My Climate Journey

Ep. 156: Bruce Friedrich, Founder & Executive Director of The Good Food Institute

Episode Summary

Today's guest is Bruce Friedrich, Founder & Executive Director of The Good Food Institute. The Good Food Institute is an international non-profit that promotes plant-based meat, dairy, and eggs as well as cultivated meat as alternatives to conventional animal products. GFI was founded to answer a fundamental question: how to feed almost 10 billion people by 2050 without burning the planet down. Inspired by Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé, Bruce has focused his career on food systems and global justice. Prior to founding GFI, Bruce ran a homeless shelter and food kitchen in inner-city D.C., served as the Vice President of International Grassroots Campaigns at PETA, was a Teacher in Baltimore, and, most recently, worked as the Director of Policy at Farm Sanctuary. In early 2016, Bruce founded Good Food Institute and currently serves as Executive Director. He oversees GFI's global strategy, working with the U.S. leadership team and international managing directors to ensure that GFI implements programs that deliver mission-focused results. Bruce is a TED Fellow, Y Combinator alum, and popular speaker on food innovation. He has penned op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Wired, and many other publications. In this episode, Bruce explains the importance of reimagining the food system and how it affects climate. He walks me through The Good Food Institute's mission, what inspired him to pursue global food justice, and why meat is dangerous to public and environmental health. We also discuss the "holy grail" of scaling meat alternatives, the timeline for broad adoption of these products, and where policy fits in. This is a great episode and expanded my understanding of the meat industry and its role in climate change. Enjoy the show! You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests. Episode recorded April 30th, 2021

Episode Notes

Today's guest is Bruce Friedrich, Founder & Executive Director of The Good Food Institute.

The Good Food Institute is an international non-profit that promotes plant-based meat, dairy, and eggs as well as cultivated meat as alternatives to conventional animal products. GFI was founded to answer a fundamental question: how to feed almost 10 billion people by 2050 without burning the planet down.

Inspired by Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé, Bruce has focused his career on food systems and global justice. Prior to founding GFI, Bruce ran a homeless shelter and food kitchen in inner-city D.C., served as the Vice President of International Grassroots Campaigns at PETA, was a Teacher in Baltimore, and, most recently, worked as the Director of Policy at Farm Sanctuary. In early 2016, Bruce founded Good Food Institute and currently serves as Executive Director. He oversees GFI's global strategy, working with the U.S. leadership team and international managing directors to ensure that GFI implements programs that deliver mission-focused results. Bruce is a TED Fellow, Y Combinator alum, and popular speaker on food innovation. He has penned op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Wired, and many other publications. 

In this episode, Bruce explains the importance of reimagining the food system and how it affects climate. He walks me through The Good Food Institute's mission, what inspired him to pursue global food justice, and why meat is dangerous to public and environmental health. We also discuss the "holy grail" of scaling meat alternatives, the timeline for broad adoption of these products, and where policy fits in. This is a great episode and expanded my understanding of the meat industry and its role in climate change.

Enjoy the show!

You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.

Episode recorded April 30th, 2021

For more information about Good Food Institute, visit:

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Episode Transcription

Jason Jacobs:  Hey everyone, Jason here. I am the My Climate Journey show host. Before we get going, I wanted to take a minute and tell you about the My Climate Journey, or MCJ as we call it, membership option. Membership came to be because there were a bunch of people that were listening to the show that weren't just looking for education, but they were longing for a peer group as well. So we set up a Slack community for those people that's now mushroomed into more than 1,300 members. There is an application to become a member. It's not an exclusive thing. There's four criteria we screen for; determination to tackle the problem of climate change, ambition to work on the most impactful solution areas, optimism that we can make a dent and we're not wasting our time for trying, and a collaborative spirit. Beyond that, the more diversity the better.

There's a bunch of great things that have come out of that community; a number of founding teams that have met in there, a number of nonprofits that have been established, a bunch of hiring that's been done, a bunch of companies that have raised capital in there, a bunch of funds that have gotten limited partners or investors for their funds in there, as well as a bunch of events and programming by members and for members, and some open source projects that are getting actively worked on that hatched in there as well. At any rate, if you wanna learn more, you can go to, the website, and click to become a member tab at the top. Enjoy the show.


Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs, and welcome to My Climate Journey.


This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help.


Today's guest is Bruce Friedrich, founder and executive director of The Good Food Institute, an international nonprofit reimagining meat production. With more than a hundred team members across the U.S. and five affiliate offices, The Good Food Institute is building a world where alternative proteins are the default choice. They exist to make the global food system better for the planet, people and animals. Now, this is such an important discussion because food and ag is a big source of GHGs, and on the surface, plant-based and cultured protein are things that could be quite helpful. There are a bunch of questions though, and there's not many people better equipped than Bruce to answer them.

We cover a lot of ground in this episode, including the history of plant and cultured proteins, where things stand today, some of the barriers that have been holding back widespread adoption, some of the changes that give Bruce confidence that they will play a big role in our future, the work that they're doing at Good Food Institute to help make this future a reality, as well as what some other big levers are out there that if changed could make a big impact as well. Bruce, welcome to the show.

Bruce Friedrich:  Thanks very much, Jason. I am delighted to be here.

Jason Jacobs:  Well, I'm delighted to have you. I, I got to know you a little bit when we did the Clubhouse show on the Future of Food, which was, I guess a few weeks ago, at least at the time of recording. And this is also an area that I think is important and that I'm still struggling with a little bit in terms of exactly how this will all play out and what the right path is. So just such a great opportunity to bring somebody on who's been so deep in the space for so long and, and talk about it.

Bruce Friedrich:  Thank you very much. Yeah, I think food is underrepresented in conversations about climate and we would love to see that change.

Jason Jacobs:  Well, that's, I mean, a, a quick aside, but a number of people say like, "Why is this time different than last time?" And it seems like, I mean, and it's not like there's really defined times, but in the clean tech, it, it seemed like it was very energy focused. And obviously, energy is big. And I mean, it's, it's the biggest, but there's so a lot of other levers that, that really matter. And, and that's one thing I, I like about this current wave is, is that i- it does seem like it is looking at every sector and trying to address the problem more holistically, you know, versus several big ones that it feels like maybe people wouldn't even think of as climate solutions but are actually a big sources of GHGs.

