Fooling Meat Eaters with Plant-based Replacements with Rody Hawkins: PYP 257

I personally wouldn't have predicted that the guy behind Lunchables and Slim Jim jerky sticks  might save the planet.

But Rody Hawkins, muscle physiologist, consultant to the meat industry for decades, nutrition wonk, and pioneer in shelf-stable food technology, has just launched a plant-based meat replacement company that's getting global attention for the quality and environmental benefits of its product.

In case you missed it: Rody is no vegan. He supports animal agriculture. He thinks that animal protein is a healthy food for humans, much more so than carbs (yes, I will be giving him copies of Proteinaholic and Whole and The Low Carb Fraud, which he promised to read).

And he sees the writing on the wall for the meat industry: there's not enough planet to feed us all on a meat-based agricultural system. So Hawkins has figured out a way to cut out the middleman (actually middle-cow, middle-chicken, and middle-pig) and turn soy directly into a product that can mimic the texture and cooking properties of any kind of meat – beef, chicken tenders, flaky fish, you name it.

In case you missed it: this isn't a whole food, plant-based product. I don't recommend that my fellow WFPB adherents ditch the WF part and start eating fake meat made from plants.

But if this product can do what Hawkins claims it can, then it will save billions of animal lives per year. Allow ecosystems decimated by animal agriculture to recover. Reduce the scourge of feedlots and abattoirs. Feed the growing human population while buying us time to transition to a truly sustainable agriculture (check out my interview with Vegan Permaculturalist Will Bonsall for an idea of what that might look like).

Also, Hawkins' company, Improved Nature, is located in my home state of North Carolina, which is one of the worst animal ag offenders in the nation. So regional pride compels me to point out that we're doing some things right (and once Dr. Garth Davis moves to Asheville in the spring, we'll be totally rocking the plant-based world).

Hawkins and I discussed:

  • growing up on a farm in Tennessee and wanting to be a veterinarian and feed the world (gee, who does that remind us of, T. Colin Campbell?)
  • studying meat science in college
  • creating Lunchables for Oscar Meyer in the 1980s
  • running R&D for Slim Jim jerky sticks
  • developing shelf-stable military rations that will last three years in your car
  • soy as a major input in the meat and animal agriculture industry
  • “is there any way to make a product that has the same eating experience and nutritional and cooking profile without the animal?”
  • the key to plant-based meat replacement: texture
  • can we turn plant proteins into meat-like fibers?
  • how to you feed 10 billion people in 2050 with the same resource base?
  • Hawkins is not a convert to anything
  • his background in meat science allowed him to understand what meat-eaters actually want and how to produce it
  • the foods with complete sets of amino acids
  • a single-ingredient product (vs other meat replacements)
  • “meat-eaters can't tell the difference”
  • partnering with different producers and retailers (just like a beef producer)
  • soy-based meats are 20 times more efficient than meat
  • Memphis Meats – cool technology, worth pursuing, but unclear whether it will every achieve efficiency
  • the unconventional launch: crispy tenders in the Los Angeles school lunch program
  • adding other plants beyond soy
  • and much more…

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box or audio recording box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.

Talk Back


Article from the Good Food Institute: “Slim Jim Scientist Pivots to Plant Meat”

Article from One Green Planet: “Why the Man Behind Lunchables and Slim Jims is Now Betting on Plant-Based Meats”

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