Humbled by hummus


 Stopping for lunch in Tel Aviv.

Stopping for lunch in Tel Aviv.

TEL AVIV — Even the most intriguing food technology has a tough time outshining the hummus I ate in Jaffa, an Israeli town just to the south of lush Tel Aviv. Cozied up along the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, this hummus was served up at Abu Hassan; slightly cool, immediately addictive, and creamy, it was presented with a dusting of paprika and a dab of olive oil. I went back for seconds, blushing. Then thirds.

Even as I visited three promising food laboratories developing cell-cultured meats in Israel, the purveyors of these high-tech spaces paid significant homage to the naturally-grown food that already exist around them.

"These are the freshest dates you'll ever taste," says Ido Savir, sliding a small box of twelve across a table toward me. They were slightly frozen, gushing with juices, and overwhelmingly sweet.

I lean forward with a napkin to keep from dripping. This is the kind of food I gorged on during my two-week stay in the country, where it takes a careful eye to find menu items that aren't healthy options. Everything is loaded with tomato and onion and cucumber and carrots. 

In that same vein, the cell-cultured meat companies here are singular in their own right. For most of them, the approach is deeply academic. My travels took me from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Rehovot—proving in a very visceral way the power of a a national effort to push a science forward, and in a way that compliments an already-sustainable food system.



The policy fight over cell cultured meat has started

I recently spoke with Evan Kleiman on her wonderful KCRW show, Good Food, to chat about cell-cultured meat and the initial rumblings in Washington over how the product will be marketed. The conversation was particularly enjoyable for me, in part because her questions were so great. Check it out

You can also read the corresponding story, which was published on Quartz in February.

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Awake in the canals

 Unable to sleep, a view from an Amsterdam houseboat in the quiet hours of the night.

Unable to sleep, a view from an Amsterdam houseboat in the quiet hours of the night.

 A spray of color along the Old World passages that circle Amsterdam's city center.

A spray of color along the Old World passages that circle Amsterdam's city center.

AMSTERDAM — For four days I got to live on a houseboat in a canal in the Netherlands. I was six hours removed from my native timezone, tucked away in one where I barely slept, opting instead to stare dreamily out my bedroom window by night as passing boats rippled the water in a vain attempt to lull me into another place.

There's a saying in that tiny country (though from whom it originated I don't know) that, "God created the earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands." It makes sense taking into consideration the human ingenuity it took to forge a country below sea level and behind seawalls. It also applies to the area of my research. What better place on earth to foster the idea of an environmentally-friendly meat, grown without animals, as a means of making a more efficient food system?

But I'm already familiar with the story of Willem van Eelen. It was the daughter of the late-van Eelen with whom I sought to meet on this trip, along with a handful of entrepreneurial spirits who are working hard to make cell-cultured meat a reality.

My journey took me deep into the city center, to its north, and also to the south of the country, where in a small town the treaty was signed that officially formed the European Union in 1992. 

The trip was invaluable, and I'm increasingly excited to share what I'm learning about this very particular corned of the food space, and the people who inhabit it.

UPDATE: In the previous post I'd mentioned the issue of so-called 'clean meat' being kosher. The conversation around that topic is evolving. My latest on the subject in Quartz.