Bruce Friedrich:  Yeah, it's, it's a little fascinating. Bill Gates, when he was doing his book tour in February he was saying that food has sort of been the third rail of climate. And the reason for that is that nobody could come up with a solution to the problem of climate change from food that really scaled meaningfully. So everything relied on individual behavior change and there wasn't a lot of bullishness around to those sorts of solutions. So I think alternative proteins is, is up to the task of being much like renewable energy where renewable energy just becomes how we power our lives, that's the goal, and alternative proteins just become, they replace commodity meat is basically the goal.

Jason Jacobs:  Well, gosh, I, I mean, I can't wait to dig in on, on that topic. Before we do, maybe it'd be good to give the audience just a bit of context on The Good Food Institute and what the organization does.

Bruce Friedrich:  Yeah. So The Good Food Institute, I started working on it at the end of 2015. We launched into the world on February 1st of 2016. And GFI was founded to answer the two big questions in agriculture. And the first one is, how are we going to feed almost 10 billion people by 2050? And the compliment to that is how are we gonna do that without burning the planet down? So at GFI, we were looking at basically the contribution, the inefficiency of cycling crops through animals as well as the contribution to climate change of conventional meat production and looking for solutions that could scale and could really meet that challenge. So that was and is the focus of GFI. Although in fairly short order we also started talking about antibiotic resistance, and more recently we've been talking about pandemic risk as well.

Jason Jacobs:  And if we look back in the way back machine for a moment, how did you come to do this work? And maybe even before that, just how did you come to care about these problems? When and why and how did that all start?

Bruce Friedrich:  Well, care about these problems goes back to confirmation class. And for my confirmation class, I had sort of a progressive pastor who for confirmation class we basically reenacted the works of mercy story from Matthew 25. So thinking about what it meant that I was middle-class white kid in Oklahoma and people were starving in Ethiopia, this was the early 1980s, and thinking about what I could do about that. And then I got to college in 1987 and read Diet for a Small Planet. And in Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé basically points out the horrible inefficiency of growing massive amounts of crops to feed them to animals so that we can eat animals and how in a global food system that literally entrenches global poverty. And that's gotten worse and worse over time.

So that inspired me to major in economics. I spent a year at the London School of Economics studying structural adjustment programs and really was just taken by the idea that the way we eat in the first world is causing just horrible, horrible problems for people in developing economies. And the more you study that, the more you realize that the inefficiency contributes to all kinds of harms, including climate change, but also increased pandemic risk, increased risk of antibiotic resistance. And of course, the people in the world who are most adversely impacted by climate change are the people who did the least to contribute to it. Same thing with pandemics and antibiotic risk. We can basically live through these things a lot more easily than people in developing economies.

And I ran a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in inner city Washington D.C. for about six years. I went and worked in animal protection for a while. I taught through Teach For America for a couple of years in inner city, Baltimore. But through it all, I have been extraordinarily interested in what food solutions might look like. And people like Pat Brown, the founder of Impossible Foods-

Jason Jacobs:  He, he came on the show.

Bruce Friedrich:  He is... Yeah, Pat Brown and Ethan Brown talking about the impact of the way that we raise animals today on the climate in particular, as well as people like Josh Tetrick from Eat Just, and others talking about, you know, we can scale this up and we can make meat from plants, we can cultivate meat from cells, and it has all kinds of global benefits.

Jason Jacobs:  Uh-huh [affirmative]. And so when you look at what motivates you, 'cause it sounds like the food issue is multi-faceted, it's issue with an S on the end. So i- is there a one particular cause that really motivates you to get out of bed every day within food, or, or is it really the whole package?

Bruce Friedrich:  For me, it's global justice and the global [inaudible 00:09:20]. So the thing I actually adopted a vegan diet in 1987 after I read Diet for a Small Planet and I organized fast to raise money for Oxfam International on my campus. I volunteered in a, in a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen before I ran a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen for six years. And I actually studied agricultural economics and wrote my Capstone Project on structural adjustment programs because of my concern for basically consumption in the developed world that is a sort of neocolonial relationship with developing economies.

So at GFI, we frame it in terms of climate and biodiversity, antibiotic resistance and pandemic risk because our organizational battle cry is to convince governments that they should be funding this transition. So in the same way that governments are funding and incentivizing renewable energy, they should be funding open access science into plant-based and cultivated meat. And they should be incentivizing private sector R&D as well as private sector manufacturing and infrastructure buildup. So we're basically trying to create something like, you know, the Space Race but focused on food. You know, we focus on those three complimentary areas, pandemic risk, anti- antibiotic risk and climate biodiversity because those are the things that governments care about and already fund.

Jason Jacobs:  Uh-huh [affirmative]. And so if I'm hearing right, it sounds like the system in which the developed countries and the way that they eat, they use the lion's share of resources, which is unjust, but also they do so in a way that's extracted from developing countries. Am I hearing right? Or maybe just talk a little bit about both what is the structure of the food system, and also specifically, what are the aspects of it that are most problematic?

Bruce Friedrich:  Yeah, I think if you, I mean, if you take a step back just thinking about the physiology of animals, so according to the World Resources Institute, you have to feed a chicken nine calories in the form of feed to get one calorie back out in the form of the chicken's flesh. And chickens are the most efficient animals at turning soy and other crops into animal meat. So in Diet for a Small Planet, which is turning 50 this year, she pointed out that even during famines, and this is obviously gonna have socioeconomic and sociopolitical causes as well. But as example, in Ethiopia, the famine that really sort of rocked my world when I was a preteen, they were exporting linseed to Europe to feed the agricultural animals.

I was running a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen in inner city Washington, D.C. when that famine hit Somalia in the early 1990s. And again, they were exporting crops to Europe to feed the agricultural animals. Greenpeace unveiled a massive banner in the Amazon rainforest. I think if there were a Guinness Book of World Records for massive banner, Greenpeace probably would have won it. And it said "KFC Amazon Criminal" because the Amazon is being burned down to feed to agricultural animals. So it's those sorts of relationships, it's the rank inefficiency of growing massive amounts of crops to feed them to animals so that we can eat animals combined with all of the extra stages of production which are responsible for, according to the United nations, one of the top contributors to biodiversity loss and to climate change, all of this inefficiency.

