If food makes you feel futuristic, then it is tech

According to the company itself and literally everyone who's ever written about it, Impossible Foods is tech. But is a plant-based burger really tech?

A hamburger on a blank background with the text “Is this tech?” overtop it.

Something can be dumb and tech, Tom.

Photo: Impossible/Protocol

That every company in the world is now "tech," in some form or another, is not a new idea. The Wall Street Journal wrote about this concept back in 2018, and Wired did the same in 2019, and the internet has been asking, "what makes a tech company a tech company?" for even longer. OK, so got it: Everything is tech.

But what does that really mean? And if everything is tech, does that mean nothing is tech? That's the type of stuff that keeps us awake at night, and that's why we're launching a weekly column to discuss what, exactly, makes a product a tech product.

Up first we've got Impossible Foods, which, according to the company itself and literally everyone who's ever written about it, is tech. But is it really? We asked the newsroom to find out.

The following has been lightly edited for clarity.

Jane Seidel: is impossible meat tech?

David Wertime: 100%

David: Who says technology has to involve steel or silicon?

Nick Statt: I think so, in the same way that, say, Nike developing a new shoe is often picked up by tech news sites. It's more of the idea of a company doing something innovative than it involving computing/software.

Tom Krazit: i'd have to agree. it's not software either, but it's certainly some pretty bad-ass chemistry

Jane: so is any innovation inherently tech?

Owen Thomas: I'm going to say that Impossible Foods is tech, but Eat Just is not. I mean, they just mixed a bunch of stuff together to get fake mayo.

Owen: Claiming that you used AI to analyze recipes (actually: a spreadsheet) does not make you tech.

Karyne Levy: i don't think innovation necessarily = tech, but innovation grown in a lab = tech

Joe Williams: I do think there's a difference between using technology and being a technology company. Using technology to make your product is different than selling technology. It doesn't make you a technology company cause you adopt new tools. You're a food company that uses technology to create an innovative product.

Owen: That said, Eat Just's new venture, Good Meat, that is absolutely some crazy biotech shit.

Issie Lapowsky: Amen, Joe!

Owen: My complaint about Eat Just is that for the mayo and fake-egg products, they're not even really using technology for that. It's just one more food company doing things the way other food companies do things.

Issie: and there's a difference between chemistry and tech right? i guess there's a world in which we could call it biotech?

Karyne: on their website they call themselves a "food technology company" which is like exactly. biotech

Jane: right like is making food... tech? because you figured out a new way to do it?

Biz Carson: is it a food company using technology or a technology company applied to food?

Owen: The biotech component of Impossible Foods is coming up with the "meat"-y ingredient, which required actual bioengineering IIRC. There was no bioengineering in Eat Just's fake mayo.

Kate Cox: There is SO MUCH tech in food and agriculture. Science all the way down

Owen: Right, if we call Impossible Foods a tech company, do we have to call ConAgra a tech company?

Kate: I would call ConAgra an agtech company

Kate: Or maybe I wouldn't, because that's a hideous word, but still

Jane: companies like bayer have crop science divisions but it's not considered a tech company!

Jane: agtech sounds like a sneeze typed out

Issie: science =/= tech

Kate: Impossible and Beyond feel to me like they're baby steps toward the niche of all-engineered food from an Asimov book

Jane: when does science become tech

Tom: i'm hungry

Owen: I just want to politely disagree with the notion that "food technology" and biotech are the same thing. Sometimes food technology uses biotech, sometimes chemistry, sometimes other technological techniques, but not all food tech is biotech; in fact most of it is not, given the aversion of Western consumers to bioengineered food products.

Caitlin Wolper: I would venture that I dont see those as tech but cell-based meat (which ya, science) is the tech

Kate: Isn't the point of companies/products like Impossible to make Western consumers more comfortable with bioengineered food?

Jane: @Tom me too im making a sandwich as we speak actually

Karyne: what kind?

Janko Roettgers: If Impossible Foods is a tech company because it uses bioengineering, then Mars is a tech company because it uses GMO

Karyne: omg is every food tech?

Jane: chicken sausage and cheese on whole grain w some dijon

Becca Evans: is the Okja from Okja tech

Karyne: that sounds like tech, @Jane

Caitlin: Does drinking iced coffee bring me Closer to Tech

Karyne: yes

Jane: The Singularity

Ben Brody: I'm feeling provocative, so I'm going to say not only is it tech, it's actually more tech than food. Why? Because I, a meateater, feel very futuristic when I think about impossible meat. That's it. Pure gut. Off to my very untech leftovers...

Jane: what about it feels futuristic ben it is just a burger!!!!

Karyne: it's made out of a plant!

