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Building muscle—for dinner

Beyond Meat's Ethan Brown talks to NPR's How I Built This.

Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown sat down with NPR's Guy Raz for a special live episode of Raz' How I Built This.

Recording live is only one departure from the podcast's format. Another: Brown's company is still a startup, is yet to be profitable, and Brown is not a billionaire like many of the folks to share the mic.

Brown's story does share many elements, however. Namely passion, squeezed into the margins of a busy life on a shoestring budget. His is a tale of listening (finally!) to one's calling and aligning values and actions. And about creating something, from scratch, that can change human's relationship to the planet. It starts with a realization.

"Meat is really five things," Brown tells Raz. "It's amino acids, it's lipids, it's very small amount of carbohydrates, it's trace minerals (also very small amount). It's predominantly water. What's interesting about all five of those things is they're not exclusive to the animal. They're all absolutely present in the plant kingdom." Brown describes animals as bioreactors turning plant matter into muscle. "Why can't we take plant matter, run it through a system and create muscle?"

There may be more appetizing ways to put it, but the point is this: "It's about creating a new form of meat for the center of the plate that people will love and they don't have to sacrifice to have it," Brown says.

As Raz asks about profitability—not just a question of when, but whether it even matters—Brown takes the invitation to go lofty. "I want to look back on this effort and all of the people working there and ... say you guys did this," he says. "For 200,000 years as humans—for 2 million years as humans plus our predecessors—we've been consuming meat from animals. You guys were born and you died and in between that time you basically separated meat from animals and you put us on a sustainable path."

It's still a work in progress. Brown thinks his product is great, but he's by no means done reinventing meat. "Our job, our obligation is to make that protein great," he says.

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