To lure people put off by the freakiness of lab-made meat, this is what the industry wants to call it

First impressions.
First impressions.
Image: Reuters/David Parry
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

There’s an effort afoot to change the the way people perceive high-tech versions of old-fashioned food—and it’s happening far outside the laboratory.

For years, food technology companies have referred to their products as “cultured” or “lab-grown,” but as these new businesses start to make a first foray into the public eye, they are also pushing ideas that may make people uncomfortable—such as meat grown in labs.

To get over that, there’s a push to coalesce around a new term: “clean food.”

“It’s important because words matter in how we describe how something makes a big difference,” said Paul Shapiro, a top leader at Humane Society of the United States and author of a forthcoming book on the subject. “You can only make a first impression once.”

By opting for this terminology, the industry hopes to better communicate to people the ethos behind their products, rather than the actual processes (which often do occur in a laboratory) used to deliver them to the kitchen table. It’s main selling point: “clean” meat and dairy are efficient products with fewer sustainability and animal-welfare problems than traditional meat and dairy.

The effort—piggybacking off the now-ubiquitous use of the term “clean energy”—is  being spearheaded by the Good Food Institute, the newly-established, non-profit trade group in Washington, DC.  To better make its case, the Good Food Institute is preparing to highlight research by Brian Wansink, a formed US Department of Agriculture official who studied ways to get kids in US schools to eat more vegetables:

Research suggests the biggest influence on a person’s opinion of a particular food is how they “expect” it will taste.  Giving fun, enticing names to healthy foods increases the desire to try them. Why not call broccoli “broccoli bites” or carrots “X-ray vision carrots?” Renaming foods to make them sound more appealing resulted in an increase in the sale of vegetables in the school cafeteria by 27%.

The move comes as these high-tech foods are starting to appear before consumers. Impossible Foods unveiled its plant-based burger at Momofuku Nishi in New York City in late-July, and Beyond Meat is selling its version of a similar product in a limited number of US supermarkets. Memphis Meats is perfecting its product and Perfect Day, the vegan milk company, is looking to launch its first yogurt product in 2017.

These are some of the first players in what some hope will be a “clean food” revolution.