So that's sort of the fundamental system in a nutshell, and to the problems. And so we do end up in these neocolonial relationships where developing economies are growing feed to be fed to chickens and pigs and other farm animals in developed economies.

Jason Jacobs:  Got it. And so when you look at those inefficiencies and inequalities as it relates to maybe abundance and obesity in some parts of the world and then famine in others, if we just take a step back from the specifics of solutions. I mean maybe just start with the desired future state, like what, what does a better system look like? And then we can work backwards to what components it would have and how to get there.

Bruce Friedrich:  Yeah. So I mean, e- everything that I just said, as well as the adverse climate impact. So people are aware of the harms of industrial animal agriculture, but to just sort of lay it all out super succinctly, you've got that inefficiency. And then you've got all of the extra stages of production. And you add those extra stages of production, and the UN says more climate change is caused by meat-eating than by all forms of transportation combined. And you look at Project Drawdown's solutions database and plant rich diet is up there at eight times. The solution of a complete shift to electric vehicles is just one example.

The problem though is that trying to convince the entire world to stop eating meat or to eat less meat hasn't been working. So even in the United States, 2019 was the highest per capita meat consumption in U.S. history. And the UN is saying we're going to have to produce 50 to 100% more meat by 2050 if we stay on our current trajectory. So even in of the world where they understand the climate impacts, the biodiversity impact, antibiotic resistance, pandemic risk, meat consumption is as high as it's ever been, and globally, it's, it's skyrocketing. So the solution doesn't appear to be for everyone, education. And I do wanna just take a step back and say education is how I got here, education is how you got here, and education is how Pat Brown decided to start Impossible Foods and Uma Valeti started Memphis Meats.

So education is important, but we need a solution that scales up. And this is why Bill Gates in his new book about climate solutions, the one thing he is most excited about in food is making meat from plants and cultivating meat directly from cells. And just to be super clear, this is not veggie burgers for vegetarians. This is not telling anyone what to eat. This is not shaming anyone. This is similar to what's happening with electric vehicles and renewable energy where we eliminate the green premium. So we make electric vehicles or renewable energy or plant-based and cultivated meat. We make it serve what consumers want at a lower price. So in the instance of meat, you need the plant-based and cultivated meat to taste the same or better, and to cost the same or less. And we absolutely think that can happen, and, and that's fundamentally the goal that commodity meat, the sort of lowest common denominator meat will be replaced by meat that's created from plants and meat that is cultivated directly from cells.

Jason Jacobs:  Uh-huh [affirmative]. And one question I just have before we get into the different ways that a plant-based diet could manifest, you talked about education around biodiversity or pandemic risk or famine or inefficiencies or things like that. And I would put all those in the category of obviously super important, but collective good. What about just thinking about me, myself and I f- for a minute? I mean, uh, when I think of meat, let's say chicken, I think of high protein and healthy and for an active lifestyle required to give me the, you know, the stamina to, to go and take on all the things that I need to take on. How should I think about, uh, a plant-based diet outside of th- the, again, those critical collective good questions, but, uh, if I'm just looking at it from a self-serving say U.S. [laughing] perspective. [Laughs].

Bruce Friedrich:  Well, the, the thing I wanna stress is this is not convincing anybody to shift to a plant-based diet. This is not going person by person and saying, "Hey, you should do this for self-interested reasons or whatever."

Jason Jacobs:  But if they were looking for self-interested reasons, so should they switch to a plant-based diet? And if so, why? And if not, why not?

Bruce Friedrich:  Well, lemme just take a step back and say meat is made up of lipids, aminos, minerals, and water. That is all that meat is. Plants also have lipids, aminos, minerals and water. U until about 10 years ago, the idea of veggie burgers and veggie nuggets and veggie fish, the idea of plant-based alternatives was that they were for vegetarians and vegans so they didn't have to taste quite as good, they didn't have to be nutritionally equivalent, and they didn't have to cost the same more or less. So the central brainstorm of the endeavor of making meat from plants is that we actually hire meat scientists and tissue engineers, and chemical engineers and mechanical engineers. We actually figure out how to take the components in plants and to biomimic the entire meat experience.

And because the process is so much more efficient, because it requires fewer resources, because the activity concentrates in a factory rather than the sort of diffuse the feed mill and the farm and the slaughterhouse and everything else, as it scales up, the price comes down. So that's thing one; making actual meat from plants. And just like your phone does not require a cord, and just like your camera doesn't require analog film, meat doesn't require the use of live animals. And you end up removing the possibility that your food contributes to antibiotic resistance, removing the possibility that it contributes to pandemic risk and creating a fraction of the adverse impact on the climate.

And then the other option for people who just like really insist on eating actual chicken or beef or pork or whatever, we can cultivate that directly from cells. It's the exact same product but with a 0% chance of causing another pandemic, with a 0% chance of contributing to antibiotic risk. And it uses one twentieth of the land when compared to beef, causes about less than a 10th of the adverse climate impact, and it frees up all of this land. So one of the really great things about a shift to plant-based and cultivated meat, both, A, significantly less direct emissions, so a fraction of the direct emissions. But it also frees up vast quantities of land which can go to offshore wind farms, can go to regenerative ranching, can go to rewilding. So it's kind of a double whammy. It's direct, direct decrease in climate risk, but also freeing up vast quantities of land for carbon sequestration.

Jason Jacobs:  And if I'm looking at the overall food landscape, how should I think about which categories are the best for plant-based, which categories are the best for, for cultured, and which categories maybe won't end up being either of those things?

