future of protein production with plates with healthy food and protein

FPP Chicago Speaker Interview: Julieta Cardenas, Journalist, Sentient Media

April 17, 2024

A graduate in Animal Studies turned professional storyteller, Julieta Cardenas is an accomplished video and print journalist. Here, instead of Julieta asking the questions, we take on the role of interviewer to get to know her a little better

Thanks for talking to us, Julieta! Let’s start by hearing about your path through the industry and how you made the jump from academia to journalism

While doing my MA in Animal Studies at NYU, I was introduced to the environmental consequences of livestock factory farming – opportunity food loss, pollution of air and water, and deforestation due to grazing. The factory farming system requires too much land and in the process ruins ecosystems. Also, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) pose a big risk of zoonotic disease, and since I was studying for my MA during the pandemic I really wanted to do everything I could to help reduce the risk of future public health catastrophes.

I originally thought I wanted to focus solely on Animal Behavioral Biology so that I could eventually do observational studies of wild animals. But the risk of extinction is so high for wild animals, in part because of the deforestation and land-use change brought on by livestock factory farming. There will be no wild animals to study if they go extinct!

Thankfully, I was also introduced to solutions for the problems. One of these was alternative proteins. Although I had eaten my share of alt proteins throughout my life (I became vegetarian aged seven), I didn’t realize that their potential could be so great as to help reduce the emissions related to agriculture, or improve population health.  

And these points led to a focus on cellular agriculture?

Yes, my interest grew and I ended up writing my soon-to-be-published thesis on collaboration in cellular agriculture.

I have spent the past 18 months using what I know to inform my journalism on the future of food, animals and the environment. I was a fellow on the Future Perfect Desk at Vox last year and now I am an editorial fellow at Sentient. I also have a video podcast on Unchained TV called Tomorrow’s Plate, in which I interview CEOs in the alt-proteins space about what they are doing and what their wider goals are. I’m excited to continue to cover these topics and jump into conversation at FPP Chicago!

And we’re delighted to have you on board! The panel discussion you are participating in is on ‘Horizontal collaboration that could supercharge progress by breaking down silos’. Please could you talk us through the key points you will be discussing.

I am noticing that the majority of innovation in alternative proteins is happening within the silos of startups where processes and specific inputs are kept behind IP. I often think that these essential components of creating the food of tomorrow should operate on a more open-source model. If we want to feed the world with minimal environmental impact, it makes more sense to pool resources – for example, using the same cell line for cultivated chicken products, to be differentiated at a later point in production through whatever direction companies want to take it in. Of course, the big hurdle here is convincing stakeholders that they will be profitable even if parts of their production are shared.  

An open innovation approach will help accelerate the field’s growth, mitigate risks from secrecy, promote transparency, and support regulatory streamlining

This is why I argue that government funding is critical in helping build facilities and encouraging collaboration in alt proteins – it will reduce the fiscal risks of anyone involved. Alternative proteins can change the world, and certainly should try, but the incentive has to be there for everyone involved to make it happen faster, with least waste, and with food justice outcomes in mind. I think that technological solutions to the food systems will work best if the distribution of benefits is symmetric across populations. So, we need governments to care about alt proteins as a way to ensure food security, and that will give companies a north star.

You are a strong proponent of open innovation. How can open innovation accelerate food production?

Open innovation is a way of creating world-changing/moon-shot technologies with maximum benefits to society. It was used as an innovation approach during the tech boom of the 1990s (think about the semiconductor space or software). It has also been used in biotech.

Closed innovation approaches try to keep all developments within the institutional boundaries of a company; this requires that the costs of R&D be borne by the company and that it does not share its innovation milestones with outside firms. In a closed innovation system, the company ultimately reaps the benefit of its innovation if it is first to market. An open model, on the other hand, allows external knowledge to be used and allows for the company to also share its innovations. This is typically done through licensing agreements.

We are now in a moment where the methods behind open-source innovation can be applicable to food tech and help create the best outcomes for global society.  

We know you are also banging the drum for more horizontal collaboration in cell ag, so what do you regard as the key opportunities here?

The current state of cellular agriculture may seem ill-prepared to take on the challenge of feeding the world with less inputs than traditional factory farming in part because of the innovation model that it is in. Venture capital and proprietary licensing strategies support hierarchical ownership models in the current field, create redundancy in research and development, and do not immediately address the social benefits to be gained from a food-justice point of view. In contrast, an open innovation approach will help accelerate the field’s growth, mitigate risks from secrecy, promote transparency, and support regulatory streamlining. In just one example of work already being done that illustrates the benefits of horizontal collaboration, the startup, Deco Labs, is utilizing the knowledge coming from Tufts University for Cellular Agriculture (TUCCA) to make an impact on industry, targeting everything from cell line development to media formulation and bioprocess design.

Julieta will be moderating a panel discussion at The Future of Protein Production Chicago called, ‘Horizontal collaboration that could supercharge progress by breaking down silos'. The conference takes place at McCormick Place on 24/25 April 2024. Book your tickets today to come and hear a further +85 speakers, 30 presentations, eight panel discussions and network with +400 other attendees. Click here

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

About the Speaker

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Every week, you’ll receive a compilation of the latest breakthroughs from the global alternative proteins sector, covering plant-based, fermentation-derived and cultivated proteins.
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.