My Climate Journey

Ep 21: Pat Brown, CEO & Founder of Impossible Foods

Episode Summary

Today’s guest is Pat Brown, CEO & founder of Impossible Foods. Synthetic meat is the talk of the town, and Impossible Foods is one of the leaders in this important emerging category! Listen to Jason interview Pat, and talk through the founding story of the company, the mission driving it, where they are on the journey, and what is coming next. You can find Jason on twitter @jjacobs22 or at @mcjpod by and email at info@myclimatejourney.co, where we encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and provide suggestions for future topics or guests.

Episode Notes

Today’s guest is Pat Brown, CEO & founder of Impossible Foods, a company at the forefront of making nutritious, delicious meat and dairy products from plants to satisfy meat lovers and address the environmental impact of animal farming.  Founded in 2011, the Bay Area-based company has now raised a total of $687.5 million from a host of backers including Khosla Ventures, UBS, Bill Gates, Serena Williams and singer Katy Perry.

In this episode we discuss:

I hope you enjoy the show!

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

Links for topics discussed in this episode:

Episode Transcription

Jason Jacobs:                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.

Jason Jacobs:                Hello, everyone. Jason here. Today's guest is Pat Brown, the founder and CEO of Impossible Foods. This was a scary one for me, because just a few weeks ago, we were starting a podcast from zero, and I was learning how to be a podcaster, let alone trying to figure out this whole climate change thing. And just a few short weeks later, I'm interviewing the CEO of one of the hottest companies out there today. We covered a number of things in this episode, including Pat's background as a chemist, and the sabbatical that led him to founding Impossible Foods.

Jason Jacobs:                We talked about Pat's unique point of view, that innovation and market forces are the only way to solve climate change. We did a deep dive into Impossible Foods products, nutrition, distribution, future plans, and their ultimate goal with the company. We also talked about Pat's advice to consumers on the things that you and I can do to play a role in the fight against climate change. I thought Pat was a great guest, and hopefully you do, as well. Pat Brown, welcome to the show.

Pat Brown:                    Thank you.

Jason Jacobs:                I am excited. I have to tell you, I've only been doing this podcast a month, and you have a lot going on, so I guess for starters, why the heck did you agree to do this?

Pat Brown:                    Why did I agree to do the podcast?

Jason Jacobs:                Yeah.

Pat Brown:                    Oh. Because I felt like the message... Let's put it this way. The environmental issues that underlie our mission are really poorly appreciated by most people, and I feel like although our success doesn't depend on making people aware of the environmental impact of animals in the food industry, it's still important for them to understand it. You're doing something useful.

Jason Jacobs:                Yeah. Well, it's kind of like attorneys, how they get a certain amount of pro bono hours, that they put to causes that they care about? We'll put this in that bucket. Maybe it'll help humanize the brand, and make you more relatable. I don't know.

Pat Brown:                    I thought we were pretty human already, but I guess not.

Jason Jacobs:                No, I think so, too. I think so, too. I've watched some talks that you've given, and even though the company has quite the stature right now, and has quite the limelight on it, I actually wasn't that nervous for this interview, because you seem like a really approachable guy.

Pat Brown:                    I hope so.

Jason Jacobs:                Yeah. So maybe a good place to start is just... I mean, I know you were trained as a chemist, and taught for many years, and then started the company from a place of concern about climate. But talk to me a bit about that, that transition. Did you care a lot about the planet before that, or was it the chemistry that led you to something, where you felt like a duty? How did Impossible Foods... What's the creation story?

Pat Brown:                    Well, it wasn't that I suddenly started caring about the plant and the environment, and that's why I made the switch. But yeah, I had a job at Stanford that I loved for 25 years. I literally couldn't imagine doing anything else, because it was an opportunity for me to work every day with my sole responsibility to make discoveries and invent things, and follow my curiosity wherever it led as a research scientist. So I was a professor at Stanford, but I also ran a very active research lab, and just absolutely loved it. And the research was really focused on understanding basic mechanisms of life, and taking what we learned from that, and trying to find ways to apply it to make things better for patients with diseases.