Bruce Friedrich:  So the way that we think about, uh, the answer to that question, farmers really know best. And right now, the way monocropping and all of the pesticides and herbicides and everything else, the way that's working there has been a get big or get out ethos around farming. And because turning crops into plant-based meat or using crops as feed for cells and cultivated meat requires so much less land, we can actually go back to land management practices that don't destroy the soil. So for plant-based meat, it appears to be the case that just about any protein will work, which means that we can move away from monocropping and move toward a variety of farming practices that are far healthier for the earth. That is very likely to be the case as well for the feed for the cells and cultivated meat. And then we can move toward rewilding and, and all kinds of other options for all of the freed up land that help to take carbon out of the atmosphere rather than contributing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Jason Jacobs:  And what role do you think there is, if any, or should there be for, for more sustainable farming practices for things like beef, for example? So whether it's free range grazing or, or other things that don't have the industry or eating live meat or live animals go away, but just does it differently and, and more sustainably than the, the factory based way that it's, that it's done at scale?

Bruce Friedrich:  Yeah. I think the stuff that Carbon 180 is doing in particular is extremely exciting. The work they're doing in the rangelands in the United States and their overall sort of scientific focus. I think some of the people who are following A- Allan Savory and what he is, is talking about, also, I think there are going to need to be, there's going to be nee- need to be some oversight and creation of programs like what Carbon 180 is doing. But just to say again, you look at something like the Project Drawdown and all of the solutions that they've come up with, and shifting away from conventional meat production is very, very high. Tropical forests and wind turbines onshore, like, this frees up land for those things. And it also frees up land for regenerative farming.

And there is nobody in the climate community who thinks we can keep climate change within even two degrees Celsius unless meat consumption goes down globally. Um, and nobody has a theory for how we can cause meat production and consumption to go down. So the regenerative ranching folks, their mantra essentially is less meat, better meat. We are the less meat portion of that equation. It's not actually less meat, but it's meat from plants, it's meat cultivated from cells, and it's meat that has a tiny fraction of the adverse climate impact and uses a tiny fraction of the amount of land.

Jason Jacobs:  Uh-huh [affirmative]. So in other words, there's a role to play over there as well, it's just not your focus.

Bruce Friedrich:  Yeah. We, we see regenerative ranching is absolutely a compliment to what GFI is doing, and we would see rewilding and other forms of biosequestration as a compliment to what it is that we're trying to do. And to the degree that people are putting food and agriculture onto the global agenda as climate solutions, just absolutely allies.

Jason Jacobs:  Uh-huh [affirmative]. And with the rise of the Impossible Foods and the Beyond Meats, and now, I mean, you see the, it's like there's another one every day. There's like a cheese one, or, or there's a f- a fish one, or, I mean, t- the es- essentially, it seems like there's cultured alternatives or plant-based alternatives popping up in, in many categories. It still seems like from an adoption standpoint it's pretty low. So can you talk a bit maybe about where we are today and maybe what some of the key levers would be to unlock more wide scale adoption?

Bruce Friedrich:  Yeah. I mean, the, the Holy grail, Jason, is the products have to taste the same or better, and they have to cost the same or less. So this is very early days in this entire endeavor. We don't have any products that are there that taste the same or better and cost the same or less yet. Impossible and Beyond are awfully close or there on taste the same or better for their burgers. But Impossible at grocery is a little bit more than twice as much, Beyond is a little bit less than twice as much. They both have their eyes on that prize, but it's going to take some effort.

On cultivated, GFI produced a life cycle analysis and a techno-economic analysis that people can find at with government support, and GFI's organizational battle cry is that governments should be supporting this transition, just like government support, agriculture, open access science and incentivize private sector agriculture, just like governments are doing this for biodiversity and climate change, especially renewable energy. And just like governments put money into global health initiatives, governments should be funding plant-based and cultivated meat, both open access R&D, as well as incentivizing private sector R&D as well as private sector manufacturing and infrastructure build up. So that's the focus.

And I would just remind people, Tesla was founded in 2003. Electric vehicles right now are about 1.9% of the car market. Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House in 1979. Solar is about 2.3% of the energy market. So we really need to make the transition happen. And the thing about plant-based and cultivated meat, so Joe Biden in his joint, his address to the joint session of Congress, he was talking about the need to out-innovate China. And the American Jobs Plan, it has three central focuses, the first one is jobs. The second one is infrastructure, and the third is out-innovate China.

China is why solar panel prices have dropped. China is why electric vehicles are becoming more affordable. In the United States right now we have four GigaFactories for lithium-ion batteries. China has 93. In 10 years, the U.S. is gonna have 10 with lithium-ion battery factories and China is going to have 140. And now you've got the folks who care about climate, sort of, you know, running behind in the United States. And that's better than, like, not getting on the train at all. But here we have a food solution that the United States and the private sector is way out in front. You know, Impossible, Beyond, Memphis Meats, BlueNalu. All of these plant-based and cultivated meat startups are way out in front. The United States should be the global leader, both on open access R&D as well as incentivizing private sector R&D a- and private sector manufacturing.

Jason Jacobs:  And what do you think the key things are that need to happen to enable that?

Bruce Friedrich:  Well, we, we're seeing, I think the NGO community needs to get on board. So, you know, back to the harms of industrial animal agriculture, this is the one thing in Bill Gates' book that he talks about most enthusiastically, where food and agriculture are concerned. And he talks about it because this is basically the electrify everything of meat. So there's a sort of climate mantra, electrify everything. This is that for meat. It eliminates the methane contribution from [inaudible 00:28:20] digestion. And methane is more than 20 times as potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And it also eliminates the nitrous oxide production from manure decomposition, completely eliminates them, and it concentrates the energy use in one factory. And so it's basically electrify everything for meat, which is why Gates is so enthusiastic about it.

The climate NGO community needs to get on board with this, and regenerative agriculture, regenerative ranching should also be enthusiastic about this because it frees up so much land and makes the work that they are doing significantly easier. But we have two other just massive things for people to be taking into account. The government puts more money into global health initiatives than they put into agriculture or renewable energy. And the UK government says the threat to the human race from antibiotic resistance is more certain than the threat from climate change. And more than 70% of all antibiotics produced by the pharmaceutical industry globally are fed to farm animals.

