Sour milk 🥛
How might we begin our assault on animal products? The devil might take the form of a blood-crazed slaughterhouse worker but equally, he may present as a kindly son-of-the-soil dairy farmer. You watched What the Health? and did the knowledge on the dairy industry and its boundless depravity. You will know as well as anyone how they forcibly penetrate and inseminate cows; wrench the newborns from them, traumatising both mother and child; kill the male calves with a bullet to the head1 or feed-fuck it for a few months until it can barely stand before killing it to sell for veal; use the traumatised mother’s painfully distended udders as a lifelong cash machine, stealing the milk that was meant for her murdered child; force the female calves into the same life of painful slavery as their mother and then fund the systematic disinformation campaign to convince normies and omnis that what they are doing is in fact natural, normal or kind when they know in their hearts it is none of the above.
So eff those guys in whatever orifices they offer. The Replace Dairy project implicit in all vegan diets, theory and activism has somehow made inroads deeper than even the most optimistic plant-based loon would have predicted, say, 10 years ago. Take a look at supermarket shelves. They now groan under the weight of coconut milk, rice milk, soy milk, hemp milk, oat milk, peanut milk, almond milk and, yes, pea milk. The data backs up anecdotal experience. Plant-based milk is being consumed by one-quarter of Britons, rising to a third among 16-24-year-olds.2
Is it a fad? I dunno, man. If it’s a fad it’s one people are willing to pay nearly double for. 3 As fads go, it’s one that’s doing a very good impression of a cultural shift. With plant milk at 13% of the market at a far higher price than its competitors, what will happen when economy of scale kicks in and it becomes cheaper? In the words of retired disgraced thug and Ireland’s Shame Conor McGregor, plant-based milk has not come to take part, it’s come to take over.
Hard cheese 🧀
Cheese, though, has always been a tougher nut to crack. More than bacon sandwiches, faggots and peas or pork scratchings dipped in honey, it’s the one thing Josephine Vegan is likely to crave like Leonardo DiCapreteen craves 19-year-old gowl. The cheese platter’s diversity and peculiar melty, stretchy behaviour have proven tough to replicate. Even that battle fromage though, is going our way.4 The vegan cheese market share is projected to grow by 10 per cent in the next decade, up to a value of $7 billion. 5 Cheese pioneers like Miyoko Schinner are making gains that will not be given up lightly. “We’re where [nut milk] was eight years ago,” she tells The Guardian. “We’re catching up fast.”
Culture snub 🧫
A reasonable man, if one could be found, might ask what is so special about cow milk. Is not this taste for chugging down ruminant titty milk merely learned behaviour, a historical accident born from happenstance rather than necessity? It is certainly true that drinking cow milk is not necessary, no more than eating goat’s cheese or yak’s yoghurt, but one could argue that it is tastier than the plant-based alternative (what with it being true and all). Molecular biologist and CSO of New Culture Inja Radman gives a brutal assessment. “Vegan cheese is just terrible. As scientists, we know why it doesn’t work. It doesn’t have the crucial dairy proteins.”6 Damn, girl. Miyoko Schinner has left the chat.
Cheese company 👨👩👧👧
But what if it was different? What if you could somehow manufacture those vital dairy proteins without using animals at all in some microbe-fuelled food science miracle? As it happens, there are start-ups deep into the weeds on that very project as we speak. First out of the blocks were California outfit Perfect Day Foods. They kicked off their campaign in 2014 with a kill-or-be-killed mission to exploit the taste, texture and functionality of cow milk protein without exploiting the cows themselves. Yeast and bacteria are their chosen weapons in their biological warfare. One of their big tent products currently in development is their mozzarella, reportedly as gooey, stretchy and authentic as any animal-based version on the market, thanks to the unique molecular structure of casein grown in their own lab.
Perfect Day made a big noise in 2019 by selling animal-free cow protein ice creams on their website.7 With tubs of the magic sci-fi goop costing $60, it was not exactly a mass-market product. What it was though was a flag planted in the ground – the Wright Brothers’ first flight; Alexander Graham Bell’s first phone call or wokescold psychopath Jameela Jamil’s first “illness”. And I’ll tell you this for free – like Grace Slick reforming Jefferson Aeroplane as Jefferson Starship, they sold out. Not a tub of their Ben & Jerry’s Frankenfood survived the consumer onslaught. Don’t let anyone tell you this is some deserted niche. The hunger is there.
Check the technique ⚗
We would be remiss if we did not mention the counterculture rads at Counter Culture Labs. Blazing a trail in Oakland, California, CCL are cheese visionaries, coming up with the first lab-grown vegan cheese created by proteins produced by genetically modified yeast in a process summarised diagrammatically below. They make chemically synthesised bovine DNA so they are not taking so much as a cell from a cow, making it the kind of product that would make even humour vacuum zealot Joey Carbstrong say “yeah, I think I can get behind this – FOR THE ANIMALS.” The technology itself is not new. Recombinant protein production has been around since the 1980s.9 Cultivation of the genetically edited yeast and bacteria takes place in a bioreactor, pumping out the necessary proteins present in cow milk like a magnificent milky factory.