Pat Brown:                    Then I had a sabbatical, which is kind of a thing that happens in the academic world. It was an opportunity for me to kind of very explicitly ask the question, "What's the most important problem in the world I can contribute to solving?" That's what I intended to do with my sabbatical. And as soon as I started really looking into it... Although I cared a lot about, and I thought I was pretty well educated about environmental [inaudible 00:03:58] and so forth... I'd never really done a deep dive, to understand what was the root of the problems we were seeing. And when I did, I realized that the most destructive technology on Earth is our use of animals in the food system.

Pat Brown:                    I had been under the impression, I think as most people are, that it's the fossil fuel industry, and all the systems that are burning fossil fuel in industry and transportation and so forth, that should be the focus. I thought, "Okay, I'll probably wind up thinking about how to work on renewable energy, and so forth." When I came across this, when it became clear... As it is now clear, increasingly, to pretty much a majority, I would say, of environmental scientists... that it's the use of animals to produce food that is the most destructive technology, I felt like, "Okay. Well, nobody's working on that." There's tons of people working on renewable energy, but the bigger problem was being ignored. So I decided I was going to work on it, really get myself informed about it, and then figure out what to do.

Pat Brown:                    After meandering around a little bit, I came to the realization that you're not going to solve the problem by educating people about it. You're not going to solve the problem by regulation, persuasion, coercion. It just doesn't work. It's demonstrable that that doesn't work. The only way you can solve it is to accept the fact that people who love meat are not going to stop wanting it, and the demand isn't going to go away, and the only way to make the industry go away is to create products that outperform the current products, satisfy the demand, the continuing demand for meat and fish and dairy foods, without using animals to do it, and then compete in the marketplace and make the industry go away. And I thought that was doable, because I didn't know how to solve the problem.

Pat Brown:                    But it seemed to me, as a scientist and biochemist, that this was an entirely solvable problem, a doable problem. That it should be possible to make foods that perform better as meat, say, than anything that comes from an animal. Better as meat meaning, more delicious in every way that matters to consumers of meat, nutritionally better, and of course, much more sustainable.

Jason Jacobs:                I've heard you talk about that, that it is not focused on the vegetarians. It's not focused on a better veggie patty. It is specifically a superior version of beef, that happens to be more friendly for the planet. Correct?

Pat Brown:                    It's not that it happens to be more friendly for the planet. That's the whole point. But from a consumer standpoint, they don't need to care about that. We're not asking consumers to make any compromises in their choices when they're looking for a burger or a meat product. We're making it our job to make our product the obvious choice, for all the reasons that are driving their decision making. And that is overwhelmingly about making it delicious, making sure it has all the nutritional value that they value from meat, better from a health standpoint, and of course, much lower environmental impact. That's the whole point of doing this, so it's not incidental that we build that feature in. But from a consumer standpoint, that's not what's driving their decision. It's overwhelmingly about deliciousness, and the nutritional values that they think they're getting from meat, which is protein and iron and micronutrients.

Jason Jacobs:                This isn't really an Impossible Foods question, but it's just something I've been struggling with on my climate journey. Which is, you're essentially meeting consumers where they are, which I think makes a lot of sense, because consumers are making their choices, as you described, overwhelmingly, and you can look at examples where the playbook of meeting them where they are works quite well. Tesla is another example of that. We can start picking off areas like that, and that's a playbook to get going. But ultimately, is it essential? I mean, not suggesting that it's your job as Impossible Foods. But to get consumers to evolve their view, and to care more and to make decisions more based on the planet, than just based on what's the most superior product?

Pat Brown:                    Is it essential? Well, I would say it's extremely desirable, and as I said, that's part of the reason why I'm talking to you on your podcast, is I do feel like the more informed the public is about problems, the better for the world. But that's not going to solve the problem. There's abundant evidence for this. I'll give you two illustrations, but I think even just common sense tells you this.

Pat Brown:                    Most environmentalists who study global environmental issues would agree with the statement that the use of animals in food production is the most destructive technology on Earth, full stop. The overwhelming majority of them also eat meat. So, education... They're as educated as anyone on the planet about the problem, but yet they're still continuing to contribute to it. Secondly, can regulation or intervention by government solve the problem? Well, China asked its citizens to cut their meat consumption in half, meat and dairy consumption in half, about two and a half years ago. And what happened? Absolutely nothing. It just kept rising as fast as it had been rising before. It didn't go down. It just kept going up. So, nice try, but you're not going to get people to stop wanting to buy meat by any amount of education or persuasion, and if you try to do it by coercion, you'd have a riot on your hands.