We're literally looking at what Dr. Margaret Chan, the former head of the World Health Organization, she said, "The end of working antibiotics is the end of modern medicine." And we are spurring that along by dosing billions of healthy animals with antibiotics to cause them to grow more quickly and to allow them to live through conditions that they wouldn't otherwise be able to live through. And then the other one is pandemic prevention. The COVID-19 cost the global economy trillions of dollars.

The UN Environment Programme in July, they listed the seven most likely causes of the next pandemic. The first one is increased meat consumption. The second one is intensification of animal agriculture. You don't get to wildlife until number three. The first is eating meat, the second is industrial meat production. The seventh is climate change. Shifting to plant-based meat and cultivated meat slashes your adverse climate impact, frees up massive amounts of land, and it takes the risk of your meat causing another pandemic or contributing to antibiotic resistance from very, very significant to zero. Governments need to get behind to this.

Jason Jacobs:  Uh-huh [affirmative]. And so I feel like those points that you just walked me through are cases for why it should be deployed widely. What I would like to understand is what are the key levers to actually make it deployed widely? So for example, you mentioned that the regenerative ranchers and that the NGOs need to get behind it. It'd be great to understand if they aren't behind it, how that inhibits it getting to where it needs to go. And you mentioned that the government needs to get behind it. In what way? What should the government do? How is the government not behind it inhibiting its ability to get to where it needs to go? Like some examples to kind of bring it to life would be super helpful.

Bruce Friedrich:  Yeah. So GFI, our transition plan for the Biden administration, and I would encourage people to check out Ezra Klein had a column in the New York Times in April. I think it was A Moonshot for Meatless Meat was the title of it, and he walks through everything that I'm talking r- about right now. And he tags GFI's proposal, which is for two billion dollars for open access science. So 10 research centers at a billion dollars total for the 10 research cen- no, 20 research centers, $50 million each, and then mapping the science, mapping the white spaces and filling them with money from the National Science Foundation, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture.

So at GFI, we have three... GFI has about a hundred and ten total team members. We operate in the United States, and then also we have about 65 people in the United States and about 45 people across India, Israel, Brazil, Asia Pacific out of Singapore and Europe that have both Brussels and London. And we have three programmatic objectives, and there's three programmatic objectives are focused on figuring out the answer to the question that you just asked. So mapping the science, figuring out what the technological readiness is so that all of the companies understand what needs to happen. Figuring out the white spaces and then filling them is a big part of what we're doing on our science and technology department. Our policy department is focused on reaching the NGO community around climate and biodiversity and global health and putting this onto the agenda as one of the key solutions to the three problems we've been talking about.

And then corporate engagement. And GFI has relationships with some of the biggest food and meat companies in the world. And the goal is to, to have them see this as opportunity rather than as threat, and to make this into a transition rather than into a disruption. So those are the areas where we think NGO focus makes a lot of sense, and those are the things that we're focused on.

Jason Jacobs:  Uh-huh [affirmative]. And switching gears for a moment to more of the consumer perspective, one thing I worry about and, and that I've found that I even personally struggle with as a consumer is a, it's a bit l- almost like what a cubic zirconia is to a diamond that if, you know, why would I want the fake when I could have the real thing? Or, or why would I want the cultivated? It just, it just sounds like it's unnatural. And you know, it, it seems like it's kinda messing with nature. So, and this is not from an educated perspective with domain experience. This is more from the like, you know, I'm just a regular eater who's out in the world tryna, tryna make it through the day. So is that a concern to get the consumers on board? And what message do you have for consumers for why they might consider it, not from a collective goods standpoint, but for, for them and their families?

Bruce Friedrich:  Yeah. That is such a great question, Jason. And, and I will tell you that I've evolved on my answer to that question recently. GFI was set up with a sort of, if you build it, they will come ethos. So we're sort of founded on the idea that food is systems one thinking. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Laureate in economics talks about systems one and system two thinking. And so our philosophy has been, if it tastes the same or better and cost the same or less, people will eat it. But more and more we're being challenged in that assumption and so we're thinking through what it looks like to have campaigns to help people understand both the global benefits, but also the inherent benefits that come with shifting in this direction. So one of the most fundamental benefits is there will be no antibiotic resistance. Sorry. There will be no antibiotic residues.

If it's fish, there will be no dioxin or mercury residues. Because there is not an intestinal track from an animal, there will be a vanishingly low likelihood of bacterial contamination. And in the United States, thousands of people dying from contaminated meat every single year. More than a hundred thousand people end up in the hospital, millions of people end up getting sick, almost all of that goes away. So I think there is a, a sort of combination of appealing to people's better angels and saying, "Look, this will help us answer the climate change call. You lived through COVID-19, do you want your food to cause another one of those?" Combined with, "This is just a safer, it's the exact same product in its constituent parts, butt it is a safer product for you and your families."

On the plant-based side of things, it's also a significantly healthier product. It has complex carbohydrates and fiber. It has less fat, no cholesterol, no trans fats. So there was research out of Stanford School of Medicine that found after just eight weeks, shifting all organic meat with all Beyond Meat alternatives, that people lost weight, their heart disease markers got better. It's just a, a healthier product for people and their families. And I, I'll just flag that, that three of the sort of pioneers in alternative proteins, the guy who runs Impossible Foods, Pat Brown is a medical doctor. Both of the first two people to found cultivated meat companies, Uma Valeti from Memphis Meats in the United States, and Mark Post from Mosa Meat in the Netherlands, they're both medical doctors. So they're also talking about things like making these products over time, removing some of the things with actual animal meat that contribute to heart disease or cancer risk.

Jason Jacobs:  And you said that we're, you know, that no categories over the line, but that the Beyonds and Impossibles are getting close. If, if you look into the crystal ball for a moment, when are we gonna get there as a consumer in terms of things actually being over the line on the, on the grocery shelves? And, and what do you think are gonna be the first ones to, to cross that threshold?

Bruce Friedrich:  Well, if you listen to Pat Brown and Ethan Brown; no relation to one another. Pat Brown, the founder of Impossible Foods and, and Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat, it'll clearly be burgers because ground meat is easier, and it will probably be within the next couple of years that they have cost competitive products with ground beef. But I will just say, we really don't want to leave this entire endeavor to the tender mercies of the market.

