A Meeting About Impossible Meat

Do you get sweaty palms and butterflies in your stomach when you speak before a crowd? Good. Now imagine presenting to a group of highly trained technical specialists at a conference with the rather weighty title The International Consortium on Applied Bioeconomy Research. The venue is the World Bank in Washington, D.C., which houses one of the world’s most prestigious social science research institutes.

Oh, I forgot to mention. Only a handful of presenters at the conference are students. You and your three friends are the only undergraduates.

Does this sound like fun? It was fun, and a bit scary, for Rutgers students Amanda Lam, Harrison Blum, Morgan Murray, and Kayleigh Torcivia. They took Professor Yanhong Jin’s course Food Health and Safety Policy in the fall of 2017. However, the students did not stop working after December’s final exam. 

Professor Jin, along with her DAFRE colleagues Professor Carl Pray and visiting scholar Hui Qiao, recognized that the students’ fall term project on recently developed meat substitutes would be perfect for the upcoming Bioeconomy meeting. The students signed up for independent study credit so they could do primary research in the spring semester and present their findings at the World Bank in June.

The students developed a survey-based random choice experiment around four options: traditional meat, traditional vegetarian substitutes, in-vitro meat, and Impossible™ meat — a new plant-based substitute that is remarkably similar to traditional meat. The study explored consumer awareness of the products and elicited opinions about food technology and environmental footprint.

The students found significant consumer willingness-to-pay for food safety, greenhouse gas reduction, and animal welfare. They caution, however, that the survey was conducted on the Cook/Douglass campus and thus the results may not reflect a larger sample of American consumers.

Here are some ways the students summarized the experience:

“[Professor Jin] dramatically shifted my understanding of economics, research, and how they apply to the real world.”

“Never would I have guessed that I would conduct research in economics as an undergraduate, let alone present that research in the World Bank to one of its executive directors.”

“The confidence and experience gained from being the only undergraduate team to participate in a conference at the World Bank will continue to inspire me and push me to be my best self.”

When asked how she achieved such a great outcome so quickly, Professor Jin replied, “It’s simple. We never underestimate our students.”

 

Professor Jin, left, with (left to right) Kayleigh Torcivia, Amanda Lam, Morgan Murray and Harrison Blum.