In keeping with the home-grown garage lab ethic, Counter Culture Labs member and molecular biologist Craig Rouskey hopes to manufacture DIY cheesemaking kits.10 It’s part of what co-founder and chair Patrik D’haeseleer, calls the “democratization of science”. Counter Culture advocate strongly for citizen science, which looks to drag science from the ivory towers of the lecture halls and the super labs and place it squarely in the domain of the amateur tinkerer. That is after all how Silicon Valley was born, how Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction and what brought us Mendel’s groundbreaking work on genetics. Their focus is on creating hackerspaces, physical places (such as Counter Culture’s lab space in OmniCommons) where like-minded folk can meet and collaborate on projects. The ethic is open source by design – resources pooled to enable a diverse network of talent, working together for the common good. When Aristotle coined the term the common good did he have in mind ethical cheese that does not taste like a badger’s snatch?
Yes, I believe he did. We may never know.
Self-raising power 🐄
Everyone has their different role to play in the revolution. Perfect Day, for example, see themselves primarily as providing the ingredients, the success of their prototype ice creams notwithstanding. San Francisco venture New Culture, on the other hand, want to make the whole product themselves, Florence flask to fondue. Co-founded by Matt Gibson and the aforementioned Inja “Vegan cheese is just terrible” Radman, New Culture is a relative newcomer, coming into existence in 2018, but has nonetheless managed to secure $3.5 million in seed funding to grow and scale their fermentation technology.
Their first target is to produce the perfect ball of mozzarella – the bestselling cheese in the United States. With 50 million Americans being lactose intolerant, it has allure way beyond vegans, veggies and flexitarians. Factor in also that the New Culture cheese will have no cholesterol and none of the traces of antibiotics and growth hormones that show up in dairy products like a pube in your wedding cake. With antibiotic resistance currently causing 700,000 deaths per year, a figure forecast to rise to 10 million per year by 2050 if we do not take action,8 antibiotic-free dairy sounds increasingly like an urgent necessity rather than a flagrant luxury.
Hard to churn 🍜
“Well, that’s just great isn’t it?” the snarky rejoinder comes “All the hipster biohacking companies together like little bitches as we all join in, in a gigantic circle jerk in our vegan bubble, affecting precisely nothing as Big Dairy’s war machine powers on, crushing competition like Italians on grapes. I said a thing. I am intelligent.”
Slow your roll there, skunk. Don’t you know how empires crumble? Aware yourself. Don’t you have the fighter’s instinct for when your opponent is on the ropes? Because Big Dairy is running on an empty tank in the eighth of a 15-rounder, subject to a brutal body attack, shipping shots it could easily have slipped 10, eff it, five years ago. November 2019 saw Dean Foods, America’s largest milk producer, declare bankruptcy, explicitly citing consumers turning towards non-dairy milk.9
But of course, there’s more to dairy than milk. And you know that the devil STAY busy. As milk consumption has slumped, cheese and yoghurt has boomed.10 USDA data shows Americans’ per capita cheese consumption went from 14.3 lbs in 1975 to 36.9 lbs in 2017. That’s an increase of 158%. Those filthy coffin-breathed omnis really are the living end. That gassed-out palooka circling the bowl in the eighth, recklessly raised earlier? About to get his second wind.
Still and all, close analysis reveals that yoghurt sales are flagging. A combination of increasing lactose intolerance and non-dairy alternatives saw a decrease in sales of £50.6m in 2019.11 It’s no surprise that forward-looking multinationals like Danone have ploughed crazy zlotys into their vegan brands. In addition to their existing vegan labels like Silk and So Delicious, Danone shelled out $12.5 billion for WhiteWave Foods (home of Alpro) in 2016. CEO Emmanuel Faber has read the dairy runes and could not be clearer about what they say. He expects the company’s vegan arm to become as big as their dairy yoghurt operation in the next 10 years. As for Danone’s total plant-based revenue, Faber aims to triple it to around $5.6 billion by 2025.12 Their plant-based yoghurt is launching in 2020. All this is under bombardment from milk and yoghurt alternatives before lab-grown milk enters the fray. Imagine the brutal decimation traditional dairy will face when that happens.
Best possible taste 🧬
All food innovation ultimately lives and dies on the altar of flavour and the taste test is the most unforgiving challenge. Empathy is a finite resource and if you can’t reproduce that titty milky taste and texture you know that bloodmouths will shoot a calf through the face themselves to bring forth a product that does. It was failed Hebrew Messiah Jesus Christ who said “milk cannot live on protein alone” a and on this, he was certainly correct. Fat is a crucial component of milk too, contributing to both taste and texture. Creating that comes with a whole new set of challenges13 and the failure to immediately meet those is vegan cheese’s original sin.
