This summer, I had the extreme pleasure to interview Co-Founder and COO, Koby Barak of SuperMeat. SuperMeat is an Israeli bio-tech & food-tech startup, developing a technology to create cultured meat, or clean meat, from chicken cells. We went to dinner at The Green Cat, one of my favorite vegan restaurants in Tel Aviv, and talked global change, vegan food, activism, and solving the world’s problems over delicious vegan pizza.
For more info on SuperMeat check out Richard Branson: In the Near Future, We’ll Think It’s “Archaic” to Kill Animals for Food and This Little Lab-Grown Piggy Went to Market: Clean Meat Is on the Rise.
Enjoy the interview!
J: Let’s start with your thoughts on activism, awareness, and exposing people to the ideas we’re both so passionate about today. I never considered myself an activist but I’d say my blog is my first step into exposing people to concepts they might not have thought about in this light before… what was your entry into this world like? Exposing the truth even to one other person, maybe just by identifying as a vegan, seems like a safe first step that anyone could take.
K; I understand what you are saying about exposing people… at the beginning, I thought the same thing. I started as an animal rights activist and made all the protests.. I worked the explanation stalls, but…
J: I mean how much stuff was going on? that was 18 years ago? It [animal activism] wasn’t really big in Israel yet, right?
K: No no, it wasn’t, it was just the start. But it accelerated very fast. But after a lot of years of animal activism, I realized, at least it was my realization, that this wouldn’t solve the problem. It’s very good to increase the awareness and show people what’s going on and attract them to our circles, but in my opinion, it won’t solve the problem. When you take into consideration that we are 7 billion people, and soon we are going to be 9 or 10 billion people, and according to the UN, the demand for meat is going to double itself in the year 2050… and especially when you think about China with 5 billion people and India and all the third world countries which are most of the population, you just can’t talk to every single one of these people. So far me it was, yes, [animal activism] is good and it’s important to increase awareness, but it’s a means, not an end. It won’t be able to solve the problem. This is why me and some other people went to study biology and went into the field of cultured meat. So yes, I understand what you are saying that you support [the activism], but it’s like our ship is sinking and all the increasing awareness is like taking water out with a spoon. It’s not viral, it’s not global, it’s too slow, it’s too little and too late. This is how i see it.
J: Did you go to school to learn the skills in bio to do cultured meat or did you study bio and then realize that was the best way you could contribute to animal activism with cultured meat? I know you come from animal activism… so what got you started on that path?
K: Actually when I was a kid I became vegan and joined the animal rights movement, I even founded some of the organizations…
J: Sooo cool..
K: And yes, at the age of 19, I think I realized… it’s hopeless.
J: It was quick for you to have that realization.
K: Yeah, but I continued with the animal rights activities because I didn’t have any other possibilities.
J: Were you in the army at this point?
K: No, i was only in the army for one year, between 18 and 19. I think i joined at 18 and a half, but i don’t remember exactly… maybe 17 and a half.
J: What made you go vegan at 18?
K: Like every story in the world it was a girl (laughs).
J: I really thought that could be it though, you never know!
K: I’m saying like every trouble in the world, it was a girl…. but i’m just kidding about that.
J: Have you seen the movie The Social Network?
K: Hmm.. the social network….
J: It’s a movie about the start of facebook!
K: Oh yes, of course
J: So he starts Facebook… actually because of a girl!
K: (Laughs) Yeah you’re right! So it was the same thing; I had a girlfriend and her brother was against animal experiments. He gave his sister a pamphlet about these activities and she gave it to me, and I said wow- this is insane- and I had no idea about anything. I wanted to read more about it. So I went to the internet, read about it, and then joined an organization against animal dissection, and they started to tell me everything about animal dissection. From there, I went to Anonymous, and they veganized me!
