Grammy Award-winning musical artist Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson had a change of heart about meat, all thanks to a few taste tests of the Impossible Burger a few years ago. He discussed his revelation with philanthropist and business magnate Bill Gates on a recent episode of Bill Gates’ “Unconfuse Me” podcast.
Questlove sat down with Gates to discuss the changing landscape of plant-based foods, and his own evolution from self-proclaimed carnivore to plant-based advocate.
“Somehow I just saw the future,” Questlove said about discovering Impossible Meat. “Something told me plant-based is going to be the future.”
Gates echoed these thoughts, adding: “Yes, one thing that’s cool is that it gets rid of the animal cruelty thing, but it’s also a big climate thing.”
Questlove gets behind plant-based cheesesteaks
Questlove’s journey to plant-based foods began with a chance encounter with Impossible’s founder, Patrick O. Brown. Questlove participated in three taste tests of the Impossible Burger in comparison to beef. After choosing Impossible as the taste winner every time, Questlove says he saw the future of food.
Putting his revelation into action, Questlove has since invested in innovative companies such as Impossible, The Not Company (a Chile-based company that uses AI to make plant-based alternatives to animal products); Eat Just (maker of the popular mung bean-based Just Egg); and more. In many of these, Questlove was an early investor, bolstering these companies during initial funding rounds to help them find broader success.
“There’s a lot of them,” Questlove said about his plant-based investments. “But I just feel as though that’s the future, and I want to be the person that plants the seed.”
In 2019, Questlove went beyond his role as an investor in Impossible and helped create a vegetarian cheesesteak that bears his name. Questlove’s Cheesesteak is now available through Goldbelly and has received praise from the likes of former US President Barack Obama.
Questlove also set out to address the misconceptions surrounding plant-based foods. “I kind of want to change the narrative because I think people have this [wrong] impression,” he said. “First of all, there’s just no education on how it’s made.”
“There’s a lot of misinformation, and then on top of that, the reason why I invested in the Impossible Cheesesteak was I wanted to show Philadelphians locally that just because it’s plant-based doesn’t mean that it’s boring or bland,” he said.
What’s in the future for the Questlove Cheesesteak? Questlove is on the prowl for a dairy-free cheese that can give him the same wow factor as the Impossible meat.
“Right now, I’ll say that it needs a perfect cheese to it,” he said. “So right now, it’s vegetarian based because we’re using real cheese.”
“The second that there is a plant-based cheese that tastes good, and we have high standards with how it tastes, so as soon as that happens, then we’re really going to change the game,” Questlove said.
Plant-based for the planet: Questlove and Gates weigh in
During their candid conversation, both Gates and Questlove highlighted the importance of plant-based options in reducing animal cruelty and benefiting the climate. Gates discussed the potential for technology to improve plant-based products further, with a special emphasis on creating fats that mimic animal fats.
“Of all the climate areas, the one that people are probably least aware of is all the fertilizer and cows, and that’s a challenge,” Gates said, acknowledging the impact of plant-based food on climate change. “But when you meet people like Patrick Brown, you go, ‘Wow.’”
Questlove spoke about his work with the Food and Finance School in New York City, which educates young people about all aspects of the food world, including plant-based technology. The students’ advanced thinking on sustainability and food technology were cited as hopeful signs for the future of food.
He shared details of this new program aimed at educating young minds about the future of food technology.
“I started a program, it’s the food entrepreneurship program, in which 20 or 25 of the students for four weeks go out to Silicon Valley where a lot of these future-food companies are located,” Questlove said.
“A lot of these kids might not have had access to plant-based food technology or any of those things,” he said. “They’re so advanced in knowing and creating what is needed for sustainability.”
Bill Gates is big on meat alternatives, too
Gates is also an early investor in Impossible Foods, participating in multiple funding rounds for the company which has, to date, raised nearly $2 billion to fund its mission of replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives.
Gates has previously emphasized the urgent need to transition away from traditional animal agriculture. In his book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, he urges rich nations to move towards 100 percent animal-free beef, recognizing the potential of plant-based companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods to change the meat landscape.
Gates has also used his platform to highlight the significant carbon emissions of animal agriculture, ranking them as the third-largest global emitter. Along with public advocacy, Gates has invested in companies working to revolutionize food, including Upside Foods—one of the first cultivated meat companies to gain regulatory approval in the US.
Gates’ advocacy for meat alternatives aligns with a broader movement among influential individuals and organizations to promote sustainable food sources.
The recent “Beans Is How” campaign, supported by Google and the Bezos Earth Fund (a philanthropic fund by Jeff Bezos), targets the same goal by elevating beans as an affordable and nutritious protein alternative.
This synergy among influential figures and organizations underscores the growing consensus that plant-based diets are key to addressing the climate crisis. And once Questlove finds the perfect vegan cheese, the simple act of choosing a Questlove Cheesesteak over the original can help people fight climate change in the most delicious way possible.