Pat Brown:                    So, that just means that the only way you can do it in a finite amount of time... And this has happened multiple times in history... is to say, "Okay. Actually, the technology we're using to produce meat sucks as technology." It's incredibly inefficient. That's a big part of why it is so destructive. It uses all the inputs incredibly inefficiently to produce the final product, and it's fundamentally limited, because it's virtually impossible to significantly improve the deliciousness of a cow. If you can replace it with a technology that is vastly more efficient from a resource standpoint, that means you're going to have better economics. And if you have a technology that is evolvable and improvable... In a way a cow isn't, okay? At least on any kind of useful time scale... you have a huge advantage.

Pat Brown:                    The issue here is a technology problem. We are using the wrong technology. We are using a technology that should have been obsolete a long time ago. We're using bad technology to satisfy the demand for meat and fish and dairy foods. And when a better technology comes along, which is what we're developing... I mean, in history-

Jason Jacobs:                By technology, are you actually talking about the cow?

Pat Brown:                    The cow is a technology for turning plants into meat. It is. By any reasonable definition of technology, it is a technology we use to turn plants into meat. Cattle are domesticated, and there's a whole system there, and the purpose of that is to take primary productivity and turn it into a steak. Okay? That's the essential function, in terms of utility to the food system, of a cow. We want to do the same thing. We want to take ingredients from plants, and much more efficiently, turn them into meat that's much better from a consumer standpoint. And I think that's entirely doable. If you can pull that off, and do a better job of satisfying what consumers want... Every case in history where better technology has come along like that, it sweeps away the old technology, and that's our goal.

Jason Jacobs:                Mm-hmm (affirmative). One thing I've noticed is that you started at the very high end, with the fancy chefs and things like that. Then recently there's been, of course, a bunch of different distribution deals, including places like Burger King. From a distribution standpoint, I think that's really exciting.

Jason Jacobs:                I would venture to guess the demographic and the value proposition of someone making purchasing decisions at a Burger King looks very different than the fancy chefs. So, how do you think about those choices, and also, what are the reasons that you think that the people that are buying Impossible burgers... Which, I mean, it seems like a lot, given that you can't get them because they're ripping off the shelves so fast... Where's that motivation coming from? Is it animal welfare? Is it planet? Is it taste? Where is it today, and then where do you want it to be in the future?

Jason Jacobs:                So first, how do you think about the distribution choices in terms of restaurants versus Burger Kings versus... You know, both today and then looking forward?

Pat Brown:                    Well, that was a very deliberate choice of places that we use to distribute our product. We wanted, when we launched our product... And we had very little production capacity, because we were producing out of a facility that was basically the size of a garage... We wanted to make sure that every burger we sold delivered maximal value in building brand and building awareness. The amount we were selling was negligible, from a money standpoint. The value we got out of the sale is awareness, and building the brand. That meant that the best place to do that is... Since we had chefs who had tremendous reputations, not just as great chefs, but as great chefs who are known for the meat that they serve in their restaurant. Okay? They were meat guys, basically, or meat chefs. They wanted to serve our product on the menu. They wanted to put our product on the menu.

Pat Brown:                    So that was a tremendous opportunity for us, and we seized it. Because there is no, I would say, more meaningful endorsement for a food product, than to have people whose reputations and livelihoods depend on serving customers something that they'll love, choosing to devote menu space and their effort to our product as meat, serving it as meat. So, that was the reason for starting off with the high-end chefs. They are the ones that have the international reputations, and it means something to the world that they're putting their reputations on the line, endorsing our product. And we weren't paying them to do this.

Jason Jacobs:                And what about the Burger Kings and the White Castles?

Pat Brown:                    Well, the goal here is to replace the incumbent technology by competing in the marketplace. And in order to do that, you need to be available to as many consumers as possible, so they have the opportunity to choose our product in place of the cow version. The overwhelming majority of consumers who have purchased our product in the past year are people who have, in the same month, purchased meat from animals. That's our target consumer. That's why we focus on places that people go to buy meat.

