of animals, we as a species and as a planet will be a lot better off. That’s why I wrote the book, Clean Meat and started The Better Meat Co. to help advance animal free protein technologies.

When did this industry start?

The effort to recreate meat without animals goes back to over 1,000 years ago. There are written records of plant based recipes in ancient China. The Chinese were the first people to try to recreate meat without animals because they had a large Buddhist population.

Fast forward to the 19th Century here in America, you had pioneers who were marketing their own plant based meats, like the founder of Kellogs. Then you fast forward to the 1980’s where you all of a sudden have brands like Lightlife and Tofurky who are trying to modernize the plant based movement. Though, they’re really trying to satiate vegetarians as opposed to trying to appeal to meat consumers.

About 5 or so years ago you start getting companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods who are really trying to make meat that is so convincing that even the most die hard meat consumer is going to want to eat these products. Then in 2016, you have the first company that’s not trying to sell plant-based meat but real meat grown from animal cells. Now, there are more than 100 of these companies that have been formed over the last few years.

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What Better Meat Co. Does In Comparison to Other Companies

At the Better Meat Co. we are extremely proud to be utilizing microbial fermentation – in order to take microscopic fungi and subject them into a fermentation that creates a food that really looks like meat. For example, if you think about a cow eating grass she eats grass for more than a year, then you slaughter her and you get that steak. What we do is we take tiny microscopic fungi (our cows so to speak) and we feed them starchy foods and then they turn into something that looks very similar to that steak. The difference is unlike the cow that takes more than a year and huge environmental resources to produce, our little microbes take less than one single day.

Our product is a delicious meat-type product that is all natural, a whole food, has more protein than eggs, more iron than beef, and it’s a delicious food that can make a wonderful steak, crab cake, chicken cutlet and more. In very little time we can create these same meat experiences without the need to do so much damage.

Is fungi not consider plant-based?

You have animals and you have plants. Then you have a completely separate kingdom called fungi. Fungi are not plants, they’re very far away from plants. In fact, fungi are not in the middle of plants and animals, they are right by animals.

What we do is take microscopic fungi, subject them to a special kind of fermentation where we take a process that would happen in nature on its own, wrap it in stainless steel, and let that fermentation take place. We then harvest them a day later where they now look like animal meat. Unlike animal meat, not only do they have a tiny sliver of resources needed to produce them, they have no cholesterol, no saturated fat, high protein, and high iron. It’s better for animals, better for the planet, better for us – it’s the real superfood.

I think products like this are going to be even more popular because you basically get all the benefits of the meat that you want without all the downsides.

The Nutritional Properties from Better Meat

Most people think of fungi and mushrooms being synonymous but they’re not. A mushroom is the fruiting body (the reproductive organ in a sense) of the fungus which is what you see above the ground. Underneath that is a whole network of mycelium. Interestingly, 90% of fungi don’t ever produce mushrooms at all.

We’ve screened 100’s of fungi to see what is the most economical, most proteinaceous, and most meat-like texture that we could find and we settled on a mycelium that is able to do this and produce high protein, high iron, naturally contains B-12 and it’s a complete protein.


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A Life Changing Moment for Paul Shapiro

Like many things in life, our barriers are oftentimes self imposed. I like to run and at my age I felt like I wouldn’t be able to get any faster and began to accept that. Soon after, I started training with a good friend of mine and he got me to a 5.56 mile and for me which is pretty good.

The quote by Rocky Balboa that I generally think about when times are tough is, “In life, it’s not about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” I think about that often because so often in life we are presented with challenges, obstacles and adversity and some people get knocked down who stayed down. I want to be the person when I fall I get back up and keep moving forward just like Rocky Balboa.



Websites Mentioned

The Better Meat Co.

Clean Meat Book

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