J: So you did animal activism for a bunch of years with Anonymous…
K: I was in Anonymous for around 7 years and other organizations. But they weakened, I left to study cultured meat and a lot of other major players left to do their own thing. But I left because I started to realize things were hopeless… you know, human demand is increasing exponentially. We have no money and more people, and the meat demand is increasing, and the better the social economic situation of people becomes, the more they eat meat. I continued for a little because I do think it’s important to increase awareness and recruit more vegans, but at the age of 28, me and a few other people, we heard about the idea of cultured meat. So we went to study biology.
J: Where did you go to study?
K: Tel Aviv University. And then we founded the Modern Agriculture Foundation. Its a NGO to promote cultured meat research. I was the Director of the Organization but I founded it with some other people… you can read about it more on the website.
J: Yeah Im on the website all the time (laughs)
K: Perfect! So after we saw it succeeded, and we got attention from all around the world and a lot of potential investors told us “we want to get into this field”. But they told us they wouldn’t go in unless we started a company. This is when we left the Organization and myself and two others founded SuperMeat.
J: What year was that?
K: We founded SuperMeat in December 2016 and we founded the Modern Agriculture Foundation in March 2014.
J: And you’re still part of the Modern Agriculture Foundation?
K: We’re very close but I’m not the director anymore because Super Meat requires all of my time.
J: What does your day to day look like w SuperMeat? [referring to the pizza] And how do you like it?
K: Very good!
J: I love this place. This is the saddest place that I’m going to say goodbye to.
K: When are you leaving?
J: Yeah, really soon.
K: I thought you were here for 6 months?
J: No, my program is 2 months. But ive been here for 3 months because I was here before a little bit before.
K: Wow… so what are other vegan places have you been? This isn’t as good as the pizza place in Brooklyn [Screamers].
J: Because I can’t have oil I can’t eat at Screamers. The Green Cat can make pizza without oil for me… and it’s delicious. I have Crohns Disease… and I haven’t eaten pizza out since I got diagnosed a few years ago. And my family’s go-to restaurant for any occasion was a real authentic Italian pizza place in New Jersey. So this is honestly the best thing in the world to me.
K. So what can’t you eat out?
J: I’m vegan ethically, whole food plant based. You know Dr. Gregor? I know he’s endorsed SuperMeat. He advocates for this WFPB way of eating to help w diseases. It helped me get off all my medication. I don’t eat processed food. I eat whole plant foods, no oil.
K: So raw food vegan?
J: I eat food that happens to be raw, sure, but I’m not a raw food vegan. I eat cooked food, but oil isn’t a whole food, it’s a plant extract that’s really processed. It messes up my stomach.
K: So I guess you haven’t tasted Beyond Meat.
K: Wow. you have to. Cant you take a pill or something?
J: I could probably take a bite of it if someone else ordered it. I wouldn’t die from it or anything, but I would get sick and stuff. And i have to be really careful because my doctors did not want me to get off my medication, I basically stopped it by myself and found support afterwards.
K: Beyond Meat is worth dying for.
J: [laughs] I’ve heard- I really wanna try the Impossible Burger too. But that I know has a lot of oil. A bite is likely all I could have, but I really don’t wanna get sick again because I’m so afraid of being back on medication. I couldn’t travel abroad for a long time because I was on a medication that kept me getting these infusions at a hospital every 4 weeks. I wasn’t allowed to leave the country. Luckily, changing my diet has allowed me to travel and get off all my medicine. It’s worth it for me, I’m very satisfied and happy with the food I eat, and I don’t wanna go back to being tied down.
K: I understand. So you’re 2 years vegan? And since when do you have the Crohn’s Disease?
J: 3 years. I struggled for a while and I didn’t really know what to do. My mom had been vegan and kept saying try this. I hadn’t eaten meat for about a year; I was a pescatarian and I didn’t eat dairy because it bothered my stomach. The only thing I ate was sushi and I loved fish… that I felt like I could never give up! I finally did give it up… which is weird to think about it now was as easy as just saying “I’m just not going to have it anymore”… but I knew that ethically I was moving towards veganism. At the time, though, I was so sick and was in and out of school. So it was hard to think about the bigger picture of my actions since I was just trying to figure out how to get through the day. Once I went vegan, I got a little better but not significantly… but once I eliminated the processed food from my diet, everything changed. Within just a few days. As I started to get healthier, I had enough mindspace to be open to the ethical side of veganism. I had been living in kind of a brain fog; I couldn’t really think clearly when I was so sick, but once I started to get healthy, all of the cognitive dissonance went away. Why wouldn’t I shift towards a vegan lifestyle? Everything I believe supports and is aligned with this compassionate way of living. I didn’t want to contribute to all of the systems of exploitation I don’t agree with.