Pat Brown:                    You'll notice that we didn't make any significant effort to distribute our product in restaurants that cater to vegetarians or vegans, because from a mission standpoint, that's just a complete waste. We target meat eaters. And Burger King is one of the biggest restaurant chains in the world. It's the second-largest vendor of burgers in the U.S. it's a great place to be, if your goal is to be right there at the time a consumer is making a choice of buying meat, to be able to compete side by side against it.

Pat Brown:                    Another thing that drives that choice is that we know... From again, a lot of data... that the major reason why people choose to buy our product is recommendation from friends and family. That when people do buy it, they have a very high tendency to become repeat customers, and to recommend it to their friends and family. So effectively, putting it someplace where as many people as possible can try it is the most effective marketing tool we have. And I'll just add that the people at Burger King have just been awesome partners. They've been incredibly supportive of our product, and in turn, it's been tremendous for their business. It's really brought them a surge of new customers, new sales, and so forth. So, it's a win/win.

Jason Jacobs:                As a newcomer to Impossible Burgers... I actually had my first one a few days ago. It was very good. I'm a very health-conscious person. I'm not an expert in chemistry or nutrition or any of these things. I just try to make smart decisions, and when something new comes along, my immediate reaction is just to worry because it's new, and since it's new, I don't know, because there's not data. So for me, or anyone else that's feeling that way, what should give us the confidence, or what gives you the confidence that it's healthy, and what validation is there that makes you feel that way?

Pat Brown:                    We are absolutely committed from the get go to making a product that, based on all the evidence we have access to, is healthier for the consumer than what it replaces. So, we're incredibly conscientious about that. Secondly, we are completely transparent about what goes into our product, and what's known about it from a nutrition and health standpoint, and how we put it all together, and so forth. Because we feel like consumers do want to know what's in their food, and we have that obligation to share that information So, you can come to our website, or any number of other places where we've talked openly about what we put into it, and decide for yourself whether we've made wise choices of ingredients.

Pat Brown:                    But the ingredients that go into our burger are ingredients that have been widely consumed for pretty much throughout human history, for a very long time. There's soy, which is an ancient crop, and one of the most widely pervasive in the food system. There's a protein we get from potato. It's not starch. It's just, it's a protein that comes from potatoes, so you have eaten it if you've ever had a baked potato or french fries. Sunflower oil. Coconut oil. And then, our heme protein. Heme is a molecule that's essential for life, that you eat probably 1,000 different kinds of heme proteins in your diet every day, because it's found in every plant, in every cell of every plant and every animal on Earth. It's super abundant in animal tissues, and it's the super abundance of heme in animal tissues that gives them their unique flavor profile. That's why we use it in our product. But if you've ever eaten a plant or an animal, you've had that protein.

Pat Brown:                    And then aside from those, proteins from two sources, fats from two sources, the heme protein, and we have basically just simple nutrients. Our amino acids and vitamins. It's all on our website. You can look at it, and you can ask yourself... And you should ask yourself... "Is there anything here that I haven't eaten before, or that I would have qualms about eating?" And I think the answer would be no.

Jason Jacobs:                What does the portfolio look like, in terms of the people that are making the decision to consume Impossible Burgers? How does that break down, in terms of what's motivating them to buy?

Pat Brown:                    We have very good data on that. What's motivating them above all is deliciousness. In fact, the biggest hurdle we have to get over is that people who have had other plant-based products, that are ostensibly intended to replace meat, by and large, if they love meat, have found it a very unsatisfactory experience. You know. They don't perform well as meat. And so, they expect that if there's a plant-based product that is intended to replace meat, like the Impossible burger, it's going to taste like every veggie burger they've ever had, and not be a good experience. That's kind of like the biggest obstacle that we have to getting people to try it. But once they try it, I would say overwhelmingly, and probably a reason why there's such a strong propensity to recommend it, is they're really shocked by how good it is as meat. There's all sorts of examples of people testing it blindly and identifying it as meat, and actually delicious meat. That's something that has never happened with a plant-based product before.

