SAN FRANCISCO — There are nooks and crannies where its old spirit can be found, but this is no longer the city you hear about in songs and recollections.
If the unavoidable protrusion of the new Salesforce tower on this city's skyline isn't enough of a sign, a ground-level stroll through the historic Mission District will clear any remaining confusion. San Francisco is a place that's gone through radical change. That is, in fact, what brought me here.
There are about eight companies in the world working to get cell cultured meats into the commercial market. Food re-envisioned in a re-envisioned city. Three of these companies call the Bay Area home: Hampton Creek, Memphis Meats, and Finless Foods. On more than one level it's appropriate these start-ups are based here, after all Silicon Valley is synonymous with cutting-edge.
Still also, though, are the parallel questions about identity. Founded (and largely funded) by vegans, these food technology companies are wrestling with exactly what kind of message they should communicate to the outside world. Should they market themselves as vegan? (The preeminent thinkers seem to think not.) And what should they even call the meat they're creating?
The latter is a topic I'm especially interested to watch unfold. From a recent piece I wrote for Quartz:
The need to find a name indicates how close the technology is to jumping from lab to market. But translating terminology from scientific jargon to consumer-friendly lingo is nettlesome. Forces within the nascent cell-cultured meat industry are working to get everyone to coalesce around one name: clean meat.
Not everyone in this space is in agreement on that term, though, and the debate has led to some interesting conversations at the intersection of marketing, public policy, ego, and activism—the crucible in which these start-ups figure out more precisely how to carry out their missions.
These young companies are coming into their own during a ripe moment, buttressed by promises to deliver food that's better for people, the environment, and the future. The opportunity to document their first steps, and I'm eager to see where that takes me this year.