K: So you’re saying that non-processed food really helped Crohn’s disease?
K: Why is that?
J: Because processed food in general, whether it is vegan or non-vegan, is hard on your stomach, it’s hard on your body. There are additives and chemicals and horrible stuff in it that we’re not meant to eat.. our bodies are resilient so we don’t realize how unhealthy it’s making us until we can’t ignore it any longer. Crohns disease is your intestines, where your food goes…
K: Crohn’s Disease causes problems in your digestive system?
J: With Crohn’s Disease, they say your immune system is attacking itself. But there are certain things that are really inflammatory, that would increase that activity. Meat, dairy, and processed foods are really bad. But those “foods” (and I’ll argue that meat, dairy, and processed ‘foods’ aren’t even foods at all) are not a good thing for your health anyway. But most people DO see those products as foods, so I think stuff like plant-based meats and cheeses are important to get people to go vegan. But for me, for disease maintenance, they [a lot of doctors] recommend no processed foods.
K: So you can eat rice and potatoes?
J: That’s primarily what I eat: rice, potatoes, beans, lentils, obviously vegetables and fruits.. all that good stuff. You know because you’re a vegan, but there are endless varieties of foods and cuisines that can be made with all of that.
K: Okay, that sounds good. With potatoes you can make chips!
J: Exactly, I always say, anything people eat, I can make vegan. I make potato chips myself; I just cut up the potatoes into thin slices, put some rosemary or garlic on them and put them in the microwave and that’s it…potato chips! There’s no oil on them or anything- they’re delicious and healthy. I also make french fries all the time, I bake falafel, or put it in an air fryer.
K: Falafel is very good for you.. lots of hummus.
J: And here, I can get the hummus without oil, it’s a life changer. In the states, the hummus is so bad, it’s gross, I never thought I liked it before I came here. It has so many additives you don’t even need. Here it’s fresh and warm and so good, I love it.
K: So good. I agree, in Israel, the hummus is REALLY good. As opposed to in the states…
J: I love it. I’m gonna miss that too.
K: And what were you doing for Anonymous these past couple months?
J: I was helping with Challenge 22+. So you probably know, but there are 3 specialized tracks for the Israeli Challenge- the soldiers track, the parents with kids track, and teenager track. Now they’re working on creating specialized tracks for the international challenge. So i was working on NYC, which is why I had done all the research there and I was able to send you restaurant recommendations when you were visiting Brooklyn a few weeks ago. I also did Los Angeles. I came up with a plan for them to roll out for targeting global cities. Basically, if you lived in nyc, what would you need if you wanted to go vegan? All the restaurants, all the farmers markets, all the sanctuaries that are close by, all the places you could volunteer at, the meet up groups, the facebook groups, etc.
K: That’s a great feat.
J: Very extensive… lots of research, lots of hours, but I really enjoy being able to dive into this kind of work. And also, because I’m from NJ, I have a lot of friends in New York. My older sister is there too; she’s not vegan but I’ll tell her to go to the restaurants. Now I have all these resources to tell people, oh try this out, even if they’re not vegan there are some people who are down to challenge themselves to see if they can handle eating one meal without meat [laughs]. So it was really cool… I also did stuff for their instagram and social media.
K: So you worked with Shachar?
J: She works there, but I don’t work directly with her. I know she is part of the Modern Agriculture Foundation too.
K: Yeah, she’s a good friend, she helped us so much with the Super Meat page. We worked at my apartment…. she was lying on the floor, working for so many hours with the computer and looked like she died but fell asleep! I need to show you the picture. So amazing.
