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Bringing home the bacon: A kindergartner tests the future of food

This experiment may be ridiculous, but the question isn't: What does it take for meat-eaters to switch to alternative proteins?

Prime Roots alternative bacon

Today I bring you exclusive data from the cutting edge of food science.

Let me begin by managing expectations. This experiment is so grievously flawed that, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I would not submit it to any journal likely to accept it.

The experiment in question is a taste test of a new product from Berkeley-based startup Prime Roots. Its flaws begin with the sample size, which is n=1. Our sole tester is Jay Giles, aged 6. Here he is, pre-test:

Jay is nonetheless an interesting subject, because he frequently exhibits high levels of hostility toward novel foodstuffs. Requests that he eat something not on his (extremely short) list of pre-approved foods are typically met with claims that "today is the worst day ever," followed by various acts of low-level vandalism.

Jay’s list of pre-approved foods includes bacon. It does not include fake bacon made from fungi grown in a vat, the subject of our test. Because I value my sanity and the structural integrity of my home, I have told him that it is real bacon.

Which brings us to the question I set out to answer: Will he notice the difference?

I had no good explanation for why his breakfast was sitting in a pool of yellow froth, so I opted for misdirection and reminded him that he was getting a side of toast.

My experiment may be ridiculous, but this question isn’t. Most experts say that reducing meat consumption is an essential part of cutting greenhouse gas emissions from food systems, which contribute a quarter of the global total. It’s also one of the easier ways that individuals can make a difference. Shifting to a vegetarian meal just one day a week, for instance, saves the equivalent of driving more than 1,000 miles over the course of a year. A lot more meat-eaters will make that change if they can switch to a convincing substitute.

Prior to my experiment, my wife offered to wager me any sum of money that our tester would not eat the bacon. I opened the packet and was glad I declined. The new bacon looks, at best, bacon-ish:

Bacon alternative


Then I sniffed: Hint of dank. I was reminded of a musty basement from a childhood home. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant smell, but it didn’t exactly shout "breakfast" at me. 

Luckily our tester was too busy playing with Lego to notice, so I hastily began frying. Matters improved. The bacon-not-bacon sizzled, the dank odor lessened and I got wafts of real bacon.

Our tester wandered over. He looked hesitant. "What are those bubbles?" he asked. I had no good explanation for why his breakfast was sitting in a pool of yellow froth, so I opted for misdirection and reminded him that he was getting a side of toast. Calamity averted, he sat down.

I served Jay with a plate of fungi masquerading as bacon. "What’s this?" he said, looking skeptical as he tentatively chewed the edge of one slice. "Bacon," I lied. He frowned. Sensing disaster, I abandoned methodological integrity and offered him tomato ketchup. Too late. Jay piled up the neatly sliced pieces of bacon and deposited them on my place. To my relief, he then turned his attention not to retribution but to his buttered toast.

Was that it for this great emissions-reducing superfood?

It seemed so... but wait! What’s this? A second tester! Eight-year-old Sam Giles was excluded from our experimental protocol because he does not like bacon. Until this morning, that is. Now he’s munching away, renewing my hope in humanity’s ability to save itself from climate catastrophe through low-carbon eating.

"I don’t like the normal kind but I do like this one," said Sam.

"You’re the only one," replied Jay. "It tastes like tree trunks."

I’m tempted to speculate on what this means for the future of alternative proteins, but I suspect the answer is not very much. So I’ll just say that I joined Sam and enjoyed my breakfast. Prime Roots bacon doesn’t taste much like bacon, but it’s salty and crispy and generally pretty good. I’ll eat it again.

This article was adapted from the GreenBiz Food Weekly newsletter. Sign up here to receive your own free subscription.

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