In San Francisco, even the eggs are high-tech. Just, a food-tech start-up launched in 2011, created a software program to scour more than 350,000 plants for proteins, nutrients and properties that make them good to cook and eat. After four years, it discovered how to make eggless scrambled eggs from mung beans.
I recently visited Just’s headquarters in the Mission district with Jay Timmons, the chief executive of the US National Association of Manufacturers. He was on a state-by-state tour to drum up support for American “makers”.
最近，我与美国全国制造商协会(National Association of Manufacturers)主席杰伊.迪蒙斯(Jay Timmons)一起访问了Just位于旧金山教会区(Mission District)的总部。迪蒙斯正对各州进行访问，以争取对美国“生产企业”的支持。
Just researchers travel to biodiversity hotspots such as the southern Amazon basin in Colombia, bringing back powdered leaves or freeze-dried pulp seeds that are then stored in plastic tubs in a cold room. In another lab, scientists grow stem cells into slabs of animal-less meat.
One of Just’s first products was an eggless mayonnaise. But in 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration ruled it could not be called mayonnaise. It is made from Canadian yellow peas, another of the unappreciated proteins that the company is turning into more recognisable foods. This “Just Mayo” is now sold across the US in Walmart and Kroger, and is served in the cafeterias at the New York Stock Exchange and the Department of Homeland Security.
Just的首批产品之一是无蛋蛋黄酱。但在2015年，美国食品药物管理局(FDA)裁定，这种产品不能叫做蛋黄酱。它由加拿大黄豌豆制成，这是另一种尚未得到充分重视的蛋白质来源，而该公司正把它制成更容易辨认的食品。这种“Just Mayo”现在在全美各地的沃尔玛(Walmart)和克罗格(Kroger)超市有售，还进入了纽约证交所(New York Stock Exchange)和国土安全部(Department of Homeland Security)的食堂。
Timmons describes Just, whose latest efforts include plant-based cookies and ice cream, as the “most unorthodox food stop” on his tour. He asks Josh Tetrick, its CEO, if the mayo is vegan. Tetrick shudders at the V-word. “Like ketchup is a vegan product,” he says defensively.
Just的最新产品包括基于植物的饼干和冰激凌。迪蒙斯把Just称为他此次旅程中“最不正统的用餐地点”。他问该公司首席执行官乔希.蒂特里克(Josh Tetrick)：“Just Mayo”算不算严格素食产品(vegan，除了不吃肉之外，也排除乳制品和禽蛋等所有动物制品——译者注)?蒂特里克对这个V词明显感到不快。他辩白说：“就好像番茄酱是一种严格素食产品一样。”
Just’s vision is not to have its products adopted only by vegan San Franciscans. Tetrick wants to feed everyone, from residents of his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, to undernourished children in Liberia. He says he founded the company to address the global food shortage. Realising that big food companies rely on a limited set of tools — soy, corn, processed sugar — he wanted to find and create alternatives.
Just has found itself in some serious scrambles. Before the FDA ruling, it faced a lawsuit from Unilever (since dropped), which took exception to the term mayonnaise for an eggless product.
Then there was a federal investigation into whether it was buying up its own product from supermarket shelves (the company said this was for quality control purposes, and the probe found no wrongdoing). Turbulence at the top has led to the firing of three senior employees, and six board directors have left in the past two years, including representatives of major investors.
Tetrick doesn’t dwell on those struggles but admits he underestimated how hard mass manufacturing is. He has found that even if the company can create interesting products in the lab, it needs to be able to tell factories how to manufacture them at scale.
“We are not shipping code in an iPhone, we are making food for brothers and sisters to put in their body,” he tells me. But he says he has been humbled by the experience. This is impressive — it is unusual for entrepreneurs to acknowledge the difficulty of achieving goals outside the Silicon Valley app-sphere.
At the end of the tour, I tried Just’s scrambled “eggs”. The chef picked up a shapely bottle of Just Scrambled and poured what looked like whisked eggs into a pan. The mung-bean mix cooks just like eggs, in swirls of translucent liquid that solidifies into yellow fluff.
I pick up a fork and taste. In my mouth, it feels like scrambled egg. At the tip of my tongue, it tastes like eggs. But — and this may have been all the bean talk — by the time it reaches the back of my throat, I can detect a slight beany-ness. Maybe it needs a little vegan ketchup.