So we will see cultivated meat high price points, probably in the next two to three years. You've already got it in Singapore. The company Eat Just is selling cultivated meat in Singapore but it's pretty expensive. The planet is on fire right now. We need this transition to happen as quickly as possible, and we need a robust ecosystem. We can't be relying on a few startups in the cultivated meat space or the plant-based meat space. Governments need to recognize this as an emergency for global health, for biodiversity, and for climate and need to open source, well, open access. They need to fund the research that helps the whole world, both the conventional meat industry, as well as the startup industry to make this transition.

Jason Jacobs:  A lot of the things that you mentioned that should be in place do seem like they're more kind of fundamental infrastructure and R&D type of things that would then power a Renaissance, let's say, of lots of companies in lots of categories. As a company-specific investor today, who is climate motivated who might see different early stage companies that are working in specific areas on specific solutions, are all of them just set up to fail until this infrastructure is in place? Like should the investment capital wait on the sidelines and until we get the R&D more underway? Or do you think there's opportunities today?

Bruce Friedrich:  Well, there is colossal opportunity today. So GFI just released, there was a record $3.1 billion that went into alternative proteins in 2020. Plant-based was three times as much investment as in 2019. Cultivated meat was six times as much investment as in 2019. The thing to remember is that this is a very new endeavor. Like if we had been having this conversation five years ago, in cultivated meat, there would have been one company that had raised any money at all. And in plant-based meat, the Impossible Burger had not yet launched, the Beyond Burger had not yet launched five years ago today. So think about the trajectory of something like solar or electric vehicles, it does take some time. These companies can be extremely successful. And Beyond Meat had the most successful IPO in 2019. And I think decades, their IPO. People are talking about a, an Impossible Foods' IPO at $10 billion.

So investors do see the future value of competing for the $1.6 trillion right now global meat market. But just like we wouldn't leave this to Tesla. Tesla got government incentives in 2009 that allowed it to succeed. And just like we wouldn't leave the success of renewable energy to the tender mercies of the market, both because it will take a lot longer and because you're relying on very few entities when you want as robust a market as possible. And then I would just harken back to the American Jobs Plan, and it's one, jobs, two, infrastructure, and three, outcompete China. Lithium-ion battery production as GM hits their 2035, 100% of vehicles are electric. The vast majority of their lithium-ion batteries are gonna be produced in China.

And this is a bipartisan issue. It's about innovation. It's about jobs in America. It's about farming in America. And it's also about, you know, solving for these pretty colossal external costs of the way that, that meat is produce right now. But no, there's, there's certainly [laughs] a lot of money to be made even in products that costs a little bit more, but the sort of, "Let's replace commodity meat with plant-based and cultivated meat," that requires parity across price and taste. And it might also require, you know, a little bit more public relations and working in that direction to make sure consumers understand the values.

Jason Jacobs:  So on the energy side, if you look at the big fossil fuel companies, one of the important distinctions that I've come across as I've been busy trying to learn about these different areas is the difference between, do we need to stop burning fossil fuel? Or is it fossil fuel companies that need to die? And there's much debate in the climate world about the role that the fossil fuel companies will play in the clean energy transition. Every name and every company that you've mentioned so far has been a startup or an emerging company, so I'm curious, who are the, the big entrenched players? Where do they sit in all of this? And then what does that lobby look like relative to say fossil fuel or, or other entrenched industries that need to decarbonize?

Bruce Friedrich:  Yeah, that is such a great question, Jason, and it's so critically important. So what the companies that produce meat exist to do is provide high quality protein to as many people as possible, as inexpensively as possible. That is their focus. And we have been really gratified to see the major meat companies repositioning themselves as protein companies instead of meat companies. GFI had conferences in 2018 and 2019. We're gonna have a virtual conference this year in 2021. And we had JBS, the world's largest meat company at our conference talking about their commitment to plant-based meat. We had Tyson, we had people from the other meat companies. All of the top five meat companies, JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield, and BRF, which is a Brazilian company, all five of them have significant toes in the water at this point looking at plant-based meat.

Tyson has invested in two cultivated meat companies. Cargill has invested in two cultivated meat companies. That Brazilian company I mentioned, BRF, they have signed a joint venture agreement with an Israeli cultivated meat company. So at one of the conferences that we held, the Tyson representative said, "We want to be the disruption. We don't want to be disrupted." And that's really good from our perspective. There's plenty of room. Right now, plant-based meat is about 1% in the United States by volume of meat production, about 2% by sales. Cultivated meat is zero. It hasn't even gotten off the ground yet. There is a lot of room for a lot of players in this space. And if the conventional meat companies see this as an opportunity rather than as a threat, both A, it can happen a lot more quickly, and B, they won't be fighting it and using their significant political power to try to, you know, stop the transition from happening. So we've been encouraged so far.

And, and GFI put together a letter coalition of people to call on USDA and the National Science Foundation to call on Congress to grant $50 million to the USDA and $50 million to the NSF for open access research and development. And we were really delighted to see Unilever and Kraft Heinz sign onto that letter, as well as the Mushroom Institute and the Pea & Lentil Council, and nonprofit organizations like Greenpeace and, and Food Tank and Consumer Reports. So it is a very big tent, from regenerative agriculture because land is freed up, to major meat corporations should be able to get behind the idea of making meat from plants and cultivating it from cells.

Jason Jacobs:  Now, to go back to the energy world for a minute, the companies that do go out and declare that they might do things like, you know, keep their coal plant but to carbon capture at, at point of emissions. And that's a topic of much debate 'cause on the one hand, it's gonna take time for the transition to play out and so you wanna be capturing those emissions in the interim. But on the other, it drives environmentalist crazy because they say it's permission to just keep doing the things that they always do and to stall. So what is the carbon capture equivalent in the food world?

Bruce Friedrich:  Well, if you look at the United Nations' trajectory that I mentioned a minute ago, and the idea that we're gonna have to produce 50 to a hundred percent more meat by 2050, the vast majority of that is purchased solely because the consumer finds it delicious and affordable. Until plant-based and cultivated meat are similarly delicious and affordable, it will stay niche and the disruption will not be as great as it could be. So it's certainly true that Impossible and Beyond, the plant-based meat companies, are finding that north of 90% of their sales are to people who would have otherwise been eating animal meat, but all of those people are also still eating animal meat.