J: I was gonna ask about that, it is so clear how much work has gone into the campaign. The video, on the Indiegogo is so funny, its so good! Do you have someone who is doing your marketing? or who created that script? Communication is absolutely imperative in reaching people… and the video knocks it out of the park. It’s so funny.
K: Yeah it is, I think the video got total 10 million views, and got 50 or 60 thousand shares. We worked with the #1 Israeli company in video publishing and branding. They wrote the script, they rented the camera, so it was the best.
J: It’s really good! Changing pace a little to get more scientific… So something I’m pretty curious about, how is cultured meat taken from the animals without the use of animals? What is the process of cell incubation?
K: In general, there are several ways to take the cells. You can take from a simple biopsy, and you can take cells that are already incubated in the past. The idea is to take the type of cell that has the capacity and the potential to proliferate; to divide indefinitely and then to grow into large masses, and eventually, to differentiate into the relevant cell type. For example if you want to make muscle, in biology its called progenitor. Once you take a relevant stem cell, then you differentiate it to the relevant cell type you want, like muscle or fat. You grow it on a bioreactor – think of like a petri dish– you take cells and some media, some liquid with all the ingredients the cell needs like protein, sugars, fats, and then the cell proliferates. That reactor will be a machine with a lot of liquid, the allows the cells to grow 3-Dimensional.
J: How long does it take?
K: It’s a little bit of a hard question, because your question really is ‘what is going to be the final process?’. I can’t answer right now because there are too many variables.
J: have you done it yet?
K: We stared R&D [Research & Development]. We haven’t made a prototype yet, we’re still working on it. We hope to get a big investment soon that will allow us to take the R&D forward and reach a prototype in about a year from now.
J: And I know they have already done cultured meat in London; were you able to try [the cultured meat]? Are you in contact with them?
K: I haven’t tried it but yeah! We’re in contact with all the companies.
J: And why [focus on] chicken?
K: Because of the animal advocacy movement. Chicken, along with fish, are the most abused animals, numbers wise. I mean, when you think about the numbers, it’s like, 60 billion chickens worldwide are slaughtered annually. As opposed to cows, which are 1 or 2 billion.
J: Is that because, something that I was told, is because when you eat a hamburger, even though it’s not good obviously, you’re eating less % of the animal, because chickens are such smaller animals so…
K: Yes they are smaller.
J: So you could more easily eat an entire chicken than an entire cow. And a fish too obviously.
K: Yeah, and back when we started SuperMeat, no one else had started their R&D on chickens, so we thought it was a good opportunity to start here.
J: They did the hamburger in London, right?
K: Yes. And eventually, the technology will be finalized and eventually we will do everything, yeah? Cows, pigs, chicken, fish… only now since we are at the beginning we are focusing on one animal because it is more efficient.
J: Definitely. So for people who might be grossed out thinking about eating meat from a laboratory, what do you say to those people? In my opinion, they don’t know where their meat actually comes from and what’s in it…
K: Fortunately it’s not a common reaction, most people are not grossed out. They think its a very good idea. But it brings up the most common question when people are grossed up; they say it’s not natural. So here’s the question. What is natural? Is a banana natural? It was artificially selected and has become different in so many ways from what it was many years ago. The same goes for tomatoes, and of course for meat. The meat people eat today comes from animals that have been bred and changed in very not natural ways- cages… antibiotics… I don’t need to tell you the stories. Either everything is not natural so this is no problem, because this is not natural either. Or everything is natural because we can define that everything we touch and intervene with is also natural, which applies to all of the food we eat today. I mean, everything– how corn was a lot of years ago and what it is today. Tomatoes were poison for us… so I mean, once [this meat] reaches the market, the market issue is gonna be so simple. All you need to do is show how animals are grown, and how our lab-grown process is so hygienic and sterile and clean. I think it’s going to be very fine.
J: I know this applies to chickens as well. They’re not the way they used to be, their bred and selected as plumped up and full of bad stuff and not the natural animals they used to be. The cells you’re planning to use, is there even a way to find a chicken that hasn’t been touched or modified?