Caitlin: Brb moving every newspaper's recipe section into their tech section

Jane: do u feel futuristic when u eat a salad (plant)

A salad on a blue background with the text \u201cIs this tech?\u201d  and two exasperated emojis beside it What about it feels futuristic, Ben, it is just a burger!Image: Sina Piryae / Unsplash/ Protocol

Caitlin: Yes

Tomio Geron: Eat Just is kind of like startups saying they are an AI company, but they're really just using off the shelf stuff underneath

Kate: There are huge, billion-dollar businesses that exist exclusively to put colors, scents, and flavors into things. They are extremely tech-heavy companies. Is an egg tech? Not really. Is a 100% processed, lab-engineered product? Maybe…

Karyne: no because the salad isn't made into meat

Owen: I am now going to rewrite some Indigo Girls lyrics as "Closer to Tech" which can be the theme song for this series

Nick: I think there is an element of futurism inherent in technology as a concept (not necessarily an industry, to Joe's good point) but at a certain point I do think it stops being futuristic when lab-grown meat just becomes a more everyday part of food.

Kate: (I have absolutely had that song in my head for the last five minutes @Owen)

Tom: since we got this far and no one has mentioned the juicero, i'll do it

Tomio: What about Zume Pizza?

Janko: Something can be dumb and tech, Tom.

Tomio: Are pizza boxes tech?

Ben: Karyne's right: Only the salad-made-meat makes me feel futuristic, which is itself probably just a feeling that it could fit into the sci-fi I consumed when I was about 12?

Karyne: that's next week's question

Karyne: remember The Melt in SF that was tech because it was founded by the same dude who founded Flip cameras?

Kate: Replicators! Mycology! Engineered meatless meat is totally the stuff of sci-fi.

Tom: you don't have to tell the enterprise desk that @Janko

Ben: Right, Kate! Am I stirring the pot or stepping back on a whole semiotic project? (Hint: It's the former. Probably.)

Biz: Ok I will definitely argue about the Melt at some point (not tech), BUT i think the point still stands that impossible meats had to do a lot of technical work and bioengineering to create what it did. plus it raised venture backing and so far the public markets are treating beyond meat as very much not like a food company. So i'm going to come down on the side of it's a tech company

Issie: and as we know, venture capitalists have never overpromised or inflated the value of anything before 😉

Megan Rose Dickey: got em

Megan: i think impossible is def more tech than mac'd, which went through Y Combinator

Biz: oh let's debate wework next

Nick: a hotdog is definitely a sandwich

Megan: lol

Karyne: oh boy

Biz: speaking of hyper inflated VC things

Karyne: nick don't even start

Becca: Would Dippin' Dots be tech

Becca: I always feel futuristic when I eat those

Karyne: damn

Jane: the idea that something is tech bc it makes u feel a lil futuristic is just fantastic

Jane: it's tech because of the vibes. plain and simple

Ben: It's a completely indefensible position and I think a lot of people agree with it

Ben: So Dippin Dots are def tech

Becca: YES

Caitlin: no, they're the future

Becca: are they more so if you eat them on a hoverboard

Becca: is that double tech jeopardy

Karyne: i think that just adds to the tech. astronaut ice cream is 100% tech.

Tom: and gross

Becca: [shares screenshot]

Becca: fellas I'm seeing the word technology

Karyne: so impossible meat is tech because dippin dots is tech

Karyne: i'm fine with that answer.

Jane: here comes the copy editor being pedantic

Karyne: are you talking about me?

Becca: 🥰

Jane: becca actually but you, too!

Jane: ok i am capping this for now. impossible meats, it seems, is a little bit tech.


Closer to Tech

I'm trying to figure out if this is tech

Maybe say yes, maybe say what the heck

And the best thing about this industry

Is that the line is so arbitrary

It's only tech after all, yeah

Well, founders have a hunger that's insatiable

And consumer multiples are really hard to bear

And I wrap my head around this concept like a turban

I create a founding myth, a legend urban

I'm rewriting my deck

And I went to the VCs, I went to Tiger Global

I drank sake in Tokyo, I wrote an app that's mobile

There's more than one way to look at companies

When you write a check

And the more I raise my valuation in this round

(The more I raise my valuation)

Closer I am to tech, yeah

Closer I am to tech, yeah

And I went to see the head of SoftBank's Vision Fund

With a poster of Masa-san and a Google resume

He never did IPO or raise his own seed funding

He scoffed at my CAC, he doubted my LTV

I spent hours rewriting my pitch

Got my funding and I was free

And I went to the VCs, I went to Tiger Global

I drank sake in Tokyo, I wrote an app that's mobile

There's more than one way to look at companies

When you write a check

And the more I raise my valuation in this round

(The more I raise my valuation)

Closer I am to tech, yeah

Closer I am to tech, yeah

I stopped by Rosewood at 3 A.M.

To seek a co-founder, or maybe a party round

And I woke up with a cap table just like a jigsaw puzzle

Twice as valuable as I'd been the day before

And I went in seeking a Series B

And I went to the VCs, I went to Tiger Global

I drank sake in Tokyo, I wrote an app that's mobile

We go to the VCs, we go to Tiger Global

We drink sake in Tokyo, we write an app that's mobile

Yeah, we get that seed funding, then hire 50 engineers

No clue what they're doing, but guess we have to buy them beer

There's more than one way to look at companies

When you write a check

And the more I raise my valuation in this round

(The more I raise my valuation)

Closer I am to tech

Closer I am to tech

Closer I am to tech, yeah

Jane: OWEN

Karyne: oh god

Owen: 🎸


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