What I talk about when I talk about my newsletter (wanted: your ideas), Big Food's plant-based innovation flubs, and what party food says about us.
I’m sporting a baseball hat to shield my face from the morning sun. It’s too bright, but I’ll take sun over rain any day. And you? After last week’s more reflective newsletter, I wanted to take a moment to consider what I’m covering in this newsletter, Technically Food. This is where you come in. What are you interested in learning more about? How do you want to see my future coverage evolve? Before we think about the future, let’s go back in time.
This is my 80th newsletter since I began writing it in January 2021. If you’re new here, I started it to link up to my book with the same name. It was a way to engage new readers in a quicker, faster reporting style.
Most of you reading this are in the US with the UK and India a distant 2 and 3. You’re reading it in 42 US states and 57 countries. (Wow.) The majority of you are in California, New York and Florida. (Florida?!)
My topics range broadly, but the ones I cover most are health (or nutrition), cultivated meat and precision dairy, the climate (a wide range) plant-based and future foods. Further behind are policy, farming (including vertical) and food waste (or upcycled foods). Should this change? What do you want more of? Less of?
My top three newsletters based on open rate were Defining Regenerative, Sharing the Plate, and Eat the Bait. Funny enough these all share a regenerative or sustainable angle and I should point out that open rate is based on title, but also on shares from friend to friend. If you’re reading this newsletter right now, and you’re not a subscriber, please consider signing up.
In a spirit of open source (but no, this newsletter was not written using ChatGPT), I’d like to open up this issue up as a virtual suggestion box. Send in your requests: Less of me! More of me! More wacky techno food and what it tastes like! More founder stories. More on investment. Don’t change a thing. It’s perfect! Less of the boring stuff––no idea what this might mean, so tell me!
In case you feel like this yet another newsletter that’s only tangentially about food, I did have a few other directions I considered writing about. This article on how startups in the Netherlands were re-thinking alternative proteins caught my eye. Cell-cultured caviar? I’m game to try that. Tempeh made from lupin beans? Definitely. Celeriac kebabs? Absolutely. If I wrote that newsletter, my point would be that we need alternative proteins to go way beyond soy and pea.
Another idea I had for today’s newsletter was what happens when Big Food re-launches a beloved product. Like for example the Babybel cheese line. I don’t know about you, but I loved unwrapping the round of cheese from its waxy red shell. Last weekend, I dog sat for a friend. (Two dogs!) He knew I wasn’t eating dairy this month, so he bought me a few plant-based options including a bag of the new Babybel plant-based cheese.
How was it? It was so bad that I only ate half of one. The ingredients are a disaster. Water is first (okay fine). Second is modified food starch, which is essentially a binder or thickener. Third is coconut oil. The flavor was completely absent, and the texture was like eating wet wax. (Remember those wax lips we wore as kids?) After a few other minor items is the final ingredient: cyanocobalamin, which is a synthetic form of B12. You want B12 (you need B12), but not at the expense of eating this cheese.
When my pal got home he tried the cheese. Then he offered it to the dogs. He texted me to report that it was “nasty” and that “the dogs wouldn’t even eat it. LOL.” We don’t need food that isn’t food, and we don’t need non-food to taste this bad. There ya go. A newsletter by me, my pal and his two dogs. Thanks for reading. Now get to suggesting.
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Heme makers are still fighting over whether it can be patented.
Are Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods making things harder for the future of plant-based? Read Deena Shanker’s cover story in Bloomberg. (In one word: Yes.)
These photos of nibbles passed out at exclusive parties and what they tell us about food.
Where you can find me:
I wrote a profile for Fast Company about how SciFi Foods is using CRISPR to make cultivated meat more scalable, and…maybe more delicious?
I talked with Marina Schmidt on her Red to Green podcast. It’s 30-minutes and quite good IMHO. As someone always in the interviewer seat, it’s fun to trade places. Listen on Apple or Spotify.
I’m attending Plant Futures at UC Berkeley on Saturday, January 28th. I’d love to see you there. (It’s Jan 28-29, virtual and in-person.) Marion Nestle is the keynote on Saturday. She has a new book, a memoir, out now.
I’ll be the closing keynote at a Novel Foods conference in Rome on March 10th. Virtually alas, but I looked over the day-long program and it’s going to be super interesting. You can attend virtually for only €45. (€95 for in person)
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I love it when you talk about tasting and experiencing novel foods - there was a synthetic honey?, and today's Baby Belles - because hardly anyone does that and you do it really well.
Those of us outside the US (I'm Aussie) don't get access to as many new products on our shelves. And you get to try pre-market samples which is super cool!
When you review a novel food you definitely don't pull any punches, which I love, ... but importantly, I trust that you are independent of the companies so your views are free from bias.