K: So you can find cells from a wild chicken that hasn’t been manipulated. They exist in the wild.
J: Is that what you’re planning to do? Or are you planning to use cells from a chicken that will taste more like what people are used to? Which is obviously chickens that are modified?
K: Actually yeah, we are open to everything. Right now, we are more focusing on reaching our scientific milestones. This is a question for more progressed level, maybe in the future we will be able to make a lot of types. But right now we are not focusing on that, these challenges haven’t come up yet.
J: So is there an R&D lab that you’re in all the time? What does your day to day look like?
K: Ok so, we started at the lab at the academy that we had at the beginning. But we are now moving to a private lab, so we are now in the process of establishing the new lab. So hopefully it’ll be ready soon.
J: Will it be in Tel Aviv?
K: We are thinking about two places. Haifa or Rehovot. I don’t know if you’ve heard the names.
J: Yeah absolutely!
K: Mostly the day to day right now, is focusing on the investments part. Because we need money in order to get the equipment etc.. Right now we are focusing on continuing everything we can with R&D and on the other hand focusing on raising money.
J: Amazing…. back-tracking a little now. So how did you come up with the idea to start SuperMeat? What was the moment it came into your head vs. the moment you actually decided to make it happen– did you wake up in the middle of the night and say ‘Oh my god, I need to go back to school to study bio to do this’? Do you remember how it evolved?
K: Yeah, I do. So as I told you, very early in activism, me and my friends, we realized that what were we doing is too little and too late. And for a lot of time we started to think, what can we do differently? What can we do that we can impact the world fast and global. Because I feel like the people who are standing on the streets delivering pamphlets, it’s not relevant or fast enough.
J: Do you think theres a place for everyone’s activism?
K: Yeah, yeah. I’m making this more extreme because I wanted to impact that kind of change. We sat down and we said ‘okay, how are we going to really start it?‘. It’s not enough to just make one more vegan; it’s nice, but how can we really start this? And when you go into this mode, you start thinking. We did deliver pamphlets to people, and it’s good, but it’s not life-changing, its not history making. We wanna stop this [animal cruelty] tomorrow. It’s not going to be stopped tomorrow with pamphlets.
J: Right, right.
K: So we had a lot of meetings, we researched and read and discussed a lot of ideas, and only when we heard about the idea of cultured meat did something click. We realized this is the really only possible solution because every other idea is trying to change people. And when you understand a little bit of the history of human kind, you realize it is a very very long process; even if you can succeed, and it’s not promised you can succeed at this process; it’s very long and arduous. In cultured meat, if we are able to work together with the meat companies, because the farmers will be against us no matter what since it’ll be a fight because raising animals is their business. But meat companies… they don’t care who gives them the raw materials- if it’s clean meat or if it’s from animal agriculture. So we said to ourselves, ‘this route has the potential to harness the support of the meat companies and become the resource for them. This has the ability to go viral and make the system change without forcing people to change. We can just switch the raw materials [from livestock to lab-grown meat]. This was the idea. And as time goes by, we see that our thoughts were logical because today many meat companies are interested in this.
J: Have you talked to any of them?
K: Yes, I cannot say names. But in this investment round, one or two meat companies are going to be part of the investment in SuperMeat.
J: That’s incredible.
K; Yeah, yeah, for us, it is strategic they be with us. I can quote one of the owners who told us “Once this technology is available, I’m closing all slaughter houses and using only this meat as the raw material.”
K: So together, we think that we can make a global change without asking people to change. So this is our thought that led us to join this field. And as time goes by, it looks more promising. More money comes in, more people are joining, more meat companies are showing their interest.
J: How has the Israeli vegan movement within the last 5 years, with Gary Yourofsky’s speech being translated into Hebrew… how has that impacted what you’re doing here?
K: It very much helps. Everytime we meet with meat companies or investors, they are all aware of the problem.
J: In Israel you mean?