So one of the critiques of the shift to plant-based and coordinated meat is that there will be more of both produced. And that's certainly true for a while, but there will still be displacement. So instead of 50 to a hundred percent more meat by 2050, it would be, you know, significantly less than that. But also, as you have two options, and one is plant-based chicken, or you've got cultivated chicken, or you've got industrial commodity chicken, and they all taste exactly the same and the plant based on the cultivated costs less and are also safer for you and your family, I haven't heard a plausible theory for once we get there why anybody would continue to eat commodity chicken.

So heritage breed chicken, regenerative beef, where people are paying a little bit more for the regenerative or the heritage aspect of it, sure. But the vast majority of meat is industrial animal meat, and we believe that once cost and taste are at parity or better. Now, it may take more than just fat, but we believe we can completely replace industrial animal meat with these better alternatives.

Jason Jacobs:  And going back to the energy world, it seems like sometimes these big fossil fuel companies go out and they make these big, bold proclamations and use the right words. And they have their trade groups behind the scenes that are, you know, that are lobbying heavily in the opposite direction but they keep their hands clean because they kind of outsource the dirty work. What does the lobby look like over here? And do similar kinds of things occur?

Bruce Friedrich:  We have not seen that so far. And I will just say, at GFI, we are not as an organization trying to take things away from conventional animal agriculture. We are much like renewable energy trying to be additive in terms of how we're thinking about policy. So a hundred million dollars initially for open access, you know, open access plant-based and cultivated meat research or incentives for the current producers, things like that 2009 program that guaranteed a loan to Tesla which allowed Tesla to be successful. The early cultivated meat plants are predicted to cost about $450 million per plant. So government loan guarantees for that sort of infrastructure buildup seems like the sort of thing, as well as incentives for private sector R&D, seem like the sort of things that the incumbent industry will probably not oppose.

And I will say, we have good relationships with a lot of the, the biggest meat companies in the world, and they were talking about those relationships at our, our conference. And it, it seems like they are legitimately interested in this space. They are launching their own plant-based brands. They are invested in cultivated meat brands. And so far there hasn't been much or anything in lobby pushback from big industry. And we're hopeful that that will continue to be the case.

Jason Jacobs:  What about unions? So it strikes me that maybe the coal miners of this side of the world are the, the people that work in the factory farming plants and, and things like that. So do the unions play a role? That's one question. And then kind of a one I'll piggyback on that is, if you were sitting right here and on the other s- side of the table was a father or a mother that works at one of these plants and has a family of four or five kids that needs to put food on the table, what would you say to them about this transition? And whose responsibility is it to make sure that they land on their feet?

Bruce Friedrich:  Well, I think it's everybody's responsibility to make sure that they land on their feet. I would point toward, especially for the people who are in charge of pig and chicken CAFOs and people who work in slaughterhouses, those are pretty awful jobs. So there's a, a really nice jobs analysis that the Breakthrough Institute did about this transition. And my organization, GFI also has a techno-economic analysis that talks about this transition. The jobs that are created in the plants that create plant-based and cultivated meat are significantly better jobs. And the jobs that open up for farmers, whether it's soil, biosequestration focus, like actually working with the soil rather than against the soil and the crops that will be planted that don't have to be monocropped, the future for farmers and the future for animal farmers who want to treat their animals well will be able to charge a premium for that regenerative ranching as a, as a case in point.

So it should be a, a pretty positive thing for everybody. Although obviously this will be something, especially as governments are, are funding this transition, as governments are, are funding and incentivizing research and development and so on, governments should also be ensuring that the farmers and ranchers who are impacted are paid to do good things with their land rather than things that harm the land.

Jason Jacobs:  Unrelated question, but what are your thoughts on hybrid? Is that helpful or harmful?

Bruce Friedrich:  I think hybrid, I mean, tha- that [laughs] that could be a pretty broad question. So the main way-

Jason Jacobs:  Partial meat from live animals and, and partial cultivated, for example.

Bruce Friedrich:  I think it's a great way to move in the right direction. The positive benefits for the climate and antibiotic resistance and pandemic risk, the less meat there is, the better. And that can be very helpful, especially with the taste component. So, one thing that we're very excited about is seeing that cultivated meat companies get into agreements with plant-based meat companies to, for example, produce fat. Similar to that would be something like what better meat company is doing with Perdue where a better meat company is providing plant materials that Perdue blends into their chicken. And that is great for decreasing the adverse climate impact of that chicken and the other external costs. So it's definitely something that I think that... And there aren't that many companies out there doing it, so a better meat company could, could use some competition. But yeah, we definitely see that as a move in the right direction.

Jason Jacobs:  And then looking out, say over the next 12 months, what are the most important milestones that you're driving towards at The Good Food Institute? And also just tactically, what are the big initiatives that you've got going on to try to achieve those?

Bruce Friedrich:  Thanks very much for that question, Jason. So GFI uses the OKR system that was popularized by Google. So that's our-

Jason Jacobs:  Sure. We use that too at my company.

Bruce Friedrich:  Oh, that's wonderful.

Jason Jacobs:  [Laughs].

Bruce Friedrich:  So are our, our three programmatic objectives, rhe first one is fostering a strong open access alternative protein and training ecosystem. So before GFI was founded, everything was, "I have a company..." I'm sorry. "I have an idea and then I have a company." So Uma Valeti at Memphis Meats or Pat Brown at Impossible Foods or Ethan Brown or Josh Tetrick, they have an idea, they have a company, and all of their science is protected by IP. The first thing GFI did was created technological readiness assessments for plant-based and cultivated meat. And then we started figuring out where are, you know, what are the things we know? So everybody understands that. What are the things we know we don't know? Where are the critical technology elements where we really need to do more exploration and that sort of thing?