Pat Brown:                    That's the thing that really drives consumers, particularly repeat purchases, is that if you can deliver on the deliciousness, and they know that because it's made from plants, it's better for them and better for the planet, there's a high propensity to repeat and recommend it.

Jason Jacobs:                I heard you talk about how, I think pork sausages are where you're going next, and that's public information. Correct?

Pat Brown:                    We launched with Little Caesar, a sausage product that goes on their sausage pizza, basically. It seems to be doing extremely well. We are not selling in retail or anything like that a sausage product, but we did something that we're extremely capable of doing at this point, and we're talking to other food chains about their introducing it in their restaurants. So, that's correct. And then we're working on a whole pipeline of future products beyond that, yeah.

Jason Jacobs:                So, what's the long vision for Impossible Foods?

Pat Brown:                    Our mission is to completely replace animals in the food system by 2035, and I'm absolutely convinced that we can do that, as are I think most of the people at the company. And the way that we do it is by first recognizing how hard it is. That the only way we're going to be able to do it is to do something that most people think is impossible, which is to make a meat that's better than anything that comes from an animal, in all the ways that matter to consumers, particularly deliciousness. And to do that for each category of meat in which we want to compete, we have to understand what consumers want from a sensory pleasure standpoint from that product, and then be smart enough and have the tools to be able to deliver it, and outperform the animal-based product.

Pat Brown:                    You know, that's a hard job, and that's why we have a team of more than 100 of really the best scientists I've ever worked with. Unbelievably talented, smart people, who are working every day, building the know-how, building the platform that will enable us to make the best meats in the world, and make them from plants, directly from plants.

Jason Jacobs:                I've been watching this really closely, because like you said, the consumers aren't making their decisions overwhelmingly not based on concern for the planet. Right? They're going for the best product. And there's been these certain examples, whether it be Tesla or you guys, where the best product has been able to come along, that seemingly is also materially helping us out of this climate crisis that we're in. Or carbon crisis, I should say. But, I guess this mix of things that has come together for you guys still seems like it's pretty rare, if you look across consumer categories. Do you feel like there's other categories, maybe even outside of food, that... Obviously you're booked, and you have more than enough to do. I mean, that's an incredibly ambitious mission that you just articulated. Are there other categories that you think this could be applied, that other entrepreneurs should be tackling with a decarbonization motivation?

Pat Brown:                    Sure. I mean, I think any... Well, if you just look at history, it's an endless succession of better ideas and better technology displacing older technologies. And I think that that's a tremendously powerful way to solve global problems, is to understand not just what, from an environmental standpoint, needs to be done, but to understand how to do it in a way that over-delivers for consumers. Because you can have something that, from an environmental standpoint, is much less destructive or much more positive, but it's not going to scale. It's not going to have an impact, unless there's a market for it.

Pat Brown:                    So, the hard part is taking your good intentions in terms of addressing environmental problems, and figuring out how to solve them in a way that creates value for the consumers of the products that you're trying to displace. And that's something that, I think that principle can be applied again and again and again. And it is being applied. I mean, I think that when you look at better energy production technologies, they didn't really start to get any traction until they were actually on par with, and in some cases more affordable, than the very inefficient and destructive systems that they replace. That's going to be what drives their success. Not good intentions by consumers, but creating a product that's not only more sustainable, but does a better job of delivering what they care about.

Jason Jacobs:                So, given the pickle that we're in, what is the job of consumers, if any? I mean, do they have a duty to make certain choices, or should they just go about living their lives, and making decisions the way they always have?

Pat Brown:                    I don't want to make that judgment. I feel like hopefully everyone feels some sort of obligation to take care of their community, to take care of other people in the world, take into account the welfare of future generations, and weigh that in what they do and the choices they make, and so forth. But it's unrealistic. You can't always make the choice that's best for the planet if it's too expensive, it's too inconvenient, or if, in the case of food, the pleasure you get from eating your familiar foods is such an important part of the daily pleasure of life, that it would feel like a real sacrifice of quality of life to give up those foods.