K: Yeah, in Israel. Because of all of the incredible activity that has been done, in the last few years, which I haven’t even been a part of. As I said, I’m only in the cultured meat field… I’m not doing any advocacy activities for animal rights anymore, because I’m 24/7 on clean meat. But increasing awareness on such a scale, made a lot of people, even not vegan, gain awareness. Because most of the population is still not vegan, and they’re not going to be vegan, but the activity made them more aware. Most people… they care about animals! They just don’t want to give up their meat, what they view as their wealth, their enjoyment of life. I totally understand because I was a big meat-eater before I became vegan. I ate meat 3 times a day everyday.
J: That’s an American thing, that’s what we do!
K: Yes I was like an American in my meat-eating habits [laughs]. So it was very hard for me also to become vegan. So I understand. Most of the time people care for animals but they don’t want to give up meat. For a lot of people, giving up meat is like giving up sex. It is that magnitude. So, this makes people subconsciously get creative with their dissonance, so when they hear the idea of clean meat, many of them which are not sympathizing with vegans, they are very supportive of us, of clean meat. So actually a lot of celebrities in Israel got filmed for our campaign and a lot of investors when they heard about us, they knew about all the implications of the meat industry and the health and the animals and the environment. This is something celebrities, investors, and people who volunteered in the crowd-funding campaign wanted to be part of, as opposed to the vegan movement… although the vegan movement’s accelerated activity is what really helped us get here. So it really helped us.
J: That’s awesome. Something else I was very interested in that I read about on the website… there was a little bit of talk about accessibility, so I’m curious. Although this is in the future, of course, are there ideas or a roll out plan for how to get meat or the technology that will allow people to produce their own meat, to places with scarcity of food? The website talked about a meat cultivation machine. It reminded me of the way people bring water filters to countries that don’t have access to clean water. Is there an idea of how you would get these meat cultivation machines to places like that? What would the business plan be, how would you continue making money when people are able to grow their own meat themselves?
K: So I have a few things to say. First of all, we are not working anymore with the idea that you are talking about- the machine for home. We now have a new technology that we are working on, and this is why we have also changed our R&D lab. The technology we are now working on is more promising and we believe with this, we can reach the market faster and in a better way. So this is the first thing. Second, regarding our feeding the people who don’t have food, it’s important for me to clarify this point. Today, the reason that there are hungry people around the world, is very complex. The economy is not equal all around the world- it’s achievements and the way they divide the resources are different, and cultured meat will not solve this problem. The problem it CAN solve regarding the people who are hungry, is in the future. As time goes by, our resources are being vanished, exploited, and eliminated. With cultured meat, we will be able to produce meat more efficiently: it will take 99% less land, 99% less water, etc. etc. It will allow people not to starve and to have meat all around the world, so it’s not relevant really for people who are poor or hungry right now, because they can also buy meat today very cheaply. So I’m not gonna act like clean meat is going to solve this problem of world hunger due to a lack of resources and use of earth.
J: What about the fact that most of our grains are given to cattle?
K: Yeah yeah! This will solve that problem and allow us more space, more water, more plants, but again, if you are poor in a third world country, clean meat won’t solve your problem tomorrow. These problems need to be solved in a humanitarian way using an economic model that is relevant and just.
J: So who do you think it’s going to have to be, either the government or another company, in regards to stepping up and redistributing these resources? Obviously SuperMeat can’t do everything, it’s not like a focus of creating clean meat is a small task! But someones going to have to come in and work with communities, either the government or a company, (this is what I’m thinking at least), to figure out how to use all of the resources clean meat will free up- the 99% of the grains that aren’t being fed to cattle, the water, etc.
K: I do think that, but this is just a thought, it’s just something I’m saying off the top of my head. Let us first reach our milestones before we figure out how to deliver this [laughs], but in general, i think that [thinking about this] is important because even today, even the price of meat would have been twice more expensive without the subsidies that are reducing 50% of the costs.
J: Does that exist in Israel?
K: Yes, in israel.
J: Because I know subsidies are a big thing in the states.