Perfect Day are once again ahead of the curve, exploring the capabilities of their floral army to produce fat. “Algae are excellent [at producing lipids], says CEO Ryan Pandya, “But there are also yeasts and fungi that can do this, which is why we like to talk about ‘flora’ more broadly. Microbes are surprisingly efficient at producing fat, and I think this should be faster to get off the ground than the protein platform.”14 Inja “Vegan cheese is for losers and I’ll straight cut a bitch who disagrees” Radman, knows this intimately and the results so far are promising. Talking to the New York Times, Ms Radman claimed “really positive results,” from double-blind taste tests of their own lab-grown cheese vs. store-bought mozzarella.
Read the label 🧻
With the best will in the world, it’s hard to raise the danders of foodies, much less the gen pop with anything called “lab-grown”. That’s the kind of thing that excites your cousin during Futurama cosplay as he ineptly tries to mack the girl who showed up to Comic-Con as Leela by covering up her boss eye with a patch and throwing on a purple Poundland Halloween wig. “Doth my lady crave half of my Molecular Whopper??” he offers as she wonders when the anti-anxiety medication will kick in. Seriously, fuck your cousin man.
The yuck factor is a real issue and such conflicts can turn ugly. We’ve already seen how Animal Death Inc aim to regulate ethical competition out of existence, challenging their right to call their substitute meat “meat” and it is no surprise at all that the dairy giants are looking to sabotage lab-grown dairy just as the meat industry did with lab-grown meat. Fortunately, the dairy crew are on much safer ground. In April 2020, Perfect Day received a letter15 from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) saying they have no objection to the company’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status for their lab-grown whey protein. Such a letter is regarded as a significant victory in the regulatory battles.
As for GMO labelling, United States laws on GMO don’t apply to products that are made using GMO products. As long as the modified yeast doesn’t make it into the finished product, it can be labelled GMO-free. People shopping for the GMO-free label are generally antiscience dorks but that’s a whole other story for a whole other time.16
The new New Deal ✝
As we build our utopian castles in the air, we should remember that lasting change is usually an aggregate of incremental steps. The Savage is as staunch as anyone in calling out the devil when he’s on manoeuvres but is equally aware that sometimes we make a deal with Satan, something Pandya is already acting on. “We’ve spoken to folks from dairy before,” he says, “By and large there’s a feeling that this could help, because there are so many consumers leaving dairy to consume plant alternatives, whereas we are making something that is still dairy at heart. There’s an opportunity here for a whole new category of food.”
Hunger is the best sauce 💨
The companies are not solely focused on dairy either. Once you’re producing protein, there is absolutely no reason to limit your remit. The technology of cultured food can be brought to bear on world hunger. Ryan Pandya says “We began to look into how we can use our protein to prevent stunted growth and malnutrition in the developing world.” Pandya is currently building partnerships with both governmental and non-profit organisations aiming to come up with an affordable and sustainable solution to protein malnutrition. It’s a goal he shares with Dr Marianne Ellis and her team at Bath University.17 Dr Ellis focuses on lab-grown meat but the principles are the same. The problem-solving potential of cellular agriculture seems limitless.
It’s a wrap 🥟
As time goes on, it seems increasingly likely that lab-grown food will be one of those things that no one ever paid much attention to at the time but ended up changing the world irrevocably. Like Collateralized Debt Obligations triggering a worldwide banking collapse, filthy wet market bat munchers causing a global pandemic or the rise of the White Walkers in Westeros, there are movements and ideas quietly but inexorably reaching critical mass. Once they pass that tipping point, nothing will be the same again. Let’s raise a glass to these dairy wizards with their fake real cheeses, their bioreactor birthing pools and molecular milk. For good or ill they will deliver the next century, and beyond.
- Viewers horrified by graphic Channel 4 calf killing – The Drum
- Plant-based milks on the rise: A quarter of Britons are drinking them – BBC News
- People are willing to pay nearly twice as much for plant-based milk – Market Watch
- Vegan cheese: why is it so hard to get right? – Daily Telegraph
- Growing Preference for Plant-based Diet Underscoring Growth in Vegan Cheese Market From 2020 to 2030: TMR – PR Newswire
- Got Impossible Milk? The Quest for Lab-Made Dairy – New York Times
- Perfect Day Launches Ice Cream Made from Cow-Free Milk, and We Tried It – The Spoon
- New report calls for urgent action to avert antimicrobial resistance crisis – World Health Organisation
- Dean Foods, America’s biggest milk producer, files for bankruptcy – CNBC
- Plant-based milks aren’t the reason US dairies are struggling – Quartz
- Dairy: Yoghurt: Top Products 2019 – The Grocer
- Danone CEO: plant-based to become as big as dairy – Veg News
- Lab-grown dairy: The next food frontier – The Conversation
- Real dairy butter… minus the cows? Perfect Day expands its animal-free microbial fermentation platform – Food Navigator
- Perfect Day secures no objections letter from FDA for non-animal whey protein – Food Navigator
- Nobelists To Greenpeace: Drop Your Anti-Science Anti-GMO Campaign – Forbes
- Brits in bid to create LAB-GROWN meat and SOLVE world hunger – Daily Express