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This past weekend Penn hosted the Ivy League Future of Food Conference, which is an annual professional conference on plant-based diets and bioethics featuring renowned guests on a variety of food-related topics. (lyzadanger // CC BY-SA 2.0)

Penn hosted a conference this weekend for experts across the Ivy League to discuss the future of food in plant-based and clean meat diets.

The seventh annual Ivy League Future of Food Conference took place in Irvine Auditorium and Houston Hall, where attendees heard from scientists, business founders, and investors about the state of the clean meat industry and learned about the environmental and health benefits of the plant-based diet. 

The groundwork for the first Ivy FFC was laid in the fall of 2011, with the conference’s first meeting taking place at Penn the following March. According to its website, Ivy FFC has grown considerably since then in scope, attendance, and media visibility. 

Ivy FFC organizer and 2017 Penn graduate Brianna Krejci, who has attended the last four annual conferences, said she thought this year's conference was "the best yet."  

“In terms of content, this is the most focused we’ve ever been," said Krejci, a former president of the Penn Vegan Society, which has been a co-sponsor of the conference since its inception. "Previous years have tried to fit a lot of different content around veganism into one weekend, and [they were] a little sporadic.” 

This conference’s focus on clean meat, she said, gave it a more unified feel. 

According to the Cellular Agriculture Society, clean meat technology emerged in 2013 as a sustainable alternative to traditional agriculture, with less wasted water and a carbon footprint substantially lower than that produced by animal agriculture. Clean meat is lab-grown through animal cells and has nutritional and chemical properties consistent with animal-sourced meat. 

Ivy FFC 2018 panelists said that with animal agriculture responsible for much of the waste that pollutes groundwater and rivers, and producing 16.5 percent of total greenhouse gases, the concept of a cleaner, high-tech solution is even more relevant to environmentalists, scientists, and entrepreneurs alike.

“Clean meat is still a very expensive technology, and it’s a few years out from being widely available, but once it can be produced at a reasonable cost, it’s going to revolutionize the way we eat," Krejci said. "In the meantime, plant-based meat products are continuing to supplant animal-based protein."

Aylon Steinhart

Attendees heard from plant-based businesses about their products and philosophies. Later, scientists spoke about the cellular agriculture technology behind clean meat production, and a panel of investors and business experts discussed clean meat’s financial viability.

Sunday’s presentations focused on nutrition and environmentalism. Cardiologist Robert J. Ostfeld and Penn Medicine’s own William Duffy discussed various benefits of plant-based nutrition, including specific benefits for cardiovascular disease patients. Next, environmentalists Wanqing Zhou and Matthew Hayek described the detrimental effects of the agricultural meat industry on the environment, and how plant-based and clean meat solutions might be implemented. Speakers on both days of the conference emphasized innovation, self-critique, and adoption of a plant-based diet as a solution to a host of pressing issues.

Lance Lively, Wharton MBA candidate and Ivy FFC organizer, said “now is the time for people in the more mainstream to get involved. It’s not just a fringe technology; it’s something that is taking a lot of market share. You don’t need to make the case from a mission-driven or even sustainability standpoint. For pure traditional motives including profit, career success, and scientific interest, there’s reward to be had.”

Veganism appeals to several related causes, including sustainability, ethics, and health, but a common critique is that, like clean meat production, the lifestyle is currently not affordable for most of the country.

Ivy FFC volunteer and College freshman Abby LaForm added that “conferences like this are about increasing awareness, which increases demand for [vegan] goods. As more companies put their products on the market, vegan options will become cheaper as products continue to rival each other.”­­

Organizer Kashfia Ehsan said that the event also focused more on networking than in prior years. Veganism was examined as a market as well as an ideal. Members of the environmentalist panel and some attendees discussed how consumer choices from those who can afford a vegan lifestyle could have a trickle-down effect on the general public, which panelist Hayek said could be enhanced by corporations acting as "role models" of ethical consumption for their employees.

Ivy FFC volunteer and Wharton sophomore Aaditi Tamhankar noted that “not everyone has the means to become vegan, mostly for monetary reasons. I do think it’s something to aspire to though — preventing as much animal cruelty and suffering as you can.” 

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