K: Yes, yes. So eventually it’s a question of if the world will unite to stop the threat of global warming, the exploitation of the resources and stop animal slaughter. It’s really a question of if the governments will keep subsidizing…
J: Do you think it will be top-down, like the ‘big’ people make these decisions and the ‘little’ people follow? Or do you think it has to be bottom up?
k: Yes I know what you’re saying but I don’t know how to answer this question, it’s too complicated.
J: …Or do you think it has to be everyone making the change? Where does the pressure have to be put?
K: In general or in cultured meat?
J: In cultured meat.
K: Right now, in cultured meat, the people who are influencing are the people at the top because this field, in order to move forward, needs funds. Only when you get funding can you move forward. So we actually started because of the people at the bottom because we had crowd-funding support and awareness, but right now…
J: Now you’re relying on them- the people at the top- for the funds.
K: Yes, and then we will be able to move forward with the milestones and processes. Once we reach the market, we again rely on the bottom – the people.
J: And the demand is there! People want this.
K: Yes the demand is there! We get approached everyday by people from countries all around the world- Poland, Australia… they say “we want to import your cultured meat and sell it everyday!”
J: [laughs] What do you say? We’ll get back to you in a few years?
K: Yeah! I say, “we’re just in the R&D right now”. We’ve got approaches from meat companies on almost every continent on the world who want to collaborate and start selling this product.
J: What about the health aspects- the website says cultured meat will be a lot healthier than regular meat. I’m assuming because of the antibiotics?
K: Yes, first of all the antibiotics. Second, [with cultured meat] you control everything in the meat. Today, animals… they feed them with lot of disgusting stuff! They put a lot of arsenic and other growth hormones into them… in our process, everything is going to be controlled, and it’s going to be sterile and clean. Today there is salmonella and lots of drugs used because of the poor hygiene conditions that animals raised and slaughtered for food live in. With cultured meat, it’s going to be much more healthy. We can also control how much feed is going to be in them- it can 0% or 90%- anything we want.
J: Pretty amazing. This is so huge… it’s the future, and you’re at the front of it! I wanna talk to you about the website as well. I studied film which is really communication and storytelling, so I acknowledge the importance of this when communicating with viewers. I love that on the website, the landing page says ‘Click to end the war’ with two options: ‘I think meat is delicious’ and ‘Stop animal suffering’. This is a brilliant way to target people. You have at the very least, 2 different kinds of people, people who are eating meat and not eating meat. Have you seen an equal amount of interest by both meat-eaters and vegans/vegetarians alike or is there a big difference in the numbers?
K: Yes, I think we’ve got interest in both sides. I don’t have a quote- or verified data- but i think our crowdfunding campaign was about 50% vegans or vegetarians and 50% meat-eaters.
J: How often can a company say that?!
K: This IS verified data, though, as for contributions to the crowd-funding campaign, it was 40% from Israel, 40% from the USA, and 20% from all around the world.
J: Incredible. Israel is such a small country so amazing that the support equaled that of the USA. Makes sense since it is the most vegan country in the world right now.
K: And we got a lot of support from the animal rights community, and Freelee the banana girl she made a video for us and helped with a lot of the funding. Her video reached a lot of viewers who donated to us, and a lot of pages for animal rights pages and organizations from all over the world published our crowdfunding campaign.
J: There was an article that came out today that you guys were mentioned in, on One Green Planet. Bruce Friedrich shared it and it talked about the importance of backing a company like SuperMeat. I read it literally right before I came here and I thought it was so funny and fitting. So what is your favorite part of the work that you do? Or is it the bigger mission that keeps you going?
K: Yeah, its the bigger mission. The fact that we can make a global change, this is what drives us in the morning to work for what we do. It’s not something specific because it really is such hard work.
J: So its almost like you feel called to this because you believe in its importance. You said you had to start the business for this to happen, but it seems to me like you didn’t really want to start a business?
