Donning a slick laboratory coat and goggles in a food engineering laboratory, supermodel and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss shines in the third episode of a new mini-series titled "Trailblazers of STEAM". The series, in collaboration with Ford STEAM Experience, an incubator for integrating STEAM into the classroom, showcases the diversity of engineering across the mobility, gaming, food, and space industries. 

Do you dream of soaring to Mars on a rocket ship or designing the next Fortnight or Infinite Warfare? These seemingly wild careers are becoming reality through engineering. By engaging with successful engineers and people who use these products daily, Kloss discovers that code and engineering can create compelling solutions and ideas in these fields.

An especially exciting third episode in the four-part series focuses specifically on how technology can spark innovation and sustainability in the food and restaurant industry. Kloss highlights the promise of Clean Meat (a scientifically-developed alternative to red meat) and the accomplishments of engineers and pioneers in the field. 

First, What's "Clean Meat"? 

The world eats a lot of meat. The North American Meat Institute estimates that the meat industry contributes nearly $894 billion to the US economy, with Tyson Foods and JBS S.A. as the largest meat producers. While the meat industry’s economic benefits uplift the economy, animal cruelty and irreversible environmental destruction due to farming animals (such as deforestation and groundwater loss) plague the industry. And it seems that these issues will only continue to rise. In a 2012 report, the UN projected that by 2050 meat production would increase astronomically to 455 million tons a year.

While alternatives to meat have only been regarded as science fiction in the past, as exemplified in Douglas Adam’s 1980 novel "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe", this novel phenomenon is now reality. In order to create “Cultured Meat” or “Clean Meat”, scientists have learned to harvest animal cells grown in vitro in plastic lab plates, through tissue engineering. The impacts of this new meat industry have already shown immense promise. According to research from University of Oxford and University of Amsterdam in 2011, cultured meat will reduce the reduction in land use by 99 percent and 78-98 percent in greenhouse gas emissions.

Several major companies pioneering this market include Beyond MeaJUST and Impossible Foods, which have invented things like the Beyond Meat Sausage, the Impossible Burger and Just Scramble. It’s not only important for the product to taste like the original, but also cook, look, and smell the same as red meat and animal products so people feel comfortable making the switch. However, scientists aren’t the only ones experimenting with and utilizing clean meat. Customers can also find these brands readily in supermarkets nationwide. Even restaurants like White Castle have adopted these new innovations into their menus. 

The Engineer Behind the Beyond Meat Burger

In the third episode, Kloss begins with interviewing Lina Pruitt, a Process and Chemical Engineer working for Beyond Meat. At its core, Pruitt describes process engineering as taking raw ingredients and crafting a product that makes sense for the customer.

As an engineer, Pruitt enjoys thinking deeply about the Beyond Meat products as “evolved meat” and highlights “working with her hands” as her favorite part of her job.

When Kloss inquires if Pruitt has any advice for emerging women in STEAM, she responds that “believing a woman that can put a machine together” was especially empowering for her. Pruitt’s tenacity in an emerging field shows a glowing example of a successful engineer.

Clean Meat in the Kitchen

Leaving the food laboratory for a home kitchen, Kloss picks up her second interview with Brooke Williamson, a former "Top Chef" contestant and restaurateur, who uses clean meat frequently in her dishes. Brooke first addresses the gender imbalance in the restaurant industry, a similar dilemma women face in the technology and engineering world. Williamson notes that it “would be ignorant to ignore gender in a male-dominated industry” and now speaks openly about female representation.

She then unpacks the possibilities of clean meat in her restaurant and other dominating chains by asserting that “red meat is not a necessary component to a meal.” Ending the interview on a hopeful note, Williamson recognizes that there has been more progress in the past year on clean meat than the past 10 years. Like Williamson, we can only hope that this is just the beginning of a food revolution.

Key Takeaways

The third episode of "Trailblazers of STEAM" provides a glimpse into the potential of food technology to progress society towards a cleaner future and disrupt complacent and detrimental markets such as the meat industry.

Interestingly, the series emphasizes the importance of STEAM achievements instead of just STEM achievements (the ‘A’ stands for Art). This shows the necessity of learning about art and food and STEM when conjuring viable solutions to problems in society.

Furthermore, the episode intentionally identifies interviewees by gender-neutral titles. For instance, Kloss introduces Lina Pruitt as an engineer – rather than a female engineer – preventing the stereotypes of a how a typical female engineer should behave or is labeled.

Ultimately this episode showcases the massive possibilities of food science and technology to shape environmentally-friendly solutions in the world. It also reveals emerging careers for engineers interested in creating sustainable food products and people excited about testing food science in the kitchen.

As the global population continues to grow, food innovation has become more necessary and relevant. Leaders and engineers have a growing stake in the future of the food industry and this episode takes the first step in encouraging and educating women and girls to lead this movement.