Pat Brown:                    I don't think that I'm in any position to judge. I flew to Sweden last week. You know? From an environmental standpoint, I would have been much better off staying in my house. A lot of these choices are very complicated, and I feel like it's not useful to make a judgment about the choices someone else makes. From their perspective, they have very good reasons to make the choices they're making today, and there's just nothing positive about taking that perspective. Instead it's, "What can I do to solve the problem? What can I do?" Not, "You better cut back on meat." Useless. What can I do to solve the problem? It's basically to recognize that this is something that's important to you. It's a choice that you're going to make. And what I have to do is make sure that that choice that you are inevitably going to make, has less destructive consequences for the planet.

Jason Jacobs:                So, if I can parrot back, just attempt to pressure test if I understand it, and for listeners as well... Basically, consumers should just make their own value judgments, and we're not going to judge or shame, or things like that. But to the extent that we can do things at the system level... Whether it be the food supply, or transportation, or sustainable cities, or things like that... that's where the real transition occurs. So, if listeners are out there that could potentially be mobilized to go bite in and tackle one of those problems, like underlying to make it easier for consumers to make right choices, that's a high leverage thing to do. But from a consumer standpoint, everyone make their own decisions, and no judgment.

Pat Brown:                    Yes. I mean, on the other hand, look. The fact is that there is a significant trend among consumers, particularly younger consumers, to be much more conscious of the environmental impact of the choices that they make, in their life and in their diet and so forth. And that's incredibly valuable. And I do feel like your show, and any effort that we can make to inform them, so that their good intentions are translated into meaningful actions or better choices and so forth, I think that's great. And I feel very optimistic that if you just look at the level of awareness, and the way that translates into choices among people who are younger than both of us, particularly college-age and younger, there's a vastly increased awareness of global environmental issues, and motivation to make good choices in terms of their environmental impact.

Pat Brown:                    Consumers understanding really the full suite of impacts of those choices, not only on their pleasure of life, but also on the world that their kids and grandkids are going to live in and so forth, that's absolutely critical. And it's wonderful, and I think it's great that young people are much more conscious about these things and making better choices, but we can't depend on that to solve the problem. Because if you just look at, for example, the demand for meat and fish and all these animal foods, it's relentlessly increasing. Okay? And it's great that consumers are getting better educated, and younger consumers are taking this more into account... It's not going to happen fast enough.

Jason Jacobs:                Are you an optimist that we're going to solve this?

Pat Brown:                    Oh, of course. I mean, I sincerely believe that we will replace animals in the food system by 2035. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe it would work.

Jason Jacobs:                What about the higher order? The carbon problem, the budget, the timelines, the overshoot. Like, are we going to solve that?

Pat Brown:                    First of all, if you can replace animals as a technology of food production, right away you reduce ongoing greenhouse gas emissions more than if you completely eliminated the internal combustion engine from the transportation system, made gasoline go away. Okay? You'll have a bigger impact in terms of net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Pat Brown:                    But there's something else, which is that the land footprint of animal agriculture right now is about half of the land surface of Earth. It's either being grazed by livestock, or being used to raise crops to feed livestock. That land, the amount of biomass, plant matter, and stuff that is made of a lot of carbon that's not in the atmosphere... The amount of biomass on that 50% of Earth's surface is a lot less than it would otherwise be if there weren't cows there, or soybeans being grown on that land. If you could snap your fingers and just make that industry go away, you would immediately literally start lowering atmospheric CO2 levels.

Jason Jacobs:                Well, lowering new emissions, right?

Pat Brown:                    No. You would reduce ongoing emissions, and you would pull CO2 out of the atmosphere. People talk about, "Oh, we need carbon capture technologies, and so forth." There is an incredibly advanced, highly evolved carbon capture technology called photosynthesis, okay? And what it needs in order to pull carbon out of the atmosphere isn't gigantic machines that are incredibly expensive to produce and operate. It needs land and sunlight and water.

Pat Brown:                    And right now, if half of Earth's land area is being occupied by livestock, at the huge expense of the ecosystems, the biomass, the biodiversity that would otherwise exist on that land... This is just true... that's a huge opportunity cost. If you could stop that, and just let the ecosystems, let the original ecosystems recover, not only would you provide habitat for biodiversity, start to reverse this catastrophic meltdown of biodiversity that we're experiencing right now, but you would literally pull more carbon out of the atmosphere, by turning it into plants on that land, than we're emitting right now. That's simple math. And over the course of a couple of decades, just allowing those original ecosystems to recover could pull carbon out of the atmosphere equivalent to at least 15 years' worth of fossil fuel burning, at current rates.

