The egg is a near perfect food. It’s packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals. It tastes good and lends itself to a wide variety of foods–baked goods, sauces, pasta, and of of course omelets. And it comes in a tidy, easy to transport package. But the way the vast majority of eggs are produced in this country is anything, but perfect. In fact, it’s rotten.
Industrial egg production requires vast quantities of water- and petroleum-dependent corn and soy for feed. Chicken waste fouls the air and water. Massive, centralized egg factories regularly lead to mass contamination such as an outbreak of salmonella in 2011 that sickened more than 1,000 people and led to a recall of more than half a billion eggs.
And our industrial egg system is brutal on hens. Shortly after birth their beaks are burned off with hot blade–without painkillers. Then the birds are forced to live a nasty, short life crammed into a “battery” cage about as big a door mat with four other hens, unable to lift their wings.
This is what goes into the production of “cheap” eggs. But Josh Tetrick thinks he’s found a better way.
Josh is CEO of Hampton Creek Foods, a San Francisco-based food technology company named by Bill Gates as one of three companies shaping the future of food. Hampton Creek makes an egg substitute out of plants called Beyond Eggs. No chickens required. Josh says he’s not out to reform what he sees as an “absurd” egg production industry, but to render it obsolete with a better alternative.
“Our food system is totally broken,” he says. “We just look at the system and we think it’s totally crazy town.”
Josh was an aspiring football player turned entrepreneur. He led a United Nations business initiative in Kenya. He worked for President Clinton and the president of Liberia and taught street children as a Fulbright Scholar in Nigeria and South Africa. He graduated from Cornell University and the University of Michigan Law School.
Josh also thinks it’s crazy how little innovation has been applied to food production. He’s trying to change that.
To build a better egg, his company is looking at a range of plants with egg-like functionality, i.e. coagulation, volume building, and emulsification. They have isolated these properties in plants like sorghum, rapeseed, and a kind of pea to produce an egg substitute that will hit the consumer market in two months. He says his plant-based eggs will be 40 percent less carbon intensive than industrial eggs and will incorpate several organically grown plants. The product won’t be sold by the dozen, but rather in bags for use as scrambled eggs, for baking, and other uses.
Is it possible to make a better egg? The proof, of course, will be in the pudding.
While I don’t think he’ll be cooking up omelets, Josh will be a featured speaker at Maker Faire Bay Area next month.