Global production of meat doubled from 159 million tonnes in 1986 to almost 318 million in 2014, with it bringing disastrous environmental ramifications. As the meat and dairy’s impact on the planet has become impossible to ignore, people have been forced to reckon with their own lifestyle choices. For most of us, changing our diets is the simplest way to make a difference— although it isn’t always easy.
According to a report by GlobalData, veganism in the United States of America has jumped by 600% since 2015. But those who eat strictly plant-based diets are often faced with the dilemma of where to eat out, socializing, and their own recurrent cravings. Recently, innovations in technology have begun to play a major role in helping vegans stay on track, as well as lowering the barriers to entry for those who don’t know where to start when it comes to cutting down on meat and dairy.
Consumer technology, like vegan-friendly apps help to find delicious meat-free options, making dinner plans much easier. HappyCow, which was founded in 1999, assists users looking for local plant-based cafes and restaurants with a dedicated online hub. With over 25,000 users sharing their recommendations, HappyCow has established itself as an easy go-to for vegans on the go.
While AirVegan, which is specially designed for airport diners, can help travelers check if their terminal hosts any vegan-friendly options in advance. But perhaps the biggest issue that plagues both meat-eaters and vegans alike, is food labels. An app called, Is It Vegan helps users take care of that conundrum by analyzing ingredients with any smartphone camera. In one snap, the app can determine whether a product is actually vegan or not.
Technological innovations don’t stop with apps. A new guard of startups are vying for the attention of ethical consumers struggling to give up the taste of meat. Most popular are the Impossible Burger from California-based company, Impossible Foods and the Beyond Burger from Los Angeles-based startup, Beyond Meat. Unlike previous substitutes that were mostly soy-based and tasted nothing like meat, these new replacements replicate their animal counterparts. They’re also cheap and readily available, with consumers able to purchase these beef-substitutes at supermarkets, fast-food chains, and even coffee shops.
Now lab-grown meats, products created from in vitro cultivation of animal cells have begun to stir some interest. Although lab-grown meat is not yet commercially available, the market is set to hit $20m by 2027 and could be available at your favorite restaurant as soon as 2020.
Artificial intelligence is also being utilized when it comes to reproducing tastes that make meat and dairy so hard to give up. In March, NotCo, a Chile-based startup that uses AI to create plant-based versions of dairy products, raised $30 million with participation from Jeff Bezo’s Bezos Expeditions. Giuseppe, the company’s platform which analyzes food on a molecular level and recreates the flavors and textures of other foods recently developed Not Mayo, a mayonnaise made with potatoes, peas, basil, and canola oil rather than vegetable oil and eggs.
While veganism has had its fair share of criticism for its cultural, racial, and socio-economic barriers, technology is here at a crucial time helping to break those down.