Pat Brown:                    So, think of it this way. We are on this kind of relentless course to extremely problematic climate change, that shows no signs of slowing down. If we could turn back the clock by 15 years, which this would enable you to do... Literally just letting the ecosystems recover that are currently being grazed by cattle, and used to raise feed crops... I think that would be tremendously valuable, and one would hope, would give us the time to develop the will and the technologies to stop adding to the problem.

Jason Jacobs:                I mean, it sounds like this is a major lever, and it's an ambitious vision. Do you think that this in itself is enough, and if not, what are the other highest-leverage things that we could do to attack this problem? And I don't mean the food problem or the animal problem. I mean the decarbonization problem.

Pat Brown:                    This is by far, by far, the easiest and most powerful way to reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change. Nothing comes close. There's obviously all sorts of other ways that we could make more deliberate choices, when it comes to greenhouse gas intensive activities and purchases and so forth. That's one thing. We can develop better technologies, that if we can get them to be cost competitive and available... Like, whatever. LED bulbs and solar power systems and so forth... That's all ongoing. It will succeed to the extent that it's market driven, and products are created that not only have lower greenhouse gas footprints, but deliver what consumers want.

Pat Brown:                    There's endless opportunities. Even very low-tech things, like just reducing wood burning stoves, replacing them with anything would be a tremendous good for the world. Would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce black carbon, which reduces albedo and contributes to climate change, reduced respiratory disease, and so forth. I mean, you probably already know the list of things where there's a pathway to improving it with either better technology, or getting existing technology into the hands of people who benefit from it. It's not worth my time to go down that list.

Jason Jacobs:                Okay. I guess last question, which is just, if you had $100 billion, and you could put it anywhere to maximize its impact on the climate crisis, where would you put it?

Pat Brown:                    $100 billion. Hmm. That's an interesting question. I'd have to think about it. I've never actually contemplated what I would do with $100 million, but I'd invest some of it in Impossible Foods R&D, for sure. But maybe another thing to do would be very strategically buy up land that is currently being used to support livestock, and use it to restore healthy ecosystems and wildlife habitat, and in the process, pull carbon out of the atmosphere. I think that that's something that would be a very high leverage, in terms of multiple benefits to the Earth. Not just pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.

Pat Brown:                    But, you know, we're in a real biodiversity crisis right now, and restoring healthy ecosystems is an urgent priority. I think with $100 billion... I've never actually done the math. Well, actually I did do the math on one thing, which is I one time looked at... The USDA has a document. They very meticulously inventory and track every aspect of the U.S. agricultural system, one of which is the aggregate value of all the land and all the buildings that are involved in agriculture. Which, when you tally it up, is about $1.6 trillion. A lot of that is involved in agriculture that is quite sustainable, but if I had $1.6 trillion, I'd consider buying up the land that's being used for very destructive purposes, and taking it out of commission.

Pat Brown:                    All right. Blast ahead. Are you a meat eater? Don't apologize for it. It's okay.

Jason Jacobs:                I eat red meat occasionally. I try to minimize it. I eat a ton of chicken.

Pat Brown:                    Okay. And that's actually a perfect example. So, here's someone who cares a lot about the environment, and-

Jason Jacobs:                And about fitness and health.

Pat Brown:                    And about fitness and health.

Jason Jacobs:                A runner, like you.

Pat Brown:                    And yet, you're making dietary choices that have a huge environmental impact. And that's fine, because you're just a human being. This is not a judgment there. But here's a question for you. So, as someone who loves meat, both for its nutritional value and sensory pleasures-

Jason Jacobs:                Yeah. I would eat it more, if it wasn't for climate change.

Pat Brown:                    Yeah. Well, let me just simply say that there is a widespread myth that meat is somehow important or better as a source of protein than plant proteins. That is supported by exactly zero evidence, and against which there is abundant evidence that you can be just as healthy as an athlete, whether you're a weightlifter or a runner, or you name it, if you're a lifetime plant-based eater, than if you're eating a meat-intensive American diet. Just as an FYI. But the question I have for you is-

Jason Jacobs:                I love how you turned this around, by the way. You're a pro. Now you're the interviewer. How'd that happen?