And we have worked with [inaudible 00:53:52], well, we've worked to publish open access science. We've had three significant review articles in food technology, which is the journal for the Institute of Food Technologists. And basically, open accessing as much of the science as possible, educating everybody who is a tissue engineer or a plant biologist or a mechanical engineer or whatever that they want to go in this direction is a big part of it. We have a university program with 15 chapters. It's called our Alt Protein Project. We have chapters all over the world. Um, the students are designing courses, they're educating the next generation. The student at Brown University met with the president to talk with her about Brown creating a, an actual alt protein center at the university. The students at Stanford convinced multiple professors who didn't know about alternative proteins to submit research proposals to a grant program that we have. So w-

Jason Jacobs:  I- isn't Pat Brown from Stanford?

Bruce Friedrich:  Uh, he is.

Jason Jacobs:  [Laughs]. Gee, sh- e- e- I'm surprised that there's still professors there that don't know, but, but anyway, that's just an aside.

Bruce Friedrich:  Yeah, no, it's, yeah, it is very surprising, but there are lot. I mean, it's still a, a nascent industry. So we want everybody who has the professional expertise to recognize that this is an area where they can focus. So GFI has more than 15 PhD scientists on staff basically focused on being a resource and making sure the rest of the scientific community understands that this is something that they should go into and making sure that everybody understands where we are and where we need to go. And we have scientists not just in the United States, but in, in all of our five affiliate offices as well.

Our policy department is really, as we've been talking, about our organizational battle cry is that government should be all in on this. And we were really delighted to work with Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy. So when they launched in February and they put out their federal policy plan, they were talking about our precise federal policy goals. And Bill Gates shouted us out on LinkedIn, talked about how great it was to work with GFI on their federal policy plan, incentivizing plant-based and, and cultivated meat, as well as the coalition letter, as well as working with members of Congress.

The other day, Rosa DeLauro, the head of House Appropriations, was talking about wanting to see parity across funding for conventional animal agriculture and alternative proteins. That is obviously very exciting. And we're hoping to build that coalition and get more folks in the global health climate and biodiversity communities, more NGOs focused on this. The Food Systems Summit is coming up in Rome. Um, COP is coming up in, in Scotland, and we really wanna see our COP 26 in the Food Systems Summit. A lot of energy around alternative proteins. And then all of our work with industry. We work with the smallest in the startups and the investors and the really big corporations.

And we do two monthly seminars every single month. One of them is the Science of Alternative Proteins. The other is the Business of Alternative Proteins. And then our 110 staff members are kind of churning out reports, think tank type reports across policy, science and industry, and we'll have webinars around all of that as well. So that's what the, the next year it looks like in a nutshell. Really ramping up focus on alternative proteins across industry, across policy, and across science.

Jason Jacobs:  Two final questions for you. One is just, if you could wave your magic wand and change one thing that is outside of the scope of your control at GFI that would most dramatically accelerate progress in this area, what would you change and how would you change it?

Bruce Friedrich:  I'm gonna cheat a little bit and say one of two things. Thing one is somebody like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk says, "I'm adding this to my to-do list." So Elon could have Mars, electric vehicles, and let's make meat from plants or cultivate it-

Jason Jacobs:  You, you forgot about Bitcoin.

Bruce Friedrich:  Sorry?

Jason Jacobs:  [Laughs]. You forgot about Bitcoin.

Bruce Friedrich:  [crosstalk 00:57:59]. He has the rail underground. He has a, he has a bunch of different things.

Jason Jacobs:  [Laughs].

Bruce Friedrich:  But somebody like Jeff Bezos, you know, the government or the billionaire that takes this seriously and solves the meat problem will have bragging rights until the end of time. I- so no casting of aspersions on, you know, Mars or Bitcoin. And obviously, huge fan of, of Tesla and what Elon has done with electric vehicles. But somebody like that saying, "I'm gonna stop the next pandemic. I'm gonna keep antibiotics working. I'm gonna slash the adverse contribution of food to climate change," would be one. And two would be the equivalent of that in government. So somebody like John Kerry recognizing this as the future of meat, or President Xi or somebody in China saying, "What we did with solar panels and lithium-ion batteries we're going to do with meat in a way that really kicks off the space race to make commodity meat from plants and cultivate it from cells."

Jason Jacobs:  And my last question is just for anyone listening that's inspired by your work, where do you need help and what kinds of people do you want to hear from?

Bruce Friedrich:  So we are a nonprofit organization. We are powered exclusively and entirely by philanthropy. We don't take corporate money other than as sponsorships for our conference because we want to ensure that there both is and is no perception of conflict of interest. So we certainly welcome donations. We're almost always hiring as well so check out And I believe we, I mean, we have half a dozen openings in the United States. I think we also have openings in India, Israel, Brazil, Singapore, Brussels, and London as well, so watch our jobs [inaudible 00:59:58].

I don't think one could do better vocationally than taking on climate change and being a part of especially solving the contribution to climate change of current methods of food production. Folks can also just get involved by going to So we have four different newsletters for scientists and industry types and folks who just wanna keep apprised of what's going on. So that's another thing that I would encourage people to check out.

Jason Jacobs:  Anything I didn't ask that I should have or any parting words for listeners?

Bruce Friedrich:  Thank you very much, Jason. I, I think anybody who i- who is listening to a podcast on My Climate Journey is probably thinking about how the climate journey that they're listening to can influence their own climate journey. So if somebody is a student, really think about science, if somebody has a policy maker, think about how you can make this your realm. If somebody is in industry, colossal opportunity for people who recognize the adverse impacts of the way that we produce meat today to make a positive difference in the world. So just about any place that somebody is situated, elevating this as a concept and making it a part of your vocational mission will pay massive dividends. And I think you'll be really, really happy with that decision.

Jason Jacobs:  Well, what a great discussion, Bruce. Thanks so much for coming on the show and best of luck to you and the whole Good Food Institute team.

Bruce Friedrich:  Really appreciate the service that is this podcast, Jason, and really incredibly honored to have spent this time with you. I, I really am great.

Jason Jacobs:  [Music]

Hey everyone, Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at Note, that is dot C-O, not dot com. Someday we'll get the dot com, but right now dot C-O. You can also find me on Twitter @JayJacobs22, where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.