K: Yeah it wasn’t our mission. Our mission was to found the NGO and to promote this field for the whole world. But this is the start-up world and it really is much more efficient because money is number 1 catalyst in the field of cultured meat. It’s what holds the strongest weight in this field. It wasn’t our life’s mission to start a business. I was a finance manager in the high-tech industry with a good job before that. But as you said, the bigger picture is what drives us. We wanted to make a change. I have so many English mistakes.
J: No your English is amazing! If you asked me to speak Hebrew.. it just wouldn’t happen! [laughs] Do you have any heroes or role models or people who you look up to? people whose work or way of living really inspires you?
K: Not anyone in particular who comes to my mind… but I really appreciate and admire everyone that is vegan and that is active for animal rights. I don’t like to look at it as heroes and role models… anyone that donates their time and money for animals… we are like one big family, and everyone does their part.
J: You were saying too you’re not part of vegan activism right now because you’re involved in cultured meat 100$ of the time, but I consider what you’re doing activism in it’s own right.
K: I just want to put the most effort in… and be most efficient in promoting cultured meat. And to me its more efficient for animal rights in the bigger picture than doing vegan advocacy. In the bigger picture of animal rights — you have the vegan movement and cultured meat movement. But both of them promote and want to stop animal suffering.
J: You obviously found a very effective route of activism that works for you… so what would you say to people who don’t feel like the typical route of activism isn’t right for them, but they still care and want to do something?
K: Everyone has an ability and willingness to promote their beliefs….even at the very least, talking to a friend, or tagging in a post, everything happens. In general, I think there are more effective activities than others, that have the potential to cause great change. But if you can come up with something that has the potential to reach all people, then you can maximize your time and abilities. You need to think how you can go global and reach people in all the way in China, in Argentina, in Spain. Can it go viral? Can it go global? If you’re doing action for your local community- that’s good. But there are 7 billion people, what is the relevance if only 1,000 people are gonna hear about it? This is a model that you must examine and think about when you do action. How can you can maximize your impact? Think always about the bigger picture and how you can make a global change. This is my message… and it comes from my years of experience in animal activism. A lot of people don’t think innovatively, they just like to join the existing paradigms and follow the regular and consistent norms… “okay so I’ll join an organization, I’ll give out some pamphlets.” It’s not something I like to encourage. I like to encourage people to say “What is the problem? What causes the problem? Can we solve it? If yes, how?”
J: Finding solutions.
K: “If we can’t solve the problem, okay. What can we do to minimize the problems?” I asked myself if I believed we can make the vegan world, and said no. So I said, “okay, what can we do?” And thats a lot of thinking that then led to SuperMeat. But if someone says, “Yes, I believe we can make a vegan world” then ask yourself “Okay, how? What does it require? How do you intend to veganize the 7 billion people on the planet from different cultures and communities? How do you make an action that will impact a lot of people and make more awareness and more activism?” People need to think and be creative. I don’t know the answer, but I know this is a must. I’m promoting [critical thinking, which is] the most efficient way.
J: Do you think it’s an inherent drive, or that most people feel like they want to fix the problems of the world? Because this is a specific kind of thought process, if you think to yourself, ‘what is wrong and how can i help?’ Do you think most people are in that mindset or is that a vegan mindset, of wanting to fix the world’s problems?
K: Yeah thats a good question, because you can say that a lot of people become vegan and then think about it, or maybe people think about it and then become vegan and vegan is one of their derivatives. It’s a good question! I don’t know.
J: Okay I have two more questions. Hope for the future? And then any books or documentaries or speeches or anything thats inspired you that’d you’d recommend to people who are interested in learning more or getting involved in this space?
K: I see a very dark future [laughs]. It’s not my opinion, it’s just what all the scientists say. For humans, for the animals, and for the environment. My hope is that clean meat can become a commercially viable and available product. I really hope and believe that it can truly abolish the current industry and replace it. If that will happen we might have a chance… and if the whole world becomes vegan we might have a chance [laughs] but I don’t see it happening in the coming 1000 years. Regarding specific books or documentaries.. I don’t have a specific one.. I really like Earthlings, and Cowspiracy was very good also.