Pat Brown:                    No. Well, no. But it's a very interesting illustration of the very point I was making, which is that the way we solve this problem is to accept the fact that you, someone who's very conscientious, and cares about the environment and health, are a significant meat consumer. And the only way we're going to solve it is not by making you more educated, or twisting your arm. It's by creating products that deliver everything you want from meat, and just making them more sustainably. This is a perfect example of why our mission is so important, and why we can't rely on education or persuasion to solve the problem.

Pat Brown:                    But, let me ask you another question. Why do you love meat? Is it because of the nutrition? The deliciousness? A combination of those two? And to what extent is it because it's made from the carcasses of animals?

Jason Jacobs:                I'm probably an odd duck, because I would sacrifice taste for health. And I hate being in a position where I have to choose between personal health and planet, because I care a lot about both of those things. I really struggle with that.

Pat Brown:                    Right. Well, I would say-

Jason Jacobs:                So it's got to be tolerable on the taste, but I'm not... Like, I know a lot of people. They go for the most delicious. And that's probably most people. That's not me.

Pat Brown:                    There is no conflict there. And I would say it's one of the themes that is really surging in the scientific literature, and even in sort of policy walls, is that there's almost a perfect alignment between the healthiest diet, and the most sustainable diet. And-

Jason Jacobs:                If you can do both of those, I'll eat Impossible burgers at every meal.

Pat Brown:                    We should send you some. There is lots of science literature on this. A plant-based diet is both healthier and better for the environment, and there's abundant research that says so.

Jason Jacobs:                Need my protein. Yeah.

Pat Brown:                    I know, but plants contain protein. Soy contains better quality protein than beef, in terms of the amino acid composition, and digestibility, and stuff like that. There is a myth that's propagated, I think by people who are making money in the industry, that somehow meat has some unique properties that are essential for health, particularly around protein. There's literally no scientific support for that, and abundant scientific evidence against it. It's a myth. It's a very pervasive myth. It's a complete myth.

Pat Brown:                    But let me... The question I wanted to ask you is, as a meat lover... And I think you just answered it... do you feel that any of the value of the meat has to do with how it's made?

Jason Jacobs:                Well, so I try to be more conscious of the full, not just what shows up, but the supply chain and the shipping and the animal suffering. And at the end of day, at point of purchase, it's like, I just got done with a workout. I'm starving. I want to eat something healthy, and I want to try to not be harmful to the planet, and that's kind of the calculus at the register, or at the restaurant.

Pat Brown:                    Yeah. The fact that meat comes from animals today is not part of the value proposition. Is that correct?

Jason Jacobs:                Yeah, that's correct.

Pat Brown:                    Yeah.

Jason Jacobs:                It would be a relief if I didn't have to eat animals, to be honest.

Pat Brown:                    Yes. Good. And you are exactly the typical meat consumer. I mean, you're not typical. I don't mean that in a negative way.

Jason Jacobs:                Yeah, my wife would take issue with that. She'd say I'm pretty weird.

Pat Brown:                    You are, but your perspective on it is shared by the overwhelming majority of meat consumers, which is that you care about the nutritional value, you care about the pleasure of eating, and so forth. You care about the environmental impact, not enough to change your choice, but you don't value the fact that it comes from the carcass of an animal. In fact, you love meat in spite of the fact that it comes from the carcass of an animal, with all the environmental impacts. That is true of virtually every hardcore meat lover in the world, and that's why the idea that we can completely replace animals as a system for producing it, as long as we create a product that performs just as well in the ways that matter to you, is so entirely feasible. It's hard, but it's completely doable.

Jason Jacobs:                Well, I commend you on the work you're doing. I am rooting for you guys. I want it very much to happen, not that you need my help. But thank you so much for coming on the show. You've been a terrific guest.

Pat Brown:                    Good talking to you. Thanks.

Jason Jacobs:                Hey, everyone. Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on my climate journey. If you would like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. Note, that is .co, not .com. Someday we'll get the .com, but right now, .co. You can also find me on Twitter at @jjacobs22, where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode, or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear.

Jason Jacobs:                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.